By Julian Nabil

Aiming to explore the current status and future of the design and architecture industry in Egypt, Invest-Gate meets up with TDF Architects CEO and Founder Hala Saleh, who introduced an ‘Eco-Friendly Interior Design’ concept to architecture in Egypt. In an in-depth discussion with the interior designer and architect, Saleh highlights the EGP floatation effect on the business and also shares the latest trends and designs.

You have introduced eco-friendly design methods to the business. Can you explain how and in what way?

During my undergraduate years in the USA, it came to my attention, the country’s awareness campaigns in regards to sustainability along with the other global issues, including scarcity of electricity and water. Up until today, there is an ongoing international need for environmental protection. While in the USA, I majored in interior design from the Art Institute of Houston Texas  and went on to become an  accredited professional in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).

Following my return, I wanted to reinforce such eco-friendly methods to make designs since Egypt faced issues of electricity shortage and water scarcity a couple of years ago.

Sustainability for us is not only about saving water and electricity. It is, rather, about preserving the environment as much as possible in a number of ways, including the use of eco-friendly (recycled) materials with low rates of outgassing and carbon emissions. At the same time, we try to follow modern and environmentally friendly guidelines in construction in order to limit environmental changes that can cause soil disruption, dust, and noise pollution.

Is there a demand for sustainable design and architecture in Egypt?

There is a demand for commercial projects like schools, hospitals, and malls for their feasibility in the long run. Mega projects’ consumption of water and electricity is high so they continuously look for eco-friendly solutions that can help them reduce their operational costs.

Eco-friendly methods have also become more of a marketing trend as well; developers, who are environmentally-friendly cautious, are positioned differently from a marketing perspective.

However, demand for  residential projects is not that high but I believe it will come by time once the concepts and methods become more common. Electricity and water are still subsidized for residential projects too so such trend is not feasible.

Are you more drawn to classic or modern design trends in your designs? And how do you tailor designs for the diversified clients?

We do not follow a specific kind of style but most of our work is within the contemporary and modern framework.

We try to accommodate the lifestyle of our clients and cater to their needs, taking into consideration the geographic context of any project so it does not feel out of place. We always look first at the project’s location and function then we try to blend both in our designs. For example, a second home in the North Coast does not have the same character as a first residence here in Cairo or the countryside; so it all depends on the project’s context.

I believe in teamwork rather than a-one-man- show. I find that the final product is much creative and artistic coming from a group of people.

How do designs for summer houses differ from that of the main ones?

Summer homes should incorporate the seamless indoor-outdoor transitional concept. So, we always try to relate the interiors with the exteriors because we use the homes heavily from the inside and outside.

Clients need to feel more comfortable in summer homes than that of primary ones because second homes are their getaways from the hustle and bustle of their daily lives. We try to accommodate the idea of relaxation, but at the same time with a simple kind of luxury.

Summer homes should maintain less complex lines, architecture, and accommodation of materials. We also avoid complicated combinations of color palettes, which have to be very much related to the beach. So, we use more of the Mediterranean color scheme.

To many of our clients, summer is all about social gatherings. Therefore, we always work on making summer homes as modular as possible in terms of usage of furniture like sofa beds, for example. We also try to provide less  storage space and more livable place by designing different seating areas and spacious spaces.

In addition, we focus on maximising natural lighting. We use a lot of windows and skylights to reinforce the feeling of being outdoors. Most clients seek to enjoy the natural breeze of the sea instead of having air conditioners. We accommodate that by placing windows on opposite sides to allow more airflow and natural breezes.

How do you deal with clients who ask for “unrealistic” designs?

Clients do not usually know what they want; so we have to direct them to what can be done. We always look into ways of how to make things happen as long as we understand the technical components of any project. We try to make amendments and recommendations to cater to the clients’ needs.

There is sometimes a cut-off “this is not doable” line. However, I believe that nothing is impossible and we always strive to be different.

What are the major projects you worked on in the North Coast?

We worked on several projects in the North Coast, including a project in Hacienda Bay last year, which won an international design award in the UK. We also carried out projects in Telal, Ghazala, and Costa Del Sol in 2015. And this year, we have projects in Hacienda Bay and Hacienda White.

What are the major challenges you faced as a startup and now?

The most challenging thing was to build our supply chain database of contractors as well as suppliers of materials and furniture. Our job maintains a high level of detail so knowing resources is  key.

It is a huge market and it is not easy to find high quality supplies and service providers. So, knowing what is best locally and internationally is also a challenge.

The challenge we face now is to maintain being different. We have a track record of projects. So, we work on competitively differentiating our projects.

How did the EGP floatation affect the industry in terms of costs and final product’s price?

Prices on everything have almost doubled so the purchasing power has become less, making it very challenging for us because we have to work on delivering the same kind of design aesthetic and quality standards at half the price. We try to find creative solutions to reach the same impact at lower prices.

On the other hand, demand did not decrease as we have the same volume of projects but the amount of money people now spend has become less.

How do you see the future of design and architecture post float?

I believe that the EGP floatation will have a positive impact on the industry in the long run. It will force us to become a more industrial society. So, we will start to focus on product design and manufacturing, which we lack in the local market, thus helping us to create our own character in terms of materials and final product design.

Not only has importing materials become more expensive, but also importing products like furniture. So, this will drive local designers to resort to the local market.

The EGP devaluation will also stretch our creativity; it is always easier to design on an open budget, but a restrained budget pushes you to think out of the box and come up with creative solutions to deliver the same  aesthetic design at a much lower cost.

What advice do you give young designers and architects, today?

They should explore a lot of things… they need to touch and feel everything. They should work a lot on themselves by interfacing with all technical softwares as well as visiting work sites, factories and quarries. The more they interface, the more they will learn and have a value curve that will make them excel in what they design. If they do not understand technical components of all elements, there is no way to excel. We do not design from scratch. So, the more they get exposed to new ideas and experiences, the more creative hey will become.