Three glorious winners of the inaugural Design Middle East Awards 2018 share their heartwarming journeys in the design industry and making it big…

By Roma Arora
Photographs by Farooq Salik

The history was created and the winners were applauded. The Design Middle East Awards 2018 gave some beautiful memories and our cover story this month is featuring three winners of the prestigious award categories who’re sharing their success stories and what made them win! In conversation with the winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award—Noor Al Muhaideb, founding partner and managing director, OPAAL Interiors; Hospitality Project Design of the Year (Restaurants/Bars/Clubs) winner Firas Alsahin, associate director at 4SPACE Design; and Lama Harb, associate director from JT+ Partners who won the Architect of the Year Award.

Winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award
Noor Al Muhaideb, founding partner and managing director, OPAAL Interiors

On winning: I’m honoured to be receiving this award and certainly grateful for the recognition I have received. Of course, as any entrepreneur does when setting out on a venture, I have faced several challenges on my way here, but each one of them has only strengthened me to make me the person I am today. A victory such as this makes all the hard work worthwhile.
Current role: I’m actively involved in the daily operations of both OPAAL Interiors and Detay Living; it’s our furniture design and procurement company. The key to any successful business is in finding right the balance between vision, strategy, execution and a passion for what you do. The focus of my role is to inspire my clients with a completed project that goes beyond their expectations.
Inspiration: Beautiful spaces and objects are an endless supply of inspiration. Because I’m a visual person, images, materials, textures often give me the map to my final design. I bring the vision of a project to life by creating a story through the journey, palettes, patterns, and forms that are full of beauty, adventure, and soul.
Future of design: I believe motivation should be on the human aspect of the built environment. We already see digital trends being strong in design, with visuals and aesthetics such as VR, robots, and AI becoming second nature to us. So, more and more technologies will be emerging cutting the design process duration and increasing visual accuracy. Living spaces will go smaller, and communal areas will increase serving the lifestyle of millennials and newer generations.

Winner of the Hospitality Project Design of the Year (Restaurants/Bars/ Clubs) for Atmosfire
Firas Alsahin, associate director at 4SPACE Design

On winning: Delighted is an understatement, it was a real privilege to be part of the first Design Middle East Awards 2018 and pick up an award for Best Restaurant Design for Atmosfire, it is an enthronement for our F&B design sector, what makes it even better is the great competition in this category. Not to mention that the recognition is coming from a high profile jury panel.
Current role: It is my responsibility to oversee the full design methodology. From the briefing of the design concept up to the project management. I work side by side with my team to ensure that we are on the same page and on the right track.
Inspiration: I was born and raised in the city of Bonn at West Germany. The time where playing with Lego, reading comic books, watching Transformers, and Star Wars were a great way to entertain a child. Growing up with all these design elements fascinated me and shaped me to the path of being a designer. Sometimes, I draw my inspiration from art, a book or a movie, anything could be considered as an inspiration as long it has a story to tell.
Future of design: Besides the futuristic elements and minimalism, I would like to see more authentic, historical and cultural elements. It’s all about looking and going back to the roots.

Winner of the Architect of the Year Award
Lama Harb, associate director, JT+ Partners

On winning: For me, this award recognises the intangible qualities of the architect through his/ her work not only focussing on the tactile side of architecture but also on his contribution in providing excellence and inspiring the community. this award also puts a big responsibility on my shoulder to achieve architectural excellence, promote the profession of architecture, and contribute in creating buildings and social spaces that generate energy and feelings to the society.
Current role: Being the right hand of our managing director, Joe Tabet whom I’ve been working with for more than 10 years, is a great opportunity in my professional career to explore a different colour in the architecture rainbow of diversity and practice. My responsibilities also include mentoring the team, embracing their ideas, energy and enthusiasm as well as ensuring their development through creating opportunities for their progress and make sure emerging professionals are valued.
Inspiration: My Inspiration is architecture itself. For me, architecture is about serving others through the design of the built environment and making sure our work is the best it can be through its service to others and contribution to a more sustainably built world.
Future of architecture: We must change the view that architecture is an addition or a luxury to be enjoyed in boom times, and instead understand it as a reflection of our society and our values. I would like to see more focus on the meaning and experience of the spaces, which will create a more holistic perspective of the built environment and effect broader change. Ask ourselves “what do we actually need, rather than who’s going to design it.” I would like to see architects going beyond the client perspective. Architects have a responsibility towards the public!