Galal Mahmoud: The Design of Luxurious Lifestyles
November 30, 2011
Sofitel Villas, Morocco
Sofitel resort in Tamuda Bay, Morocco
Park Rotana Abu Dhabi hotel
Sofitel Lobby, Morocco
Versatile, creative to the extreme, a true visionary and the designer of dreams, Galal Mahmoud has been the architect behind some of Lebanon’s and the world’s most magnificent luxury resorts, public spaces, business and private constructions.
When you come from a background so mixed, and live a life so rich with experience, the lines and boundaries are blurred and your mind always remains open to seeing the world in an entirely new perspective.
This is perhaps where Mahmoud’s unique sense of creativity and style stems from. Born to Egyptian parents, he spent his childhood in Lebanon, and two decades in France. Mahmoud was constantly exposed to different cultures, which allowed him to absorb and appreciate both the differences and similarities and develop a keen sense of creative flexibility that is very evident in his work today.
From private hacienda-style villas in Miami, to exclusive boutiques in France, restaurants in Beirut, and luxury resorts around the world, Mahmoud’s work is defined through his unique character and meticulous attention to detail.
Mahmoud sat down with Today’s Outlook, to tell us all about his latest project, an ultra luxurious retreat on the gorgeous Mediterranean coast of Morocco. We also learned of the creative process of his team, and the little things that make such a brilliant mind tick.
Tell us about your most recent project.
My most recent project is a Sofitel luxury resort in Morocco located on the North coast of the Mediterranean Sea, east of Tangiers, in a beautiful area called Tamuda Bay; an area forgotten for a number of years. King Mohammed VI, who has a residence nearby, decided to transform that whole coast area into an upscale resort destination – and this is exactly what is happening. In addition to my project, there are also a number of 5-star hotels and high-end retreats being constructed.
How did this project come about?
We were called by a Jordanian client, a fund that manages all properties belonging to the army and transforms these properties into destinations. We had worked with this client on previous projects in Jordan and elsewhere. There was also a joint venture between them and the Jordanian government to develop projects in both countries. Our Jordanian client asked for our help in sorting out a master plan for another project, and through our work on this project we met the people responsible for the Sofitel resort. They showed me a piece of land which had a closed, run-down hotel on it, and they asked me to develop some ideas of what could be done. We presented a plan to the local governor in Jordan; he liked it and showed it to the King who also liked it and so we were given the go ahead. In the mean time, they brought in Sofitel, who recently rebranded and is solely running high-end luxury projects.
Which aspect of this project are you handling?
We are doing the architecture, interior design, hardscape and some of the landscape. I actually insisted that should we be commissioned to take on this project, we would take on all aspects of it, particularly the interior design because when you design a project like this, you want a seamless flow between the inside and outside and in every small detail because it very much is a holistic experience.
Sofitel Tamuda BayIs construction already under way? How long until the completion of the entire resort?
Construction starts in summer, and the project will take two years to complete.
With all your experience, what do you bring to this project?
We want to make sure it’s all coherent. This can be a bit of a challenge because it has to look good on the outside, but also be functional, practical and beautiful on the inside. We are always thinking of the inside and outside as one. We had to take small but very important details into account like what sort of view you will have when you are lying on your bed, or what kind of landscaping to have around the rooms and exteriors, and so on; it’s all linked. We also pay special attention to the pool and beach area, which we want to be fun, entertaining, yet also comfortable and very luxurious at the same time. We oversized the daybeds and created a whole outdoor sitting area and a great sun-lounging area, so wherever you are, you’re having this fun, fantastic, sexy experience that is carefully planned and executed to allow you to enjoy it to the fullest. It’s the attention to hundreds of little details that we’ve learned from our previous projects and picked-up through our travels that always make the difference.
What do you find is the most important element of your work as an architect?
I’m a strong believer that whenever you work in architecture and interior design, the space has to produce happiness and illuminate positivity to people. It’s not about showing myself; the perfect project for me is where I would disappear completely. Every time I work on a new project, I immerse myself completely in that new environment because I dislike routine and repetition; I love creating new things. As an architect, I am on a continuous learning curve because every project is like a new book that you are writing.
What is the size of your team and how do you define your design methods?
We are a team of 30 people, and our office in Abu Dhabi is a small team of three people. We have senior architects in charge of projects, who have their own teams. When a project comes in, we brainstorm and gather as much data as possible on all aspects from history, to location, even the weather, because the end result has to be within the spirit and within the cultural environment of the place in which it is to be developed. Our style is modern contemporary. When it comes to restoring historical buildings, a different approach is needed; a more ‘by the book’ approach. But for new projects, I have different visions.
You are very focused on the meaning of every detail in a project you design; why is that?
Everything in architecture has to have a meaning, even if it is subliminal. When we present our projects, it’s a story board where we explain every process. Presenting our ideas is extremely enriching and educational for us; it gives a real clear-cut identity to the project that allows the client to easily determine whether they like it or not.
You also give a great deal of attention to landscaping; how important is this?
Landscape is a very important part of these types of resort projects. It actually constitutes up to 50% of the project. You have to ensure that every room has an optimum view of something beautiful, and landscaping plays a huge part in that. For the project we are currently working on in Morocco, we are still negotiating the construction of a huge water platform for ground floor rooms that, due to topography, have a limited sea view. I firmly believe it’s definitely a huge added value because we want everyone to feel privileged.
How do you get inspired and stay in touch with the latest trends?
I travel a lot, and I always try to visit a fair during my travels. I also make it a point to go to a fantastic exotic destination when I have the chance.
Have you worked on any projects that were you not entirely happy with?
You do go through that at some point, and every job has its circumstances. There have been situations where I had to compromise, but I have learned that the older I get, the less willing I am to do that, because each time I compromise on a project, it’s a piece of myself that goes. I understand my clients’ concerns and I do take them into consideration, but at the same time, having enough experience, I will not design something that doesn’t work.
Do you follow any particular trends?
Being influenced by trends, to a certain extent, is inevitable because you look at books, and go to exhibitions, and see things all around you. We incorporate trends within the context of the project we are working on only if it works, but it’s never forced. We also encourage our clients to invest in artwork because it adds a lot of richness and personality to a space, even if it is a public space; it’s an investment and gives the place a unique character.