In 2014, Alexandra-born architect Dalia Sadany made headlines when she became the president of the International Association of Designers (IAD) after ranking 12th at the World Designer competition the same year.
Sadany sat down with Ahram Online to discuss a passion for architecture that paved the way to award-winning projects, her hands-on design philosophy and her intention to shed light on Egypt's talents in the field.
Ahram Online: How do you describe the onset of your passion for this career?
It was extremely circumstantial, not intended or planned. I just fell in love with it as I was studying it.
AO: Tell us about the balance between visual appeal and practicality?
It is actually the job of the architect, to be able to do that equation. The whole point of being successful in design and architecture is that you can balance the need to have a successfully functional space with something that appeals visually. First comes functionality and then my designs work to mirror it.
If the work is residential, we are talking about mirroring human beings. If it is corporate, we mirror the occupation of that space. If it has to do with retail, we mirror a certain product. In regard to the visual aspect that makes the work appealing, it has to do with taste.
AO: Do you try to maintain an Egyptian cultural element in your creations?
You cannot actually define an Egyptian cultural element because Egypt has so many styles combined. So if we are talking about an Egyptian Identity, then I would say it is my lifetime goal.
I definitely try to maintain that [identity] but with a certain twist; I don’t imitate in regard to anything that we call "Egyptian" or ethnic, but rather give that Egyptian feature a sort of a futuristic aspect.
We do have history that we must be proud of but we cannot keep copying what we have historically; we have to add to it. Abroad they don’t have as much history as we do, so they will always be hungry for designs that have a story, and we have lots of stories to tell.
AO: You are an advocate of the "The master builder" approach; could you explain that?
"The master builder" is responsible for all phases from concept design to handover, like back in the pharaonic age; there was the architect who would design and construct, and he was also a craftsman.
I am not belittling designers who don't do that; it's just a different approach. I'm a hands-on person, and I like to work on site, and this approach had been gaining traction worldwide.
Back in the 1800s there came a sort of revolutionary idea to segregate designers from contractors, and since then, people started to look down on contractors. But, all of a sudden the mischief of that approach surfaced, and we saw mega products having problems that went back to the missing link between these two entities. That’s why there was a third entity created to solve these problems: the project manager.
AO: As a multi-award winning designer, which projects from your portfolio are the closest to your heart?
The ones that were done in Egypt, like renovating Tahrir Square, the new educational hub that I did, even El-Hegaz Square, because they come from an emotional experience and are related to certain problems that I see around me.
AO: Tell us more about your ground-breaking recent project on the American University in Cairo Greek campus?
I was somebody who didn’t believe in corporate design. I didn’t think that companies were interested in investing in design, especially in Egypt.
This was proven wrong. I met with the CEO of the company in charge of [building] the intended training facility, and I was taken with the interest in design that was expressed. They told me to design what I feel, and this was music to my ears.
We talked about the idea of creating this educational hub, and investing for IT students, especially for public university graduates, which really touched me.
This hub was like an incubator; through it the graduates and I saw how their lives changed and how they found better opportunities, so I took that project deeply to heart.
When people from abroad complimented the work saying that they couldn’t believe it was made by an Egyptian designer, it made me happy and it made me sad. It saddens me that there is not enough focus on the calibre of designs and creative minds in Egypt.
Trend Micro at AUC (Photos Courtesy of: Dalia Sadany)
AO: As president of IAD, you pioneered an initiative to honour and encourage Egyptian designers. Tell us more about that.
As soon as I became president, I wanted to begin drawing international attention to pioneers and landmarks in the field of design. We discussed candidates from 12 fields of design.
I wanted to give back to these names in their country, so we talked the board of IAD into flying down from Milan to honour theses names. We honoured two companies in Egypt.
Everyone really appreciated that they were honoured in their own country. I have won awards all over the world, but it makes all the difference when it is done in ones' own country.
AO: You have written educational articles about architecture and spoken about inspiring homeowners to build their own houses. Are you still passionate about writing in that regard?
I am still very passionate, but I wish I had more time. Juggling so much becomes tedious and you have to focus, but I will return soon to writing about the field to teach people how to design and build in simple ways.
AO: What are you looking forward to contributing to the society?
A lot. Sometimes when we try to help we get setbacks, but you stand back again and you try. I want to make this country worth its reputation and history. It is a beautiful country and although I studied, lived and worked abroad, something irreplaceable makes me very attached to my homeland.
AO: Amid the economic crisis prevailing now, how is an interior designer affected?
Difficulty purchasing anything! We cannot provide bills of quantity, as prices fluctuate crazily, especially lacking an entity that would filter prices or help maintain a ceiling. This has done huge damage to designers and architects; many have stopped working.
AO: What obstacles must be removed to pave the road for more creation and art in that regard?
The main obstacle would be removed if the [project creators] in this country really believed in the minds of [Egyptian] designers. It saddens me that whenever there is a mega project, they would prefer to get a foreign designer.
Also we have to expand horizontally: no point in getting more designers to work if we don’t have land and projects for them.