Reflecting on our history and journey, we take a moment to pause and look back on our origin story.
JB: Hey Malek, I'm glad to be here with you for this chat. I've known you for what seems like forever, but I think this conversation will open my perspective on what makes you, you.
MA: Hey John, happy to join in on the conversation today. Let's get started!
JB: I feel that everyone is fascinated by the origins of how somebody got started in their respective field and what drives them to continue doing what they do. If you can recall to way back then, what would you say were some of your earliest memories of being inspired by architecture?
MA: I was always really inspired by the environment and surroundings around me as a kid, growing up in Jordan and visiting Petra, being completely immersed in the Wadi Rum Desert off the coast of the Red Sea. It was as if I had access to these ancient ruins as my backyard in my youth.
JB: How old when you went to Petra for the first time?
MA: I was around six or seven years old when we started taking those weekend trips to Wadi Rum and out to Petra. Then my parents realized that there was an interest there in regard to architecture and its influence on me and we continued going ever since.
JB: I can imagine what a profound impact it had on you at a young age. What designers did you look up to as key inspirations as an architecture student?
MA: Just starting out right at the gates I gravitated towards relating to someone like Zaha Hadid, as she was from the Middle East herself and following her story as a globally successful designer. As I continued my education and expanded my palette and the plethora of architecture, I looked up to, to name a few: Frank Lloyd Wright, Peter Zumthor, Rick Choi, Diller, Scofidio Renfro. Really kind of diving deeper into their works and the various scales and typologies that they've worked on and what they focused on inspired me.
JB: You’ve dropped some pretty impressive names there. And I can remember you telling me about a specific full-circle moment with one of these designers from college to your professional life, do you want to expand on that story?
MA: There was a particular lecture by Bjarke Ingels I attended while in school, who at the time was coming out with his book. I remember listening in on him narrating this storyline of his projects and being completely enveloped by his way of thinking. Fast forward ten years later and I'm now published alongside him in a book that came out earlier this year, which is really exciting.
JB: What's the book called and what is it about?
MA: It's called Cabin Fever. It explores these enchanting cabins, hideaways, off-the-grid spaces, and places all over the world. One of my off-grid projects Folly Joshua Tree was alongside his. It's filled with really talented works by architects and designers from all over the world. You can check it out here.
JB: It sounds amazing. When you were in your last year of college and looking to go into the architecture field as a career, how did you position yourself strategically to get to where you are today?
MA: I knew that by going and doing all of these interviews during summers, when I had the chance to kind of get an understanding of various scales and studios, I really gravitated more towards the smaller scale studios because of all of the various tasks that you would be doing in a day and being exposed to as many facets of a project as possible. Being as impressionable as I was at the time, it was really important for me to work with a smaller studio that was dynamic and encouraged my design work, and really propelled me to explore and push myself in all facets of the architectural field at all various stages.
JB: Were you wanting to surround yourself with not only a design studio but also to surround yourself with masterful people or excellent people in their field? Tell me about that.
MA: Well, I think I had hints of this while I was in school for becoming somebody that can design something and explain myself through, whether it's drawings or renderings, but then be able to realize those things. Because it's one thing to render something over and over again and create beautiful imagery, and I highly applaud the people that can do. But I do think it's really crucial to also be able to network and surround yourself with craftsmen that can help bring your vision to life and be able to explain yourself. Whether it's drawings, conversations, detailing, you know, overall general coordination. Creating concepts is one thing, but it's important to be able to bring those concepts to life and figure out how to compromise and negotiate with a lot of real-life challenges along the way.
JB: What was it like designing your first solo project?
MA: One of the bigger ground-up projects I produced was at the time actually the largest project I brought into the art design studio I was working with. It was with a really talented client who worked on amazing movies like Star Trek and X-Men, and all of these phenomenal films and shows that had major cultural influence globally. I figured out a way to create a very schematic design that has a really brilliant floor plan layout with multi-use spaces and tried to challenge what you could do in a traditional flat lot in West Hollywood, California.
JB: It's fascinating to me how eye-opening of an experience it must have been as your first solo project. What were some of your takeaways from these first chapters in your career?
MA: The fact that I was in a studio allowed me to grow into the principal. My principal at the time, Sonny, was just such a wonderful mentor and teacher and really believed in what I was doing. I felt like I had a safety net to be able to stretch myself and grow within that design process to push the envelope as much as I could while I knew that I had a team supporting my decisions. As well as collaborating with acoustic engineers and mechanics to develop all of these moving parts seamlessly. It reinforced learning how to coordinate and understand different personalities, and to mesh with all different walks of people.
JB: How old were you when you took on your first big project?
MA: I was about 23 years old when we started that project, coming alongside clients and really growing those skill sets.
JB: Actually remarkable. I think I might be nervous about a 23-year-old valet parking my car. I'm not sure, but it is incredible. And obviously, during your twenties, you spent a lot of time designing. But what else was important to you as a person, as a creator, and as a designer?
MA: I think it's really important to be a well-versed, first of all, designer. It's essential to have people skills to be able to come alongside people, not just be behind a computer screen. As important as technical skills are, I think it's crucial to surround yourself with like-minded individuals and network to really reach for people that think like you, and that have the same vision and drive as you. It’s so important as a designer to be able to collaborate and have those conversations because of that type of synergy and realize those types of visions that you see for yourself and others Being in a big metropolis like Los Angeles, it can sometimes be a very niche pocket place. You know, it's a big city, but it could also feel very alone. I think being able to network with the right people, and being able to do things outside of just work, like working out or taking weekend trips, which is such a wonderful thing in Southern California. Being able to drive 2 hours in any direction and be in a completely different environment triggered me a lot growing up to take all these smaller trips over the weekends to all of these places, up in the mountains, to be by the water, or to be in the desert. I think those were all really important things.
JB: Can you share what the core of your design thinking was like early on?
MA: I think I always kept going back to my thesis work - during which I took a whole year to travel around the country to understand what my position in architecture was. I was the youngest in my class at the time so I was definitely not the most versed in the sense that, I didn't have that much internship experience or didn't work in offices before. I think for me it was like trying to understand I had to go back to my roots with my thesis and be able to work on the family concept that I was developing at the time. This idea of cohesion and integration of pragmatic and contextual relevancy is something we're diving into more and more in our studio today. Going back to our roots in regard to the importance of architectural space.
JB: What is something that you've brought to your work that is a keynote for who you are?
MA: I really love the idea of storytelling and narration. Curating environments through the constituents and parameters that I set for myself in regards to designing a space, instead of it just being a traditional copy-and-paste home, whatever that may be. My projects don’t have to be the most expensive or biggest work ever. It just has to be intentional. Designing with intent and creating memorable experiences is what drives me. This idea of architecture as a medium for people to experience, circulate through spaces and different programs, moving through space and feeling a certain way, whether it's conscious or subconscious is really exciting for me because that means I'm setting the footprint. Being able to receive feedback and how they react and respond to things in different moments as inclusive spaces is really a powerful element in setting the tone between just being in a room. At its primitive, architecture is shelter. But it's really much more than that - designing with the need for something that we all inhabit while focusing on spaces that elevate our mood and senses, and what they do to us as humans.
JB: What is your decision-making process when it comes to designing your projects?
MA: I think it's important, as cliché as it sounds, to follow our gut instinct in regards to making the right move. Though I ask myself in a more practical way of making informed decisions and understanding, what are the options? How have I researched said options? What if I do this a certain way? What will happen after that? And just focusing on the next great move I think is really important. I also learned to never fall too in love with the concept because it will be negotiated, processed, and changed along the way. We have to be able to negotiate with it and develop and allow for the process to happen.
JB: It’s the journey of the process and creating something that is ultimately uncertain at the beginning that’s exciting.
MA: What's really exciting also is creating a dialog of what I call icebreakers and being able to educate people on different aspects of architecture and lifestyle living. Sustainable is like this green-label thing, that terminology that's used all over the place by corporate culture. But I think it's really more important to educate people on what our living is like and what it means to be self-sustainable in your own world. When people are staying at one of the spaces that I've designed and created, whether it be in a desert environment or about an environment or on a farm or wherever it may be, the goal is to always create a dialog for the audience and what's their takeaway is. Being able to hopefully leave inspired, whether it's to continue writing your book, to create your own space, or to be able to take on this idea of being more self-sustainable and more self-sufficient for ourselves and the planet.