A multicultural life is the key to his creativity. CID catches up with Fouad Mirza, founder, Tawazun Interior Design.
Born in Djibouti at a time when it was still a French colony, Fouad Mirza moved to Aden, Yemen at the age of six, followed by Cairo where he completed his secondary education, and then headed to the US for his university degree.
“Living in different countries and being able to communicate in three languages at an early age has had a great impact on my personality,” says the interior architect and founder of Tawazun Interior Design.
“Experiencing cultural diversity developed my adaptability and openness to other beliefs and lifestyles. The sensory experiences of my early years in the Middle East are still a vivid memory – from the smell and taste of exotic spices and cuisines and the explosion of colours in the markets, to hearing old songs while walking through the historic district of Sana’a and its medieval ‘skyscrapers’ and seeing the Pyramids of Giza, temples of Aswan, palaces in Alexandria, and colonial architecture.”
Mirza attended Otis Parsons in Los Angeles; the school afforded him the opportunity of training under some of the most influential architects and designers in the city. “Living and working in the heart of Hollywood was another turning point in my career. I was able to work professionally with different types of clients from high-profile celebrities to international dignitaries,” he shares. His client roster from those years is a constellation of Hollywood A-listers; including the likes of Brad Pitt, Jennifer Aniston, Demi Moore, the Olsen twins and Ellen de Generes.
In 2006, Mirza moved to the UAE to manage and direct B&B Italia in Dubai, at the time the first monobrand shop in the Gulf region. “I had the idea of setting up a white glove interior design and fit-out company – one that can deliver not only design and fit-out projects but a lifestyle as well,” he reminisces. Tawazun Interior Design was thus established. Set up as a consultancy firm to offer clients a holistic design approach from actual interior design to branding and marketing, Mirza was forced to downsize during the economic crisis of 2008.
“Any business owner will tell you that there are as many challenges as there are rewards of establishing your own company. It was a challenge to convince clients here in the region that an interior designer-architect can also be the main fit-out contractor. In my opinion, it was the ideal solution to achieve the best quality of service for the client. Back then, the standard formula for clients was to hire a main contractor who then worked with a design consultant.”
Mirza’s creative process involves what he calls “stepping back to see the project as a whole experience and how it will affect end-users”.
Design concepts are conceived while working closely with the client. “Interior design is a job that demands a lot of passion; therefore it should come from the heart. However, it is not a solitary endeavour as the designer’s relationship and interaction with the client can make or break a project.”
Mirza’s favourite project types are private executive offices and boutique hotels as they offer the opportunity to be more creative. “One of our most memorable projects has been the IPIC Headquarters in Abu Dhabi. It was in part due to the scope of the project and the willingness of the client to take on our vision.” Tawazun has completed a raft of projects for public sector clients in the UAE capital, including Environment Agency Department, Abu Dhabi Housing Authority and ADNEC Chairwoman’s office.
“One advantage of working in the region is the diversity, size and funds of projects. Since the country and its economy are relatively young, there is a huge amount of services still to be fulfilled. In the last few years, considerable effort has been put in bringing world-class resources to the region through events such as Downtown Design and Design Days in Dubai. There has also been an increase in products and services for the design market. Clients are more open to new ideas and concepts,” says Mirza. “On the flip side, design ideas do not have enough time to develop and there is a lack of local high-quality contractors and resources. The decision-making process could be quicker and better.”
Mirza takes pride in the uniquely Middle Eastern design idiom of his work. “In the process of designing spaces that are relevant to the region, it is incorrect to just introduce decorative elements to the design without context. While visual elements unique to Islamic culture and the Arabic experience, such as mashrabiyas and geometric patterns, are important, they do not make a Middle Eastern design successful. Rather, it involves careful consideration and respect for centuries-old traditions, culture and a way of life.”
All forms of art, especially fashion and photography, are grist to his creative mill. “I get excited with what other creatives are coming up with in terms of new materials and technology. In an age where everyone thrives on validation through social media, designers can fall into the trap of producing work that is trendy and consequently becomes dated.
“Having said that, I do think social media is, in fact, an effective tool in communicating and sharing ideas to the rest of the world. A lot of projects these days rely heavily on gimmicks and quirky designs just for the sake of being different. Context for me is king; elements should always be rooted in a strong design philosophy. That is what makes a design timeless.”