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Joakim de Rham of Swiss Bureau tells us how far he’s come since moving to Dubai
Having grown up in Switzerland, Joakim de Rham was raised in a family passionate about architecture and construction. With a father who worked as an architect, de Rham and his brothers were provided with a foundation in the fields of art, architecture and design.
“At the age of 18, during my education, I decided to stop architecture and begin studying interior architecture. I am still very grateful to my parents for having accepted my choice, as it was quite an obligation to finish the Swiss Baccalaureate,” says de Rham.
“Two years after my diploma and working on different projects in Switzerland, I felt I needed to learn more about creativity, so I flew to Sao Paulo, Brazil, to work with Sig Bergamin, one of the most influential interior designers in Brazil. Sig taught me to have self-confidence in my creativity by not being shy when creating. [He also taught me] to use a project’s surrounding environment as a source of inspiration. Certainly, that was a big help for the rest of my career.”
Once graduated from Ecole d’Architecture Athenaeum Lausanne in 1995, de Rham was given the tools to forge forward as a professional architect and designer. His first client was a real estate developer who wanted to design an entrance lobby for an office building in Lausanne. As de Rham recalls working on this project, he notes that there was no room for mistakes and so as his first project, de Rham learned the pressures common of a rigid client.
“My first project taught me how important our profession is based on the quality of the service, transparency and honesty,” he explains.
The interior architect had established an interior design company in Switzerland with his partner Siavosh Adeli in 1999. Before relocating to Dubai, de Rham decided to hand over his portion of the company to Adeli completely. It would be three years before de Rham would set up his second company, Swiss Bureau Interior Design.
In 2003, de Rham moved to Dubai. He notes that the emirate had already launched its 2010 vision and started work on its defining projects like the Palm Island, Dubai Marina and DIFC.
He says: “During some earlier visits in 2002, I was very impressed by what was already built and the quality of it. I felt Dubai was a vibrant city, as I felt in Sao Paulo. Dubai was, and still is, a city where interior architects have a lot of liberty in their creativity, so it was not a difficult decision to move.”
On one of his earlier visits in 2002, de Rham met with Maher Al Zarooni, who not only taught de Rham the ways of the United Arab Emirates, but would eventually co-open Swiss Bureau Interior Design with de Rham.
“I just follow what I like to do,” explains de Rham. “And I try to minimise the risks of too quick a growth. We are really focused on designing creative projects and to not repeat what we have already done on our previous projects. We have the chance at this stage to refuse some projects that are not challenging us on the creativity level, it is not a question of size, but really of ‘what can we create new in this one?’
“We propose to our clients a turnkey project solution by being the designers, as well as take care of the fit-out work with our preferred sub-contractors. We deliver, therefore, projects where we can manage all the different phases and are able to quickly adjust it during the fit-out phase for any unforeseen reasons. We are always in contact with the client and ready to respond to any of their wishes.”
In 2014, Swiss Bureau Interior Design delivered 17 projects, each ranging from 1,500ft2 to 500,000ft2. According to de Rham, 2014 was a good year, business-wise, as his firm saw constant growth in its turnover and it was able to go ahead with the hiring of new key collaborators.
“Simplicity is the motive of each of our creations,” says de Rham. “My architects and I always try to simplify our design by not adding too much material, features, shapes, colours, etc. It is easy to design a complicated project, but difficult to design a simple one.”
The interior architect also notes that each design area should boast its own creative identity that is in line with the rest of a project’s interior. He is especially passionate about corridors. de Rham says: “I really like to spend time on corridors, to design something different, as this captures the essence of the journey.”
Currently, Swiss Bureau Interior Design is finalising the design of an educational project, the Swiss International Scientific School in Dubai.
In collaboration with de Rham’s previous partner Adeli, Swiss Bureau also recently won an international competition launched by the Ministry of Presidential Affairs in Abu Dhabi, and will soon begin working on the renovation of its main conference hall in the UN’s Geneva location.
Swiss Bureau Interior Design’s current range of work is regional and international. The company’s portolio of works-in-progress includes the headquarters for UPL, the new offices for regional fashion magazine Mojeh, interior work of a residential building in Dubai and a project of 20 villas in Thailand.
“2015 is a very special year for us,” says de Rham. “We moved in February to our new offices in Bay Square. The new location is a much larger office than our previous one and we need to fill it with many interesting projects now.”
He adds: “We hope to continue our organic growth and we are super interested to start some hotel projects. This is a sector we have not yet touched, but now with the Swiss school, we had to design the boarding school which is very similar to a hotel, and we really had a lot of pleasure while designing it.”