An Open Mind

Dale Cesar Najarro combines his global design experiences to achieve perfection in his interiors projects

A senior designer at Design Work Portfolio, Dale Cesar Najarro landed in the UAE in 2005, and worked as an architect and designer at Samuel Creations SA until 2010 when he joined his current firm.

Najarro graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Architecture from Cebu Institute of Technology, Philippines. His first award was the Annual Design Award for Architecture Students 1985 while competing against students from four architecture schools in the Philippines.

Since graduating from university, he has worked with various architectural and engineering firms, and gained experience in architecture and interior design in creative space planning and graphic work.

During his first few years as a professional, he was exposed to different Asian design cultures found in countries like the Philippines, Hong Kong, Vietnam and China.

It was after this he set up his own private design practice in the Philippines, working on residential and commercial projects, both as an architect and interior consultant. It was during this time he kindled his interest in photography and furniture design and has been slowly building up his portfolio in both.

“Deciding that the time was right to spread out my wings to a more diversified culture environment, I came to the UAE,” Najarro said. At Samuel Creations SA, the majority of projects he handled related to hospitality. He then had a chance to be exposed to European design culture by attending workshops in France and design-related events across Europe.

His current projects are equally varied both in project types and geography, which range from Korea to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

In addition, he belongs to many professional organisations, including United Architects of the Philippines (UAP), American Institute of Architects (AIA), Association of Professional Interior Designers (APID), and United Arab Emirates Society of Engineers (UAE SE).

Najarro also believes in sustainable design. “During my tenure with Design Work Portfolio, my increasing interest in green projects and environmental issues made me a strong advocate of sustainable solutions,” he said.

What are you currently working on?
For the last month, my team and I have been working on a mixed-use hospitality and retail development in India. This project is very exciting as we are also responsible for the architectural concept of the development.

This gives great design leverage for the interiors since we have a very strong grasp on the totality of the project from inside out, so the correlation of the design is seamless and flawless.

Another project we have started working on recently is a destination retreat hotel. We are responsible for the refurbishment of the existing hotel, and complete architectural and interior concepts of the extension on the adjoining plot, which houses extra deluxe rooms, F&B outlets, a nightclub and spa.

In the studio, I am working on hospitality, corporate and institutional projects from UAE, Korea, Qatar, Oman and India which helps to satisfy my photographic appetite as well.

What has been your favourite project to design and why?
It is the current mixed-use development we are working on in India, since it is very challenging. Our architectural and interior design approach has helped us to create an unorthodox design on a very difficult terrain.

I also think we’ve achieved a very contemporary look, while preserving the traditional characteristics of the region. We’ve used local finishes, which help the buildings blend smoothly into the environment with energy conservation being one of our top concerns.

How many people are there on your design team?
We have a dynamic attitude to teams in our studio; the size changes depending on the needs of the project rather than keeping rigid pocketed teams. This system enables us to correlate and work with each other in a dynamic environment.

As my current projects are both architectural and interior concepts, I am working with a team of one architect, three interior designers, in addition to two FF&E designers and a support staff of six totaling up to 14, including myself and the junior interior designer.

We are supported by the visual artists, librarians and project managers in addition to other support staff in the studio.

Where do you get your inspiration from?
Inspiration depends on the project in hand. It might come from the client itself or the environment, the culture, an article, a nearby artifact or any other unexpected corner or usually from all of the above.

However, in our studio we have two main principles that we never deviate from. We are, first and foremost, commercial designers, therefore all that we design should be within a specified budget with a substantiated rationale behind each creative idea. Second, we never compromise on the quality of our design.

What I see in our studio is that we share a passion for correct and beautiful design and we don’t mind going that extra mile to satisfy our perfectionist expectations.

What challenges do you face as a designer?
Due to the current economic climate that we are all experiencing, the commercial dimension of our creative concerns has become more vital than ever. Maintaining uniqueness of design, while ensuring a tight control over the budget is currently the main challenge.

Yet in addition to that, all perfectionist designers have always had the challenge of meeting the time constraints, I think this is why all design studios work long hours. We can’t stop until we are totally satisfied as details can make or break our designs. To achieve a balance between professional life and social life is another challenge almost all good designers share.

Any tips for interior designers entering the industry?
One major aspect that should not be ignored by new graduates is their neglect of functional aspects of projects, and the client. We are not pure artists; our creative pieces are not meant to hang on walls.

Rather, our creative ideas are meant to be implemented, to be used, and in most of the cases, generate profit while being used.

Personally, the construction component must be fully understood by all parties involved in the successful realisation of the project. Adherence to local ordinance must be there by approving authorities and basic building code compliance. Early stage coordination process must be a part of the design concept; new graduates should avoid the traditional scenario of giving everything in one go.

Due to late coordination, misunderstandings will occur because some relevant information was not incorporated or deliberately missed out, which translates into added expenses. Exposure to the site is a sure way to provide practical judgment.

This of course creates a big challenge, because to achieve the above while ensuring a very creative and beautiful art piece is very difficult. The expertise comes from experience, exposure to different cultures and projects, the right guidance, and the right attitude to life.

An open creative mind and great listening skills are the prerequisites to achieve this. Of course, aiming to work with a good mentor at the beginning of a student’s professional life, rather than looking for a very well-paid post will benefit them in their long-term career.

Ours is a very difficult field – there is no one-day wonder in this field. Being born with a creative talent is not sufficient; although it is a must in a good designer, it is not sufficient for success. Years of hard work, a mind that never stops researching and reading, an open mind, making the right choices at the beginning of the career and of course, being at the right place at the right time is just as important.

Although design per se is a free expression, what is good to you may not work out for others and vice versa. It’s the designer who has to justify his/her work, the merits of the design, and convince the client to accept the design, with a little bit of luck.

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