Designer in Profile - Hala ElKhorazaty

Celebrating a decade of working within the architectural industry, Hala ElKhorazaty, Senior Interior Designer at Perkins&Will London, looks back on her past 10 years in the sector and describes when her interest in architecture and design began.

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Hala ElKhorazaty

is Senior Interior Designer at Perkins&Will London

Please tell us a bit about your career background.

I grew up in Cairo, Egypt, and as everyone who has been there would know, it is steeped in history; every stone has a story, and every building defines an era. You will find so much has passed from thousands of years ago – the rise and fall of civilisations. As the ages pass and the people perish, architecture is what remains to tell these stories. To me, architecture has always been the unbiased historian, and the designs that shape it are the stories that have passed.

Growing up, I had no doubt that I would join this field. As I completed my undergraduate degree in interior architecture, it was yet another chapter in all the stories I had learned about. The year I graduated was the year of the Arab spring. As one of the largest revolutions of our age took place in Cairo, and as the people fought for their hopes and dreams of a better future, I felt the need to be that historian. My graduation project revolved around the concept of freedom and how such a pure and straightforward idea can lead to a collision of forces around it. This project became my own freedom of expression, and it won multiple awards.

This led me to start my professional career with the Dar Group, and I went on to work for their sister firms around the world. Starting at Dar in Cairo, I worked on various science and technology, transportation and healthcare projects. Then I joined Perkins&Will Atlanta, where I specialised in healthcare and obtained my master’s in healthcare interior design. I’m currently with Perkins&Will London, where I specialise in corporate interior projects. I now see London as my home, and I am staying here on a ‘Global Leader & Exceptional Talent’ VISA granted to me by The RIBA, which is a real honour to have.

Who has been your greatest influence?

My most significant influence throughout my career has been the women I have met in leadership. I know this might sound like a simple answer but growing up in Cairo and seeing my mum’s struggles to have a successful career was always something I looked up to her for. In taking my own path in the design industry, I met the most exceptional women throughout my career, and have learned different things from each of them. I would love to mention Angela Kunz, who leads the interior design practice at Dar. She taught me to be vigilant, concise and always have a clear head and open eyes. More importantly, she told a young designer with many self-doubts that I could do anything in the world, and only I could hold me back. Amy Sickler, who leads the healthcare interiors practice at Perkins&Will Atlanta, taught me how to think with my heart and head, always approaching designs with a lot of empathy and love. Finally, Linzi Cassels, the Global Interiors Design Director and a Principal of the Interiors Studio in London, taught me that our vulnerability is not a weakness but a strength in a business-savvy world. It grounds us and reinforces us with the right tools to design genuinely inspirational work.

What has been your greatest influence and source of inspiration?

I always look at a building from the inside out; therefore, my source of inspiration – which connects how I viewed architecture as a child – comes from the stories of those who inhabit the space. We are all heroes in our own stories, and it is the same with clients. I feel an absolute thrill when we start a new project and work with clients to define their story. So, to help clients see and define this vision in a tangible way is quite the honour.

What has been yourmost notable project to date?

Three projects come to mind when I think of this. One that falls close to my heart was a nuclear medicine clinic for a confidential client, which is due to open this year. We were able to take a genuinely human-centric approach to the design, applying many neuroscience concepts that can support patients’ and staff’s wellness throughout.

Another project is Dar Group’s new headquarters in London, 150 Holborn. It is a project in which I deeply connected with its vision of ‘togetherness’ – a new home for all the sister companies to come together for the first time in the world. Since I have worked for both Dar and Perkins&Will, I found myself designing the home that would bring members of my own professional families together, with a primary focus on sustainability, wellness and collaboration.

Last is the Phil Freelon Design Competition, where we were asked to design a co-living building that can respond to the city centre housing issues. This was a firm-wide international competition in which we were only given a weekend to come up with the design.

What do you thinkis the greatest challenge for designing in sustainability?

An outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic is the clarity of how connected we are, and through that vital connection, every action has significant consequences. The results of what we design today have an integral role in creating a healthy future. Therefore, general concepts of sustainability need to be our starting point and not our end. Designers need to focus on achieving a carbon-neutral outcome. The methodology may seem simple and is defined in steps – like design for disassembly, material passports and circularity – but it is a bit more complicated. The whole industry needs to change, including factories, procurement and site models. This will take time, and we need to continually collaborate between all sectors to achieve a common carbon-neutral goal.

What do you think is the greatest challenge for architects today?

Carbon-neutral designs are quite challenging in the current state, but with every challenge comes an innovation opportunity. There will be a lot of changes in the way we design. For example, designing for disassembly means everything needs to be mechanically fixed and can be taken apart and re-used. This is not always available in the market and may need to be designed from scratch. Other challenges can be finding carbon-neutral materials (with zero embodied carbon) and using demolished buildings as material banks instead of new products. This all needs to fall under a common umbrella of health and wellbeing by only using materials with valid HPDs and EPDs (Health and Environmental Product Declarations).

What do you think is the greatest challenge for architecture students at the moment?

I think a big challenge may emerge from the current shift in the market. We are now more aware and sophisticated as an industry on what not to do regarding health and carbon footprint. But, with this increased awareness, there is a huge need for change. This will take time to adjust, and the students graduating soon will start their professional careers in the middle of a shifting, dynamic industry. This may be confusing, but I am immensely proud of the new generation of emerging designers. There is great talent, and their awareness about the world and their role will be vital.

What advice would you give to newly-qualified architects?

I advise them to educate themselves on health and sustainability and always dare to challenge the ideas and concepts that are already available. I also urge them to try different design sectors before settling into one; there is a lot of strength from these synergies.

What can we expect to see from you over the next year?

We have recently launched our ‘Net-Zero Now’ report, a carbon-neutral design commitment for interiors, so I am looking forward to working on projects that push the boundaries of what we can achieve through design. I hope to be able to share these as they develop. I have to say I am grateful for the team and clients’ enthusiasm to make this happen.

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