Architect Alaa Mahmoud is the visionary Founder and Chief Architect of AURA, the prominent high-end urban planning, architecture, interior and landscape design consultancy company that has been quietly revamping the design industry in Egypt over the past two decades. Also, a co-founder and board member of edgy real estate development company INERTIA and the Founder of AURA HOME design built residential solutions. Mahmoud’s modernising impact on the Egyptian real estate industry can be seen through AURA’s wide-ranging contributions to real estate projects to several developers. To showcase his important impact in his field, we are pleased to have this multi-talented architect/designer on our cover this month. Mahmoud’s charming personality shone through his captivating interview and its accompanying photoshoot. eniGma’s Ezz Al-Turkey brings you the scoop on Mahmoud, his creativity and design philosophy, as well as the importance of balancing personal life with the demands of succeeding in his profession as an architect and a business leader.
In its Founder’s words, “AURA was created with the vision to maximise client experience by building distinctive urban elements that can stand the test of time. AURA’s designs are physical narratives that possess a continuity of concept and a cohesive voice, rooted in creativity. At AURA, young talents are given the opportunity to let their imagination run wild with original ideas. Through artistic expression and cohesive teamwork, the team at AURA excels at every project they take on.”
Since founding AURA in 2001 as a fresh architecture graduate, Alaa Mahmoud, has been determined to emphasise creativity in all that he does through the diversification of the scope of work, sizes and the type of projects he pitched for and was never afraid to push the envelope in his field. An entrepreneur at heart, he is also a risk-taker, who relished the challenge of founding his own studio at such a young age. Starting out with limited resources, gaining clients was a real challenge at first. His company was small and so were its first projects. Within the span of two decades, however, AURA established itself as an important player in the industry and Mahmoud is recognised as one of Egypt’s leading architects/designers with a huge roster of clients in Egypt and the region.
Following are some excerpts from our interview with this talented architect/entrepreneur that shed light on his fascinating professional journey.
Tell us a bit about your career since starting AURA…
My passion for what I do is the driving force in all my interactions. I’ve been working in AURA since I graduated from university. We started as a design studio for landscape, then we began to incorporate interior design and architecture. Afterwards, I co-founded INERTIA, which is a real estate company and worked on architecture, urban design and landscape design with them. I also worked in parallel with other developers/entities on mega projects. During AURA’s last 20 years, we’ve also diversified the types of projects we work on and have taken on diverse clients. We have a wide array of projects, residential, commercial, educational, hospitality, medical and much more. We have also expanded beyond Egypt and have designed successful projects in Libya, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Dubai.
What were you thinking when you founded AURA in 2001? How did you have the confidence as a fresh graduate to start your own business?
I followed my intuition! Basically, I just went where my heart was telling me to go. My passion for design was always my main plan. I didn’t plan to be an entrepreneur and I didn’t plan to be a businessman. I knew I had talent and it all started with my passion for design. I didn’t even plan to study architecture when it happened. I just got very interested in the mix of art, philosophy and science that architecture is built on.
How did you take AURA to where it is right now?
I always aimed to create relevant and memorable experiences in our projects no matter how big or small they were, our cooperate vision was always about how to build distinctive design elements that possess a continuity of concept through designing physical narratives that would stand the test of time. With every step and every year since the day we started, I strengthened our design sense and intuition. With the right mindset, we were able to work on accentuating our abilities and skills to prepare ourselves for a wider and bigger range of projects. I was very lucky to have started with the perfect partners alongside having a group of very carefully selected creative designers over the years.
Did you feel challenged along the way?
Definitely! Everything is challenging; as architects, we design the future and I believe we see years ahead in our sketches a vision full of challenges to define our surroundings. Unlike its perception, this is a very hard job. It’s a challenge that you have to always be creative over the years. It’s important to understand the client and his briefing, by decoding his input data and transforming it into a physical form that tells a narrative and creates a memory. Design should improve our lives and that’s not only a challenge but also a lifetime responsibility of imposing our design ideologies correctly into people’s lives – trying to positively change their behaviours.
Also, we have challenged ourselves in terms of design quality on international levels and we were so proud that our projects were recognised on several occasions: MIPIM, World Architecture Festival, Cityscape Dubai, Cityscape Cairo, Architecture Records and Luxury Lifestyle Awards.
How do you manage to stay creative?
I believe it’s the exposure that gives me inspiration that makes me stay creative and up-to-date. My lifestyle pillars are my inspirations, they revolve around people, music, fashion, food, technology and of course travel. It’s really interesting how I can get inspired by someone or a place or even a nice piece of music.
Creativity shouldn’t be blocked by boxes and taboos that limit it; we have to think big and bold. There are always new ways to design and be creative and I find that very intriguing. Travelling also allows you to see different cultures and provides you with inspiration.
What have been some of your favourite projects?
We’ve worked on many projects through the years, including more than 14 residential compounds in addition to lots of non-residential ones. All my projects were my favourite at the time.
Designing a whole residential neighbourhood is very interesting and that’s why I like G-Cribs in Gouna, Soleya in Cairo and Ayla our newest project in the North Coast.
On the non-residential side, I liked designing Jefaira hospital which is the first proper private hospital in the North Coast working closely with the operator and developer to decode its complexity from the operational side. I also enjoyed the sports cities we did in KSA with the Saudi general sports authority where I have been lucky to design major football fields along with the whole business development around them.
Also, Zeweil City of Science & Technology was a really interesting national project. It started as a random sketch I did on paper – a messy sketch. And now, a few years later, you can go and see it in real life. It was very interesting because I wanted to create an educational environment that encouraged all students coming from different backgrounds. We wanted them to live glamorously, to have spaces that are easy for them to work in but also feel homey.
It’s always rewarding when you see your projects executed and becoming a reality. At the start, the clients have to trust your vision while the project is just a sketch to them. So, it’s great when they finally see it in real life, which I’m very proud of. I’m generally very proud to see all these projects go so well and I’m always proud of my AURA team.
How do you manage to keep a balance between your work and your personal life?
When I first started my career, I used to overwork myself and spend nights working non-stop. Of course, at that point, I had to do that because I didn’t have enough resources. Now, I’ve realised that you won’t get a lot done without having a “work hard, play hard strategy.” You cannot succeed in your work life if your personal life isn’t healthy. I always seek new things and new adventures and I have hobbies that I love to practice. Time-off can actually be productive. I encourage my team not to sacrifice their personal lives for work; I feel bad when we must stay in the office after hours or during weekends when deadlines are approaching. I think when they come to work every day refreshed, they deliver their best work.
What are your future plans for AURA?
On the corporate level, I want to be the number one company in the field, catering to challenging projects as a boutique design studio. We want to grow by continuing to diversify and carefully select the projects we undertake and also to expand and get recognized internationally. I want to follow the new trends in architecture of livability, experience and sustainability shaping the behaviour of the people I design for.
On a personal level, I want to always be courageous enough to push my limits in different experiences and to try different things; be it art, acting, playing music, cooking or even driving a formula one course.
Photography: Khaled Fadda
Styling: Hoda Wahby