Architect Ehab Mokhtar, the man behind IDIA Design, has been in business for over a quarter of a century. Always determined to create a well-rounded experience for his clients, Mokhtar values quality over quantity and makes sure his clients walk away pleased with their overall experience. eniGma’s Mana Swadek sat down with the architect to find out more about his design house and his personal approach to customer satisfaction.
From a very young age, Ehab Mokhtar knew that he wanted to be an architect. His creativity and yearning to learn how things are built helped him mold the career he is known for today. “I always knew that I had great problem-solving skills. Even in school when there were two options for an assignment, I would always choose the more complicated one. I would be more interested in the problem and how to solve it.”
After studying architecture at Cairo University, Mokhtar later completed a Master’s Degree in Science at the American University in Cairo. An ardent believer in lifelong learning, and recognising the evolution of the market towards innovation and design based approaches, he went on to complete certifications at INSEAD, Cambridge University, and MIT.
As you enter the “IDIA by Ehab Mokhtar” offices in Dokki, you immediately feel a positive energy and are overwhelmed by the friendly attitude of everyone in the office. The glass meeting rooms along the back wall of the office also, quite literally, reflect the value of transparency that Mokhtar has based his business on. There is no sign of hierarchy in the open work area where architects, designers, consultants, and managers all sit alongside one another. It is certainly a distinctive space in comparison to other offices in Egypt.
Mokhtar prides himself on his team, and the feeling is reciprocated by his designers. Town-hall like meetings to share new ideas are a hallmark of the office’s work ethic, making sure everyone is aware of all new information the office receives. Office-wide competitions are held regularly, where Mokhtar is a humble participant and where he is not always the winner! When asked what he looks for when recruiting members of his team, Mokhtar explains that everyone has something special within them. “People have to be willing to learn, even if they feel they know things already. Values are more important to me than skills. If we have the same values we will be able to innovate together,” he explains. “I want my team to be authentic, and to never stop learning. If you are authentic and genuine in what you do, it shows, and it makes you do your job well,” he adds.
It is apparent that authenticity and transparency are at the heart of what Mokhtar does and is what sets him apart from others. He is a self-appointed member of the 5am club, starting his day early to get personal tasks out of the way so as to allow his creativity to flow uninterrupted at his office. A leader in the field of innovation, Mokhtar also teaches it to students at Nile University. “I actually learn a lot from my students as well. There is no right or wrong when it comes to innovation,” he explains.
Focusing on the importance of listening in order to understand the clients’ requests, Mokhtar notes that sometimes he switches roles when he is in meetings with clients. “At times clients are unable to express what they want accurately, so I feel I have to play the role of a psychologist to understand them,” he explains. Mokhtar reiterates his problem-solving forte by expressing how he works with difficult clients. “Difficult clients set the battlefield from the beginning. We know we have to work hard to bring their vision to life,” he adds.
One of the projects designed and developed by Mokhtar is the prestigious Jeera compound in Sheikh Zayed which he completed from start to finish, utilising his holistic capabilities and multifaceted talents. Another important project that IDIA took on was the Bank of Alexandria Headquarters located in the Smart Village. The bank was acquired by the Intensa San Paolo Group at a time when there was some skepticism about a government owned bank being sold to a foreign company. There was immense pressure to produce a building that was respected internationally, but that still held true to the Egyptian identity. “We were able to create such a building and it is one of the projects we are most proud of,” says Mokhtar.
Based on taking the time to define their clients’ needs, IDIA is known for its expertise in designing workspaces that are functional and that promote better productivity. As design consultant and strategist for the premier crystal brand, Crystal Asfour, IDIA was brought in based on their reputation as the front runners of innovation, and were tasked with creating unique store experiences for customers in all of their retail spaces, the first one being the one in Mall of Egypt. IDIA also collaborated with Asfour on their product design. “Crystal Asfour is a company that is known as the best in their field, and we came in to help highlight their capabilities in innovation,” says Mokhtar. This is all in an effort to revolutionise the user experience. Mokhtar and his team are also very proud of the Obelisco Capitale Tower IDIA created in collaboration with El Nasr Developments in the New Administrative Capital. While still not yet built, the tower is expected to stand out in view of its precise proportions and its overall design that is reminiscent of the ancient Egyptian lotus flower.
Despite the fact that Mokhtar has over 25 years of experience in the Egyptian market, he has kept a low profile most of the time. When asked why, he explains quite simply, “You wouldn’t trust yourself with a surgeon who just graduated from medical school. Architecture is the same way. Experience matters. The more experience you have, the more you are able to give, and the more you understand what it is exactly that you are capable of.”
With that said, Mokhtar emphasizes the need to create a holistic approach to work, giving the client an everlasting experience. “My goal is to give my clients an experience that they will always remember, even after our work is done,” he insists.
When it comes to the intense competition in the design field, Mokhtar is not worried. “Competition is healthy and necessary to emit true talent and to push us to do better. Our strength is to be on par with that competition,” he confidently concludes.