Architect Ehab Mokhtar, the founder of IDIA Design, a leading design house in Cairo, has been in business for over a quarter of a century. Mokhtar pursues his design profession with energy and passion, always seeking innovative methods to achieve his goal of full client satisfaction. eniGma’s Iman Nayel sat down with Mokhtar to learn more about his career journey and his unique design vision.
“Problems have always challenged me; and design is all about solving problems,” says architect Ehab Mokhtar. Having studied both architecture and engineering, Mokhtar feels his engineering background gives him an added edge when it comes to the logic involved. “When you add logic to creative thinking, this gives you a clear advantage. You are able to bring something special to the table. At our design house, IDIA, before we think about solutions, we focus on identifying and breaking down the problems, and then tackling them in a creative way,” he affirms.
Mokhtar’s problem-solving methods are at the crux of how IDIA approaches the design of any project, and the problems he addresses are broader than one might expect. National negatives, including general environmental issues, are broader examples of problems he addresses in the course of his work. “As the second noisiest country in the world, for example, Egypt ranks fourth in the level of stress of its inhabitants, and we must take that into account,” says Mokhtar.
Mokhtar’s work on small projects and assignments early in his career taught him much about his profession and bolstered his passion for design. As he advanced in his profession, he developed his own vision, which he refers to as “human-centered design.” IDIA applied this approach to Jeera, their project in Sheikh Zayed city, where they focused on designing spaces that connected people and also looked and felt like home. “I adopt this approach in all my projects. In our latest project, Majada in Ain Sokhna, our approach focused on the ‘wellness architecture’ concept. This concept stands on three pillars: the physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness of our clients.
For IDIA, client comfort is the top priority from start to finish. The design journey starts by profiling the client; the first question being what is the profile of the user of this space? “Other designers typically start by designing the structure, then they proceed to accommodate their client’s needs within that structure. We believe it must be the other way around. We focus on people; they are our starting point and our end point,” Mokhtar explains. “We conduct extensive interviews with our clients to understand what they are looking for and what makes them happy, relaxed, and productive. It is crucial to learn what clients hope to gain with a project and to avoid disappointments they may have experienced in previous projects. We then turn our findings into a project mission statement and proceed from there,” he adds.
The work ethos within IDIA’s studio is also unique, always promoting the team’s innovation. Mokhtar respects that people work at their own pace and using their own methods. “Happy people will create and innovate,” he affirms. “You cannot expect creativity from someone who is stressed or afraid; that’s why I aspire to create an atmosphere of coziness – a sort of family feel to the workplace,” he adds. Among the activities that are special to IDIA are Mokhtar’s in-house competitions, which he finds are a great way to motivate employees and build teamwork skills. The competitions nurture his team’s creativity and unlock what they may not have known was within them. “In many cases I discovered creative stars under my own roof that I didn’t know I had,” he exclaims.
Mokhtar believes that market competition is essential for professional growth. “Competition pushes me to reflect on my weaknesses, to develop new skills and to grow as an architect. As opposed to settling for what is happening now, we look five to ten years ahead and bring new ideas to the market. We aim to be trendsetters; to set the standard for the market,” he explains.
The groundbreaking architect’s vision doesn’t stop at design, however. Mokhtar stresses the importance of personal growth through continuous learning. An important part of his learning comes through the workshops he organises, which stimulate enlightening conversations among participants. “Teaching is challenging because students often ask questions you don’t expect,” he explains, “these questions challenge my own assumptions and knowledge, and this definitely improves my expertise.”