A Sunset Hospitality Group space radiates chic vibes.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
Gilbert Khalil is an architect who joined Sunset Hospitality Group (SHG) in 2020 as Director of Design and Technical Services. He is a man with many (professional) dreams. And each of his dreams has turned into a feather in his cap.
Early in his career, in his home country Lebanon, he had worked as Senior Design Architect in several award winning architectural consultancies such as HM Architects, Pierre Basil Architects, Jean Marc Bonfils Architects and Atelier des Architectes Associes. In 2015, though still attached to the world of architecture, he quit his job in Lebanon, so he could explore his dream career: Automotive Design. But he wanted to do more as well as widen his career perspective. Naturally, he moved to Dubai - where he led the design department and managed projects as Head of Design at A3 Design, worked on high end interiors such as Omniyat’s “The PAD” Lobby, in top of the line exhibition spaces such as The Etisalat Gitex Stand, and developed fit-outs such as the Ya Meza restaurant in Meraas La Mer.
After another innings at Sahara Centre Mall, he joined SHG to develop METT, a new hotel concept that will be located in the GCC, Europe and Africa. Gilbert responds to the architecture of Gulf Today’s questions with forthrightly designed answers
How has your experience – from a teenager sketching with pencil, to your love for automotive design, to the many high profile jobs you have handled – helped you in SHG?
Some say that one does not choose architecture, but that architecture chooses you. In my case you could say design chose me - since I was a teenager, I had the urge to sketch and curate any kind of product from automotive designs, to boats, basketball shoes and much more. My real interest in architecture developed in my final high school years; therefore I decided to study it at university. This desire, combined with my qualifications put me in great stead to join SHG, and aid the team in building outstanding 5-star hotels and premium F&B destinations across the GCC, and more recently in Europe, Africa, and Asia.
Who are the architects who inspire you? Why?
Since beginning my studies in design, I’ve always been a fan of deconstructivism and parametric architecture. It amazes me how one can design can be so distorted yet look so beautiful. There are two architects in particular who have constructed such things and inspire my work each and every day – both Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid are great at what they do. I’m in awe of their curations.
How does regional architecture differ from, say, the Levant to the Gulf?
I wouldn’t say contemporary design differs from one region to the other, whether that be the Levant, the Gulf or any other location for that matter. The right language of architecture is now one which is recognised around the world; whilst trends are always being followed, they do evolve depending on the era. The more creative an architect is, the better he can translate this language into iconic, eye catchy designs.
How has Dubai helped you enlarge your concepts?
Dubai has become one of the most competitive places across a number of sectors. Therefore, being able to design F&B outlets in this city allows you to push yourself to curate a project that could potentially become one of the most talked about venue or destination in the region, or even around the world.
If you take SUSHISAMBA on the Palm for example, it took 16,000+ pieces of 3D printed bamboo to create such a breathtaking ceiling design. Additionally, under it on Floor 50 is AURA - a 360-degree infinity pool overlooking all of Dubai from the Palm to the Dubai Eye, to the Marina skyline, even the Burj Al Arab and Burj Khalifa - a kind of place you can only build in Dubai.
How has the interior and architectural landscape changed since SHG’s inception over 10 years ago?
SHG has evolved and grown immensely throughout the past 10 years since its inception. Firstly, the group has introduced top international brands to the region and curated concepts from scratch which are now setting the trends when it comes to design. At DREAM for example, a dinner show destination that was created by SHG, we’ve incorporated a 3D mapping wall behind the stage which changed the whole experience of such concept. Examples of other venues include MOTT32 on level 73 in the Address Beach Resort JBR and ATTIKO on top of the new W Hotel in Mina Seyahi – these are all venues which not only have breathtaking views, but are also exceptionally designed. It’s this we aim to replicate in our new venues also.
What are your trends predictions for the building industry, particularly in its architectural aspects, for the next decade?
From 3D printing, to artificial materials imitating and providing a better finish than the real material, to kinetic architecture - there really is no prediction of where technology will lead us in the next decade within this industry.
Your advice to aspiring/interned/emerging architects?
Emerging architects should not forget that they’re here to bring excitement to people’s lives. We want people to be able to embrace the unexpected in all perceptions of spaces we create around them – designers need to be wildly ambitious and cultivate the determination to succeed in this field.
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