Inside the Mind Of

Inside the Mind of… Joakim de Rham


16 Jan , 2018  

From Switzerland to Brazil and now the UAE, Joakim de Rham has left his design footprint across the globe. The more we chat with the co-founder of Swiss Bureau, the more we realize how deep his roots go in the world of architecture and design. Born and raised in Switzerland, Joakim grew up in a family passionate about architecture, real estate and design. Shortly after obtaining his diploma, he wanted to further explore his creativity, and that decision motivated his move to Sao Paulo to work with Sig Bergamin – a highly influential interior designer in Brazil.


“Inspiration comes from everywhere; it can come from a walk in nature, from a quote by a writer or a small street in Hong Kong full of hanging electrical wires.” – Joakim de Rham, Swiss Bureau

Swiss Bureau is, in fact, his second venture, with his first being another interior design firm started in 1999, which he went on to sell to his partner. He would then go on to start Swiss Bureau in 2003 together with Maher Al Zarooni. Since then, he’s never looked back. Today, with a team of 42 passionate members of staff, his portfolio and interests are not limited to a single sector, which is what makes him so versatile and adaptable. And what’s more, Joakim brings an energy and experience to the room like few others do.

We catch up with Joakim de Rham to chat about his journey, design and what he loves about the UAE.

Where do you find your inspirations for your designs? Are there places where you’ve found numerous sources that you’ve used many times?

Inspiration comes from everywhere; it can come from a walk in nature, from a quote by a writer or a small street in Hong Kong full of hanging electrical wires. A critical mind can also serve as a guide to inspiration.

After the inspiration is sort of ‘downloaded’ into my mind, the idea follows which can rush in quickly and at any time. Personally, I just need to be completely relaxed and focused for a very short period. Sometimes in a few seconds, I can find the idea for a concept. But this can occur at any time, while driving, on a plane or while brainstorming with our team. I just need to make sure I note it down as soon as the idea strikes!

What’s your favorite design sector and why?

I don’t have a favorite sector. Design is all around us in some form or the other. My curious self always asks how would I have designed that place if I was in charge of it. This pushes me to take on design projects in any sector, as long as it’s interesting.

The design approach of one sector compared to another one can be totally different though. Commercial projects are interesting when you consider human behavior; a residential project is intimate; a public space is about functionality; and a hospitality project is about perception. This is fascinating because we must always endeavor to approach a project with different outlooks. This way you are never bored.

Joakim de Rham
Room Of The Emirates – United Nations, Geneva

What have been your favorite and least favorite designs that you’ve worked on, and why?

My favorite designs have always been in the corporate sector, designing office spaces. There are several factors to consider in an office project, such as human behavior, privacy, functionality and perception. There are so many angles to it that only a holistic approach to the design process would be able to accommodate them. I like to understand the values and the corporate identity of our client and integrate them into the office space.

In addition, in the office sector, the working environment has totally changed within the last 10 years. We are surfing on a wave of change. Employers now realize the importance of a well-designed office and see how design is connected to workforce performance. The solution needs to create a pleasant space for everyone involved. The trend is to bring your home into the office, which means the atmosphere is crucial. It also points to the importance of bringing in a more informal meeting area to increase the collaboration between the staff. Also, the quality and the functionality of the space are equally important, with aspects such as acoustics, lighting solutions, and plants. At Swiss Bureau, our team is constantly looking for innovative solutions to respond to new trends and human behavior which require these working environments.

I don’t really have any least favorites. Every project I’ve worked on has been interesting and has offered a new experience. For me each project is a prototype, so sometimes we fail and sometimes we get it right; after-all, this is a learning curve and we evolve and grow as designers. That’s the point, right?

What would be the most important advice you could give new designers?

Stay curious, and always be critical of what you hear and see.

Joakim de Rham
Property Finder Office, Dubai

How do you compare Dubai with anywhere else you’ve worked? What do you feel is the toughest part of being an interior designer, especially in the UAE?

Dubai is a very special place for me, but it’s difficult to compare it with Switzerland where I was working previously.

Those working in Dubai for the past 15 years or so have all witnessed the acceleration of the business activity and creativity in our industry. Interiors is a very important factor for users in many sectors. In Dubai especially, we spend a lot of time indoors during the hot season, so it is essential to be surrounded by a well-designed environment. Our clients are also constantly challenging us to push our creative boundaries.

And Dubai is fast – possibly one of the fastest moving cities in the world. The toughest part I think is the short deadlines our clients give us. It puts severe pressure on us as designers to conceptualise the perfect project. We often have to drop several concepts and features in favor of time. Perfection does not exist but we are all looking to achieve it which requires a lot of time and changes in the project. We simply don’t have the luxury of time. However, this culture is interesting in its own way. With experience like this, you learn to make decisions a lot more quickly and find it easier to do so over time. You develop confidence that they’re right ones… hopefully!

What frustrates you the most about design approaches and trends in Dubai, or in the UAE in general? What do people get wrong?

As of now, there’s nothing in particular that frustrates me. I think what we have in the UAE today is the liberty to explore our creativity as much as possible. The trends are global and Dubai is a global city.

There used to be projects that were stereotyped as poorly designed or had ‘cookie cutter’ approached design; government projects generally fit this description. But during the last few years, the government has realized what it means to represent the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. This is why more agencies like Swiss Bureau have been invited to work on breathing new life into government offices through design.

Joakim de Rham
Swiss International Scientific School in Dubai

What's your favorite holiday spot in the world? And your least favorite travel destination?

Wow! There are so many. While my home country – Switzerland – will always be special to me, one that holds another special place in my heart is Brazil. I’ve had an extraordinary time working there in 1998, and I met my wife in Sao Paolo. Brazil is a country of contrasts: incredible nature and dramatic urbanization which never fail to inspire me.

As for my least favorite travel destination? I’ve still not found it and I hope I never will…

If not interior design, what would you be doing?

A commercial airline pilot!

What are your design goals?

An entire hotel. It would provide a super large canvas for all my creativity to take shape and form. I would design it in collaboration with my wife who has incredible taste and who is a complete autodidact. We could design a hotel that reflects our combined personality. There are so many different areas to design; from the lobby to the washrooms, rooms to the garden, restaurants to the ballrooms. Every single one of them offers an opportunity for a unique design.

Joakim De Rham
Iflix, Dubai

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