Inside the Mind Of

Inside The Mind Of… Rabih Geha


19 Jan , 2019  

From a three man team to a full fledged design practice, RG/Architects has come a long way. It’s founder, Rabih Geha has plenty to be proud of. Last year, RG/Architects’ project, 2Weeks, won the 2018 Commercial Interior Design Award in the Bars & Nightclubs category. We managed to pull him aside from his many commitments during Dubai Design Week, to have a chat and catch a glimpse inside his unique, storytelling mind.

 


 

The proud Lebanese-Croatian designer always knew he wanted a career in design. The spark was lit early on, and he attributes much of his experimental design personality to his mother. He recalls fond memories from his childhood with his mother, that involve making collages and art from wrapping paper – an activity that got his mind exploring creative angles to problems at an early age.

A naturally curious person, Rabih enjoys exploring new projects, and the RGA portfolio reflects this curiosity. Delve inside and you will find the Beurre Bakery and Mukhi Sisters Fine Jewellery Boutique store, projects that Rabih tells us pushed them to explore new design styles, but made them better architects in the process. Rabih is an advocate for learning and likes taking on challenges. He believes that experiences add character and distinction to his design.

Below: 2Weeks, the award winning nightclub design

He describes his personal style as experimental, with a strong desire to include themes of childhood fantasy. Those subtle storybook themes and a connection to one’s childhood are what he believes makes his designs so enjoyable – an escape from reality that we all crave at times. The Pinocchio inspired Uberhaus nightclub in the heart of Beirut is one such example. Another project that that we particularly liked is Haminals, which falls under the product design realm. The six hammers were designed to be a tangible manifestation of the mental hammers we use, or need, to break free from the traditions and customs that tie us down.

 

His journey so far…

My first formal step into the field of Architecture + Design was to complete a BA program in architecture from The American University of Beirut (AUB). From there, I travelled to Paris where I did my Masters at ENSCI. After graduation, I worked in Marseilles and Paris for a while, honing my skills.

I decided to return to Beirut in 2006 and launched Rabih Geha Architects. The practice was meant to serve as a platform to bring my ideas to life, tell stories, and to contribute to the design sector in Lebanon, at least at the start, with the intention to expand later.

Our team of three architects and designers (at the time) worked on a portfolio of projects that included architecture, interiors, product design, and experimental installations. I am proud to say that now, thirteen years later, we are  flourishing, international, award winning architecture and design practice.

Above from left: Another, a contemporary store in Zero 4 district; Aïshti We Are The People, a fashion destination; Mukhi Sisters Flagship Store

Favourite design sector…

The hospitality industry is so public and visible. The great thing about this industry, and bars and clubs in particular, is that they allow for greater creative exploration and experimentation, which I absolutely love.  When I work on the design of a club, I think about the experience, and reflect upon minute details and myriad elements that together define the space. I challenge myself to shift the visual paradigm and come up with something unexpected. One such example would be the whale inspired structure for Uberhaus. The ‘raw’ approach, using containers and steel ribs, along with hypnotic lighting effects, helped highlight the multisensory aspect, which is what the space inherently called for.

 

On his award winning project, 2Weeks…

Spread over one level, the indoor club overlooks Beirut’s seaport and is based on the concept of containment without caging – viewing another world from the inside. A webbed black steel shell envelopes the majority of the club where the main bar, DJ booth, and seating areas lie. The outside of the shell remains part of the destination, with a chilled bar area for onlookers to hang about and socialise, while also keeping an eye on the happenings through the mesh, thereby encouraging interaction and visual communication between the inside and out.

For me, the most exciting part of that project was creating its story…

The concept is about offering club goers an immersive experience within an interior shell created to envelop the crowd, all the while still filtering out to the outside via the mesh. It creates a sense of discharge, of play. The path to the main space is one of discovery, forming a palette of experiences before as you enter.

 

His design style…

Definitely experimental! And I always try to include a touch of fantasy in my projects, some more than others. That’s how we make our work stand out.

Above: AHM nightclub in Biel, Beirut

His design process…

Each project, be it a sleek urban residence or an intimate villa-turned-bar, has an individual identity. This, for me, is based on its particular context and purpose. I tend to draw upon my subject, which in essence is the project and its surroundings. To understand it better, I always put myself in the space – the street, the building – and then create a visual narrative through my design and architecture, all the while ensuring it is in sync with the client’s vision and needs. What is inherently fascinating is how the multi-layered design, multi-pronged decisions, along with a hundred other minute details, eventually translate into reality.

 

His work with ALBA, The Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts…

For me, teaching at ALBA has been a chance to contribute back to Academia, and influence the next generation of designers from Lebanon. In 2006, when I returned to Lebanon, I launched an experiment driven and research oriented workshop, to challenge interior architecture and design majors at ALBA, where I am still teaching today. It’s been a great experience so far.

Below: Uberhaus, another nightclub designed by RG/Architects in Downtown Beirut

How do you compare Lebanon with anywhere else you’ve worked?

I love Beirut. I’m Lebanese-Croatian, and I’ve always had a great attachment to my city. I grew up between Beirut and Split, and I’ve experienced Beirut’s glory days as well as its war and post-war times. As much as Beirut could be perceived as an unstable city, the truth is it has the incredible dynamic of creativity and is a gem of opportunities. And for me, as a father, I look for these opportunities to build a foundation for my kids and subsequent generations to come. This city is a major source of enthusiasm that helps bring my projects to life. We have, however, begun to work on projects internationally, and plan to expand this further in the coming years. But Beirut will always remain our base.

The great thing about the design industry in Lebanon is that it’s a booming hub for creative experimentation. The country has been through so many cultural influences throughout history – from France, the UK, or the surrounding Middle Eastern Countries.  This gives the design a massive wealth of history to bank on.

 

Any dominant trends in Lebanese Architecture+Design?

I personally do not believe in trends, nor do I follow them as I think each project should relate back to its own narrative. Trends come and go every few years, and I try to create spaces and buildings that the client will love always.

The only aspect I do believe comes into play every year is the advancement in technology that impacts our interiors and architecture. Technology is becoming more and more elaborate, and reaching a new level of sophistication every year. And its impact on design cannot be ignored, whether direct or indirect.

Personally, I am more about inventing, reinterpreting and impacting people’s lives positively through design. Everyone wants a new experience now, and that’s key to a project standing out. I try to cover this from a spatial perspective, taking people through a journey they will enjoy and remember.

Above: Haminals, designed for House of Today’s 3rd edition, 2016

If not an interior designer, what would you be?

I love to cook. So I’d definitely be a chef!

 

A particularly exciting or challenging project…

It’s tough to single out projects because each one is unique in its own way. I believe all the spaces I create have exciting stories to tell… they’re just different stories. Each one is as stimulating as the other, be it a club like 2weeks or AHM, a rooftop lounge bar like the one at the Four Seasons Hotel, a boutique health club like U Energy or Vim and Vigor, or a fine jewelry boutique like Mukhi Sisters. I have immensely enjoyed designing them all.

Above: Vim & Vigour, a neighbourhood health club in Badaro, Lebanon; Below: U Energy, a boutique health club  in Hazmieh, Lebanon

What are you working on at the moment?

We’ve just started work on a third health club that will be our biggest one yet, both in scale and programme. We’re also designing a new, trendy retail space, a nightclub proposal for Italy, the Rolex distributors’ offices downtown, a residential project in 3 Beirut by Foster etc. But there is one project that stands out as the most challenging. It’s a one of a kind renovation and restoration of a traditional Lebanese mansion in the heart of Beirut, a longstanding house from the 1880s belonging to a notable Lebanese political family. The project will take close to two years and will undergo a major architectural and interior design intervention, as well as an architectural modern extension.

 

Advice to new and aspiring designers?

Keep learning, and stay true to one’s self. Never lose your curiosity.

Above: Design of a penthouse

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