Passionate about Design and Innovation, creative advocate of Minimalism and open spaces, Charif Badih is currently one of the top leading Architects of the Middle East. He co-founded BK Architects with Najib Kantar in 1998, joined in 2006 by Ali Hamed. Since then the three partners expanded their scope of work to both Interior Design and Architecture combining their knowledge to devise sustainable 360 integrated design solutions.
Today, the trio conceptualizes and executes private residences projects, ranches, hotels, malls, urban and corporate spaces in more than 24 countries worldwide.
From Riyadh and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia to London, Miami, New York, Dubai, Bahrain, Lebanon, Kurdistan, Nigeria to name only a few, the projects designed by Charif distinctively fuse tradition with modernity to beautifully fit the diverse environments that host them.
Kamsyn went to meet Charif in his radiant new offices overlooking the famous Banking district in downtown Beirut.
Nested on the higher floors of an impressive building facing the Government Sérail, BK Architects’ beautiful large sunny window bay reveals the minimalistic lines and the set of volumes specifically designed to welcome in the ever blue skies of the Lebanon. A colorful library room offers visitors volumes of the greatest masters: Frank Lloyd Wright, Ricardo Bofill, Frank Gehry, Philip Johnson, Oscar Niemeyer, Philip Stark, Zaha Hadid and many others.
A welcoming atmosphere fills the place where several carefully selected and dynamic teams work in elegant synergy. Charif Badih created his diverse working environment to reflect the image of the Beirut he loves: Cosmopolite and Culturally rich. An authentic place of human & civilizational interaction.
Having his entries in all the major capitals of the West and the Arab world, Saudi Arabia mainly, Charif has acquired the trust of top decisions makers through the constant Excellence of his work.
How did he choose the Architecture path? What is the architectural style he prefers? How does he see the current market and what are his future plans? What does he love about Lebanon?
Portrait of a man of action and an inspired visionary who’s always on the move jumping from one plane to the next: creating the future, today.
Why did you fall in love with Architecture? How did you start BK Architects?
Since my early childhood I have been highly attracted to drawing, to a point where it took away all my spare time as well as every blank space on my notebooks and even desks. From there on, I never knew exactly where my career would be, but the one thing I was sure about was that I would be doing something that had to do with arts.
It is by pure coincidence that I went into Interior Design, and I felt straight away that I belonged there; I found my haven.
From my early days at university, I wasn’t a fan of the “one man does-it-all” concept. I was peculiarly compelled by structural organisms and companies where a joint effort of several heads can produce marvels. Therefore, I started collaborating with colleagues on an academic as well as a freelance scale, and it is through these different experiences that I met Najib Kantar and we found in each other the solid friendship we were looking for. Later on, after we started BK, I met Ali Hamed who symbiotically fit in with our vision of an architectural studio that could lead us all where we always wished to be.
What is the architectural style that you prefer?
I’m a minimalist by nature. I always tend towards white spaces, neutral colors, straight lines and sharp edges. I designed my first house all in white. Even the furniture was white, and we had to find white Kevlar fabric that was quite a tiresome experience for the upholsterer to work with. You can feel the same minimalistic purity and whiteness in our offices in Beirut.
What are the materials that inspire you the most today?
Generally, I would safely say that every material inspires me. Then again, on a personal preferential note, I am especially attracted by the metallic feel of materials.
What are your current projects? Where are you based and where do you operate?
Based in Beirut since 2002, we are currently working on several high-end private residential buildings, a large scale multiple development and a hospitality projects for elitist families in the KSA, such as Al Zahra Development, House S and the Thelma Suites, as well as several other projects around the GCC, Africa, Mid-Asia, Europe and the US. We already got awarded for three of them this year, and nominated for a few others.
What are your Future projects?
Within the same scope, there are currently various promising projects on a bigger scale awaiting their launch.
Last year, you were the main partners of Beirut Design Week. How important is it for you to empower the young generation and inspire the local cultural scene?
We always believed that Lebanon is a large hub for multicultural creativity and artistic mixture and furthermore, a wellspring of various talents in the design field, thus it would be a shame not to shed the light upon that, and it would be a pity not to make it a common and public interest, even to those who are not within the design or artistic field.
The aim in that partnership was to encourage more and more exhibitions such as this one, and to promote Lebanon abroad as the main player it is in that field. We have considered several other events to participate in, but we are still figuring out where our contribution would be the most effective in that regard.
On the same note, one of the outcomes of this experience was to encourage the individuals who underwent such an endeavor to keep up with the fine work they did, and to build upon the positive feedback it had among the public, so that this would not end on a one or two-time occurrence, thus inspiring people to contribute more and more into reaching international acknowledgement.
What are the advantages of being based in Lebanon?
You’re living inside the boiling cauldron.With their multicultural background, the perseverance of the local society for higher education, and the smallness of the land upon which they live, the Lebanese peopled have long been compelled to travel, seeking new opportunities and expansion, therefor, they hardly stop evolving themselves, always aiming to attain international standards.
Anyone knowledgeable in the arts and design fields know that Lebanon is the place to set foot into within the region, and you can even find international individuals who base themselves here for that same reason. Theses trendsetters incite you to work on developing yourself, and there are no obstacles that could prevent you from attaining your dreams.
With that said, it is very easy to find inspiration here. Living in a highly competitive environment pushes you to progress much faster, and at the same time makes it easier to find skillful resources as well as contacts.
What are your hobbies? Despite your very tight schedule, what relaxes you and recharges you?
Travelling. Even though most of my travels have been within a business frame, I always find joy in researching the place I’m going to, getting to learn everything I can about the people, the land, the culture, the history, so that once I set foot there, I feel I can quickly fit in and learn even more.
During our long path within the architecture, we could have done a lot more money taking local projects, but instead I have always opted to seek projects abroad, as small as they could be, even if that cost us three times more than taking deals back home.
I do get highly picky concerning the location, the way of travel, the accommodations, everything to make my travel broadening and enjoyable. I can safely say that I never felt undesiring to be in a new environment, from the rural areas of Nigeria and Kazakhstan to the awe inspiring capitals of Europe. Every experience has been more and more enriching, especially that I am a very visual being. My eyes are always eager to capture something new.
This has become part of my persona. This accumulation of personal interactions with different people and places around the globe has made the person I am right now. What relaxes me is the sense of achievement. From a simple word of acknowledgement to a feisty celebration, the feeling of self-satisfaction is indescribable.
What recharges me? New challenges, serious ones; ones that provide the potential to push me into moving one step further ahead.
What would be your message to the young students who would like to choose such a career path?
There is no manual to read in order to understand the job and its challenges. You have to keep trying, keep your curiosity sharp, engage people and discussions, sharing your own perspective with those around you, eventually you will suddenly find yourself responsible of a venture to undertake.
I encourage young creative men and women to follow their passions for design and arts, for nowadays, the need for design is growing to a point where it is becoming essential. When I first started in that field, it was still considered a luxury, while today, almost nothing is achieved without a designer behind it. The market is asking for more and more newcomers.
Kamsyn, April 2016
To Follow: www.badih-kantar.com