MA+ Architects: The Dream Team of Egypt's Design Scene
Meet the four college buddies who rose to the top of the industry in under three years. We sit down with the brains behind MA+ Architects to talk about designing swanky cribs in Uptown Cairo and Mivida and their collaboration with Mohanad Kojak that has the industry buzzing!
Cairo is not exactly the world’s art capital, yet many have noted just how original and ingenious Egypt’s budding design talents are. From fashion to architecture, Egyptian designers are staking their claim to our credit cards. On the home front, however, one name sticks out: MA+ Architects.
The ambitious foursome behind the up-and-coming architecture firm has Cairo’s design community buzzing with a picture-perfect Instagram account where every photo is a giant piece of eye candy. Even more interestingly, however, is the Cinderella story behind the Instagram account.
It all started three years ago, when four college buddies decided to invest their time and talent to set the bar high for the industry with an innovative concept, each in their area of expertise. They have more than just talent going for them, they have a carefully structured business model and a dream team of experienced professionals: operations and finishing directors Mohammad Negm and Ahmed Abd El Salam, furniture manufacturer and designer Mohamed Wael, and interior and graphic designer Amro Sami. “We started the business in 2013, in an underground office; we didn’t even used to meet clients there until we had enough money to actually move to a proper office,” Wael says laughingly. “The first few commissions we landed were from friends who were about to get married; they trusted us, they helped us get our business off the ground, and that’s basically how it all started. People liked our work, they started referring us to each other, and, bit by bit, people we didn’t even know and have never met started to come our way.”
Imagine trusting one entity completely and entirely with your property to architect, design, decorate, accessorise, furnish, and finish, all while maintaining a healthy blood pressure and heart rate. You’re not checking in with contractors every five minutes, your boss isn’t scolding you for taking suspiciously long lunch breaks, and your spouse is not accusing you of having an affair. That, in a nutshell, is the concept MA+ Architects are introducing. Sure, it might cost you a pretty penny, but don’t all good things?
The cycle of creation starts with a brief, an intimate conversation with the client. “When we get a client, we don’t just ask them what they want, we try to find out who they are as a person – the designs are tailored to fit their personality and lifestyle,” Wael says. “Even their clothes give us clues on what we’re dealing with; if they have a baby, it also gives us additional variables to consider.”
It's this air of laid-back-new-kids-on-the-block-with-huge-egos-and-the-talent-to-back-it-up thing they give off that landed them major contracts in a lifespan of less than five years, from swanky Uptown Cairo cribs to conceptual set designs with hot stuff fashion designer Mohanad Kojak. “When you come by the office, the atmosphere is incredibly friendly and laid back; we could order a pizza during a meeting and our desks are made of pallets!” Wael jokes. Seriously though, they are.
A scroll through their Instagram feed will leave you wondering if they’re even able to produce something that isn’t so elaborately glamourous, and the answer is they are. If anything, the firm’s lead designer Amro Sami, whose blueprints and models are law, is a minimalist himself. “Obviously, I approach the job my own way, but I also to reconcile my taste and the client’s,” he says. “It doesn’t come out completely minimalist, but it’s not excessively extravagant either.”
Despite being very much a niche firm whose clients typically spare no expense in getting their homes looking all chic, MA+ Architects couldn’t resist the challenge of working under budgetary restrictions when they were approached by a client who was also a friend. “A friend of mine wanted to open a learning centre, where they do life coaching courses such as confidence building and stuff like that. It’s in Manial. We made him the design but he couldn’t afford to spend much money, and he wanted something that looks industrial but also has a high aesthetic value,” Sami explains. And so, the flashy four had to put on their thinking blue collar caps and get to work. “We decided to go with recycled material and made an arrangement from pallets for the exteriors.”
But perhaps nothing goes to show how prolific and capable MA+ Architects are like the fact that they had to design and execute a set for the debut photo shoot of notoriously fastidious fashion designer Mohanad Kojak’s Delirium collection in record time. “Kojak came to us with the storyboard and showed us the collection and told us the concept, so that was discussed during a meeting, and we had one week to get it done,” Sami recounts.
They went above and beyond the call of duty. “He wanted something quaint and dilapidated and derelict; we understood the concept, but we had to work on it ourselves because we couldn’t explain it to anyone. There were no construction workers,” Wael explains. “It was also challenging because he had no time to check in, we had no time to sit in on meetings, and basically, you have photographers, makeup artists, and an entire crew booked for the photo shoot, so if the set isn’t up to his standards, that’s it – it’s not happening.”
What sets them apart, however – what really makes the magic happen, aside from talent and aptitude – is the lengths they’ll go to in order to really get the job done and do it well. "Community Times wrote an article about us; the next morning, a client came to the office asking if we could do their Mivida home," Wael says. "He was looking for something personal, so we met over two days, listening to what he wants his home to look like and two days later, we had a concept for him."
They're young, they're hip, they're talented, and they're in demand - a lethal combination that has sent many young entrepreneurs to an early financial grave, but here is how we know MA+ Architects are here to stay: they walk the talk; behind the flashy designs and the inflated invoices is a team of people who have never been too posh to push (themselves), to pick up a paint roller and get the job done themselves if need be. Taking on one challenge after the other, and coming out swinging every time, the fantastic four of the industry still approach every job with the same bewilderment, anxious to get to work, and sparing no elbow grease - a formidable recipe for longevity.
Shoot by @MO4Network's #MO4Productions.
Photographer: Ahmed Najeeb.