Patrick Bean, design director at Lacasa Architects and Engineering Consultants, speaks to designMENA about its latest hospitality and residential projects and the importance of nurturing young talent.
Since its founding 11 years ago, Lacasa Architects and Engineers has been predominantly known for its architectural work in the UAE and across the wider Middle East. Tasked to further develop Lacasa’s interior design department, Patrick Bean joined the company last year as its new design director.
Born in the UK, Bean holds a masters degree in interior design and has 20 years’ experience working on hospitality, commercial, residential and retail projects in the UK, France, Hong Kong, Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE. Before joining Lacasa, he previously worked with SSH, Design Worldwide Partnership (dwp), GIL International and Bluefish.
“Historically, Lacasa was doing projects that were mainly focussed on architecture. We are now looking at pushing an interior design department further to become an independent identity, not hidden under architecture and MEP,” Bean comments. “Our team is not huge, but we are growing with some very talented people joining us.”
Predominantly working on five-star hotels, Bean now wants to tap into the mid-range market.
“I feel that the five-star market here is saturated and a bit quiet at the moment. We are currently targeting the four-star market, which is still largely untapped, and bidding for projects with Hilton and Novotel,” he says, explaining that until recently the hotels were mostly targeting an ultra-rich and wealthy clientele. “There are a lot of people who come to this region and don’t want to spend that kind of money. However, they still want luxury, which doesn’t necessarily mean gold and marble. When designing on a budget, it pushes designers to be more creative with the materials and finishes they use. Instead of using materials that scream opulence, we want to scream quality, and the quality is in detailing.”
The Middle East has been known as a fast-paced and deadline-driven market. Tight and often unrealistic deadlines are one of the main challenges designers face here, but Bean believes this can be used to Lacasa’s competitive advantage, especially within the four-star projects.
“Our team is now very fast in delivering projects and that’s one of our major advantages,” he says. “Unlike some of the ‘big boys’, we don’t have the benefit of taking on project with a year to develop a concept into a schematic design. We are probably talking about three months to deliver a tender package and I have been doing it for a long time now so know what my team can deliver in a certain time frame.”
“We also stopped having the project managers telling us when to deliver. The thing is that we now go backwards with the design process. We speak to the guys that are on the ground while doing the job. The way the process worked before is that you produce the 3D drawings and then you show it to the client who likes it or not. Then you go back to redo it and then your CAD team does the drawing package, which then gets checked and delivered to the clients. It also depends on the client you are working with. If the client wants to be picky, can’t make up his mind or changes his mind frequently, that will obviously have a big knock-on effect on the speed of delivery.”
By the end of this year, all Lacasa’s projects, including interior design, will be 100% done in BIM. “Looking at the way we are now working, we should be able to manage it relatively well,” Bean says optimistically. “It is a learning curve for us. Technically speaking, it is slightly different from an interior design point of view because we detail so heavily. In reality, we are also changing the historical use of our draftsmen who now have to think a bit further down the line and detail very cleverly.”
Alongside Lacasa’s architects and MEP engineers, Bean and his team have recently delivered a full design scope for The Pearl, a 19-storey residential tower and a five-star Viva Bahriya serviced apartments building in Doha, Qatar.
Bean continues: “We inherited a lot of work since I’ve joined, but revised, developed and pushed those designs to the level I like to define as ‘my Lacasa’. However, I don’t ever want to be the kind of design company where people say: ‘If you want that kind of style, go to them.’At the end of the day, you are supposed to listen to a client, and if the client asks you to go in a certain direction, of course you will but you ought to add your touch to it.”
Using more neutral shades of grey, brown and whites for flooring and furnishings, alongside more contemporary materials and finishes, is a good example of where Bean wants to go with design in the future.
He adds: “You’ve got to realise that you are targeting a huge market. Anyone can be staying in these serviced apartments so design needs to cater to a wider demographic of customers. Furthermore, people that are using these spaces are also relatively aware of design. They want to feel they are getting a little bit of the home they don’t have but have seen in the magazine; they want that luxury but still to feel comfortable and this is the kind of market we are trying to target.”
Lacasa is currently working on Belgravia III, a residential building in Jumeirah Village Circle community for the Dubai-based developer, Ellington Properties. The team finished designing the lobby area and public spaces, including the guest lounge, gym and children’s play area, and is now finalising designs for the apartments. Bean says that the lines are now quite blurred and hospitality design trends are now crossing over into residential buildings and vice versa.
“In both hospitality and residential projects, lobby areas are definitely become more social spaces. In the Belgravia building, the lobby is quite contemporary and tied with a guest lounge, which everybody who lives there can use.
“People are a bit tired by the use of less quality materials and finishes in the region where not enough attention and money are being paid to design.Now the market is a bit more discerning and people want to live in affordable, but beautiful and comfortable spaces that are well designed all the way from kitchens through bathrooms to wardrobes.”
Integrating both architecture and interior design, Lacasa’s team is currently working on the Art Centre Mall in Al Barsha, which is due to be completed by the end of this year. The fluid and abstract form of the building extends to the interiors but in a simpler way.
“The architecture of the building is quite unique from the outside, so we didn’t want interiors to be too overpowering. It is not a huge shopping area, so we didn’t want people to feel too enclosed once they walk inside the mall.”
Bean and his team had to work within a tight budget, which meant persuading the client to use more affordable materials, such as large format porcelain tiles for the flooring.
One of the main design features is a metal structure, decorated with an abstract pattern, which actually houses mechanical engineering equipment.
“When lit from behind, it should give a cool feeling to the space, and the columns on the side follow the similar theme. We also added a staircase, inspired by the staircases in the Louvre, but designed in a more abstract way. In reality, it won’t be used as much because there are escalators and lifts but it will act as a sculptural piece.”
Commenting on young designers, Bean says they are major assets to every design company if you “stir them in the right direction”.
“We still need to guide them with the knowledge and experience that we have but often they come up with better ideas than us. They are aware of what’s going on the market and what’s new and fashionable. To be honest, I’d be very stupid not to tap into that resource of fresh and creative ideas that is sitting there,” he concludes.