In 1996, Galal Mahmoud returned to Lebanon, after 20 years away. He had spent the previous two decades studying and working in France, but his childhood home was calling him back.
At the time, Lebanon was edging into a period of peace and reconstruction, presenting interesting opportunities for an open-minded, internationally-trained architect and interior designer. Mahmoud founded GM Architects, an architecture and interior design firm eager to contribute to the shaping of a new Lebanon. The Beirut office was also envisaged as a springboard into the rest of the Middle East and by 2005 the company had also established a presence in Abu Dhabi.
Over the years, GM Architects has come to specialise in hospitality projects, particularly beachfront resorts. It is Mahmoud’s rootlessness that defines his work – in that it has instilled an almost instinctual versatility. Context and humanity are key.
CID met with Mahmoud at the Park Rotana Abu Dhabi, one of his latest projects in the UAE, to find out more about Beirut’s unique design language, and the importance of scale, reason and context in design.
Tell us about your career so far.
I graduated in architecture, in Paris, and started a business there in 1986. I worked in France for over ten years, doing mainly retail, luxury hotels and residential projects in Paris, New York, Florida and also South America.
I started moving back to Lebanon, which is where I am from originally, in 1996. Business picked up extremely quickly and I slowly reduced my activities in France. In 2000, I shut down the office in Paris to focus more on Lebanon, always knowing that Lebanon would be a starting point for the rest of the Middle East.
In Lebanon we focused on commercial, restaurant and hospitality projects. The nice thing about Beirut is that it is a showcase for designers. The entire Arab world goes on vacation in Beirut and anything that’s new and upcoming, they want in their own countries. So it was a perfect display case for us.
Through our activities in Beirut, we started getting projects elsewhere in the Middle East. It picked up gradually and then with the boom in the UAE, we decided to open an office in Abu Dhabi in 2005 that would cater for the entire UAE, plus other countries in the region. We now cover most of the Middle East, and are starting to grow towards northern Africa, all the way to Spain and Eastern Europe. We’ve done projects in Turkey, Greece, Egypt and Morocco, and will maybe end up coming back to Europe one day, which I’d ultimately like.
From around five or six years ago, one of our main areas of activity has been hotels but, more specifically, beachfront resorts. I would say that this is the direction that we are taking now. We are currently working on a five-star resort in Morocco, on the Mediterranean Sea. We also have one coming up on the Red Sea in Egypt and another on the Dead Sea in Jordan, so all very nice locations.
I’m an architect but I’ve done a lot of interior design. And through the experiences we’ve had with interior design, I’m now coming back to architecture. That means I’m able to design holistic projects, which is what I want to do.