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Karim El Assal

by Perihan El Etreby

“The architect is like a psychologist in the design field,” Assal said. 

Karim El Assal is one of the dominating names in the field of architecture and interior design nowadays. Assal is Co-Founder and Managing Director of SEGMENTS Architects, with a demonstrated history of working in the architecture, landscape, and interior industry. His talent and skills are oriented towards Design, Mixed-use, Renovation, F&B, and Residential Sectors.

Assal was into art since he was a child. His talent was discovered by his teachers in elementary school, and it kept growing as the years passed.

“I have always loved oil paintings, and I was doing really well in art classes. I remember one of my teachers telling me that I have a distinctive talent and that I should get into the Faculty of Fine Arts, Architecture Department,” Assal said. “I followed her advice and graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts, Helwan University in Zamalek. This is where my journey started.”

Every transitional phase had an impact on Assal’s career

Assal’s career in Palm Hills lasted for 5 years, from 2003 till 2008, and it gave him great experience and exposure. Assal worked with one of the most prominent architects, Shehab Mazhar, who has been at the forefront of architectural design since 1978. 

“I was lucky to have the chance to work with Shehab Mazhar, one of the Egyptian icons in architecture, and gain experience from him. My career in Palm Hills was a key transitional point, as I learned from the best, and worked on several big projects that pushed me to go for the extra miles.”

He has later established SEGMENTS Architects in 2008. One of the biggest challenges he has faced in his early years was a project in King Marriott, where he had to design a family house placed in a challenging site.

“The site was very narrow, and the client wanted all house residents to have the same privileges, so it was not easy to design all the rooms in a manner where they can have a proper view of the lagoon. But it happened! I was very thrilled by this experience and it gave me a lot of confidence. I have even received another similar project in King Marriott after this one,” Assal continued.

 

Part of the success is connecting with the client

Assal’s success is not only reflected in his designs, but he is keen to build long-term relationships with his clients too. Many of them have even turned into friends.

“I believe that an architect is like a psychologist in the design field. He has to listen carefully to the clients’ desires, needs, interests, routines, then use his expertise to create a warm place. My mission is to make them feel happy and comfortable with the vision I have. And as the work progresses, so do the conversations, building trust and loyalty that continue even after the delivery of the project.”

Golden Park Resort & Spa in Hurghada: A special award-winning project. 

 Golden Park brings together modern apartments, spacious villas, and contemporary penthouses within a relaxing spa resort. The development has been designed with sustainability in mind and was accorded 'Best 5 Star Development' across the Arabic region at the prestigious 2009 CNBC International Residential Property Awards.

“This project is close to my heart. We didn’t start it from scratch; there were already some basics and we had to work on its development…it was more of a transformation. Golden Park was our first step in Hurghada, and from there, our work expanded in the Red Sea,” Assal said.

SEGMENTS: Where passion, talent, and success are reflected in a brand name

Eatery CFC was shortlisted in WIN awards in 2016 for its unique interior design.

“I consider Eatery as a milestone in SEGMENTS. Its design was new for the industry, conveying a western vibe while keeping the Middle Eastern aspect. I received lots of positive comments about the vibe created.”

Assal’s work with Eatery did not stop here, he has also designed their branch in Capital Business Park.

“In Capital Business, the challenge was harder; there was a bigger pressure. I had to keep the same concept, creating the same well-liked vibe, but with new additions and more modern features. Finally, we succeeded in delivering the image we wanted, with the differences and unique features that distinguish each branch. And I have to mention that the client was a huge factor for the success of this project too.”

Assal is now on top of the commercial design field, working with Ovio, Butcher’s Burger, Carlos in New Cairo, 30 North, Seven Fortunes, and others.

One of the remarkable projects he has worked on was Ovio’s beach restaurant in Diplo 3, North Coast. The concept of the place spoke through its unique design. It was booming during that period.

“The majority of my clients come with the same purpose; enhancing their brand image or building a new identity.”

Commercial Vs. Residential

Although he is booming in the commercial industry, Assal makes sure to focus on the residential aspect as well.

“When it comes to the commercial work and the F&B industry, a different mechanism is used. It is a fast-paced working environment; clients want the work to be finished fast, designers must get creative and come up with new ideas fast, so time is a challenging factor on its own. Also, the atmosphere should be consistent in the whole place; the outdoor and indoor areas should have the same vibe, and the design should be authentic, raw, and modern. We should even put other non-design aspects into consideration, like the ones related to operations. By time, we’ve learned that this can indirectly affect the success of the design.”

SEGMENTS Architects has collaborated with some of the biggest developers in real estate, like IMKAN Misr, designing its sales center and restaurant; Misr Italia, designing its sales center; in addition to working with some other big names, like Emaar, Wadi Degla, Azha, and Maxim Development.

The architecture industry in Egypt keeps on improving day after day

“Unlike the old days, now designers have several resources and greater exposure which help them in the market. All the elements needed to generate successful designs are found in Egypt, which makes us equal to a great extent to the westerns. Maybe the only element we lack here is proper and modern educational curriculums. So, the first challenge that a new designer could face is how to start their self-learning process and mix their knowledge with their talent. It takes a lot of patience, effort, and perseverance. But as new universities keep opening here, I believe that this problem will start to gradually be solved.”


Intriguing new projects on the way

Assal has many intriguing on-going projects at the moment. One of them is Fins Kitesurfing Center/Clubhouse in El Sokhna, developed by Misr Italia.

“This is a new concept that I was very excited about since the beginning. Here in Egypt, it is rare to find kitesurfing centers with an edge. Most of the designs are similar and do not have a special layout. With this project, I want to create a new concept, a special design layout while still keeping the primitive mood that is always desired by kite surfers. The most challenging part here is that it is not only a kitesurfing center, so we have to put into consideration the clients who’d come for the clubhouse to solely enjoy the swimming pool, restaurant, yoga, and other facilities. We are working on providing both guests with the desired atmosphere through harmonizing different features together.”

Assal is also working with the owner of Eatery on his new brand, Otto, in Garden 8 mall in Tagamoa.

“Otto’s design combines rustic modern Italian flavor that suits both the indoor and outdoor areas.”

And as the summer season is opening its doors, Assal is also designing a new beach restaurant in Lavista Cascada El Sahel, and Somabay’s marina, turning it into a more vibrant and dynamic destination with his modern designs.

“We are also putting extra focus on the residential projects. People started to position us in the commercial part, and we want to remind our clients that we are still working on both aspects.”

Inspirational figures that affected Assal’s career

Assal has always looked up to Frank Lloyd Wright, an American architect, designer, writer, and educator in the 20th century.

“I have to also mention the great Egyptian architect, Dr. Abdelhalim Ibrahim, and the internationally renowned Palestinian-Jordanian architect, Rasem Badran. What is special about their work is the initiative taken to create new concepts, change elements and modernize the existing ones to match the desires and needs of the new environment. They have been recognized internationally and won many great awards.” 

Customization gives a better edge than following a certain style

“Although I implement a modern style in most of my designs, I still believe that what differentiates one design from another is that one specific characteristic that reflects its identity and makes it relatable to the client. I do not like to follow a certain school, I help in creating a comfortable atmosphere, vibrant mood, and designs that are close to the client. Creating happiness is the methodology I follow.”

  

SEGMENTS’ team is the company’s pillar

The main factor behind SEGMENTS’ success is the great team that turned into family.

“Every team member feels like they are part of the place. It is more like home, where everyone supports each other and truly gives their best. Our value is reflected in the ethics of teamwork.” 

Assal mentioned some names that have a huge impact on SEGMENTS; Injy Shawky, his partner; Aya Fayez, the design manager; and Mahmoud Ismail who started off the journey with Assal—even though he is not part of the team anymore.

Golden advice to the young ambitious designers

“Don’t be in a rush to build your own brand name right after you graduate. I believe that through following the traditional process and taking one step at a time, you will gain the experience needed and will build the identity that will eventually help you in having your company. The young generation is full of passion but is always in a rush; my advice is not to jump on important steps and to make the best out of the journey until they reach their destination.”