Hamid Kerayechian, VX Studio CEO and founding partner on how putting the developer first helps the architectural firm gain inspiration
VX Studio has emerged in recent years as the first port-of-call for developers and end-users looking for innovative, design-led but commercially viable projects, whether in the residential, retail or hospitality sectors. The firm came into being when its founders realised there was a gap in the market for developer-led design solutions, which the CEO and founding partner, Hamid Kerayechian, identified whilst managing some of the most prestigious projects in the region. In a little over three years, VX Studio now has $5bn worth of projects in their portfolio, delivered by highly skilled, multi-disciplinary teams with expertise in architecture, development, project-management and masterplanning.
VX Studio was the recent winner of the Architectural Design Firm of the Year at the first ever Arabian Business Real Estate Awards, a testament to the impact they’ve made on the local landscape. Here, he tells CEO Middle East, about his guiding principles.
What is your design philosophy?
We call it “Developer Led Design”. It puts the developers’ key interests at the heart of the design process by maximising the sellable area and the return on the investment. Our design philosophy puts the client’s brief and expectations at the heart of the design process. VX Studio are proud of the way in which we constantly exceed delivery to the highest efficiencies and quality standards.
I always tell clients: don’t fall in love with the exterior of a building and then mess up the basic functionality of the interior”
What sets your firm apart from others in the industry?
Our teams all come from developer backgrounds and can hit the key design needs of the developer through all stages of the design process. Our knowledge of market need in terms for unit sizes, reduced build costs and built-up areas, and the desire to maximise returns for the clients is at the heart of our services. Being ex-developers we also understand the need for architectural drivers or the point of difference that bring value to the design process. If the project isn’t commercially viable, and you can’t get the best return on investment, that is an issue in a very competitive market like Dubai.
How can you achieve that?
The buildings we produce, whether it’s going to be a shopping mall, a residential building or a serviced apartment building, have probably the highest efficiencies in the market. That means we get the most sellable, releaseable area for our clients. One thing we really take care of is how to maximise views in a certain development – if something faces Burj Khlaifa, or the sea or water has up to 50 percent more premium than the exact same unit that doesn’t. A rectangular floorplan always works better, for instance; there are projects where the external shape or structure will drive the floorplan and we know those aren’t the most commercially in-demand projects.
So, you always design inside-out?
Always. We always look at how people will use the space and build outwards. I always tell clients: don’t fall in love with the exterior of a building and then mess up the basic functionality of the interior – which is what you’ll be selling to your customer.
If you had to choose one project that best exemplifies your style, is there one?
The one I would say that will exceed expectations when it is delivered is MAG Creek Wellbeing Resort. It went through a number of iterations, we won a competition over 12 or 13 companies. Almost everyone looks at the Creek. The masterplanning and the connectivity is well thought-out. It is going to be the first wellness-certified project in the Middle East and we’ve been working with Delos in the US for all the certification. Everything about it, the interiors, the landscaping, is resort-style. I think it will be very successful.
Can you have a unique approach while also retaining a signature?
I don’t think we have a signature per se, but equally, we don’t design curvy, non-functional buildings. We think they look beautiful, but that’s not the main driver. The main drivers are the quality, the liveable space and how it works commercially for the developer.
The buildings we produce, whether a shopping mall, or serviced apartment, have probably the highest efficiencies in the market”
There’s a lot of talk of oversupply or a continued softening in the market... what What is you prognosis for Dubai over the next five years?
I moved here in 2008, which saw the effects of the crash on the market here. But I also saw how Dubai recovered from it. And I think that Dubai is only going to get more recognised as a city and attract more and more investment from around the world. I think more people from around the world will continue to come here for opportunities - I see it in my own office, and imagine how many more companies like mine ares still recruiting people. So, I believe in Dubai.
How much of your business is in Dubai?
I’d say it’s around 50 percent in Dubai and 50 percent outside. Of that, maybe 35 percent is in the GCC. But we’re working in a project in Florida right now, we’re doing something in China and things in Azerbaijan. So we are expanding internationally. But I’d say there is still a strong need in Dubai for tastefully designed, functional buildings... you can’ just launch a building and expect it to be occupied. There is competition. Design and workmanship is so important.
How hands-on are you as a CEO?
I am less involved these days, I have to say. We’ve made sure to hire the right directors to manage our various divisions. VX isn’t our only business; we established a very successful interior design firm, Opaal Interiors, we have an IT company ALT Technology, we have a general trading business, and we recently set up a company called NIOUM that looks to introduce specialist companies from Scandinavia, particularly Finland, to the UAE. So I’m busy!
What was the genesis of NIOUM?
Through real estate. We met with a company called HOUM, loved what they did and thought that they would work well in Dubai. And Finnish companies don’t have ready access to the Middle East region. We have others called iLoq, the next-generation of digital locks, we have Leanpark, automated parking. There are a lot of ideas from that part of the world. Our job is to help them sell here and offer technical support. We’re also working something called Workbay, which we think is going to be the next generation of co-working spaces. We’re building them right now, the first on Za’abeel Road, and they’ll again be operated by a Nordic company. The great thing is, we have a readymade community within NIOUM – and others.
You’re building a name for your offices, they keep winning awards...?
We do. We’ve sort of become known for it. It’s very homely, we have a courtyard, a green wall, PlayStations, lots of music... it’s a hangout for everyone, employees, clients. I hardly go out anymore! We just won an Index Award.
Are there keys to a great office space?
A lot of open space, a lot of natural light, access to outdoor space. And I sit out on the floor, I don’t have my own office. I want to be approachable, I want to know what’s going on.
If you were going to put a sign on the wall that best sums up your mantra, what would it be?
I don’t know. “Make money”? But seriously, we have to deliver an efficient, functional and customer-friendly product. Not enough companies do that, I don’t think.