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Sun 2 Mar 2008 04:00 AM

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Shiny happy people

Is good real estate the key to eternal happiness? Zena Malek Andari and Riad Andari seem to think so.

Is good real estate the key to eternal happiness? Husband and wife team Zena Malek Andari and Riad Andari seem to think so. Claire Ferris-Lay finds out about their latest venture Kaks LLC and why Happynomics will soon be the Hottest Buzzword in the region's real estate business.

We are not just dreamers. But dreams do turn into reality," Riad Andari tells Arabian Property.

Andari should know, the ex-investment banker is just about to embark on turning his own dream into a reality, a new business venture with his architect wife, Zena Malek Andari. "In the past decade the corporate world has drifted away from the consumer and this new world is about mass production and keeping costs to a minimum.

KAKS recognises the consumer's individuality and needs and what we do is apply the economics of choice to make consumers happy," explains Andari.

It is the word ‘happy', or happynomics as the couple frequently refer to it, that is the main driving force behind the new business. Happynomics, a buzzword so new it has as yet failed to make it into the dictionary, has, according to the husband and wife team the potential to become what green design is now to the building community.

It is about providing the consumer with the choice of a better lifestyle.

"We believe that in today's world, most people are seeking to express their own individuality but at the same time they do not want to spend a fortune. To personalise is by definition to design or produce something to meet someone's individual requirements and to customise is to modify something to suit someone's individual requirements.

To customise any product is a way to fulfill that old universal need," says Andari.

With happynomics in mind, Andari and Malek established KAKS LLC last month. KAKS specialises in three areas; real estate, accessories and furniture, which either individually or together are designed to make the end consumer a happier person, or so the couple claim.

As an ex-banker Andari takes on the role of CEO of the company, looking after the business side of things, while renowned architect Malek takes on her own role as creative director.

The couple claim they are offering an antidote to what they believe many parts of the Middle East and Dubai in particular have become, lacking in individuality and creativity. "Our real estate collection is based on what I have always believed in in architecture - giving the consumer the experience of the space. It's about modest architecture," explains Malek. "It whispers but doesn't shout," interjects Andari.

"It's all about giving the consumer the experience; it is discrete and glamorous. There is a trend which is taking place in which consumers want to be happy but what makes them happy is not making more money, it is a serene place far from the spotlight where they can interact with the environment around them," he continues enthusiastically.
KAKS may have only been launched a few weeks ago but the prototypes for both the accessories and furniture are complete and its first real estate project, a residential resort in Falougha, 32km outside of Beirut, has already been designed. The small villa development named Sigra, already home to the couple so they can maintain complete control, is situated 1500 metres above sea level in the mountains sorrounded by the spectacular scenery of the Mediterranean Sea and the Matten Valley.

Andari is not keen to discuss the financial costs of the development at this early stage but is, however, keen to emphasise that the couple's first development will not be limited to the wealthy few. It will, he explains, maintain its affordability through its use of local talent and of course Malek's architectural background. "As far as the consumer is concerned, it's not about paying lots of money; it's about authenticity.

It is not about expensive or fancy finishing materials. This particular project's design is rooted in Lebanese ethos so will rely on local talent," says Andari.

Andari's own software, Sakani, the pair claim will also keep costs to a minimum as well as help the villas maintain their individuality. This software enables different configurations of houses, buildings, restaurants and facilities to be built through mass production methods. This means an entire housing development can be designed with each unit receiving an individual configuration.

"Sakani software puts customisation into mass production - in terms of time and money," she explains. "This gives the individual one type of house, which doesn't get repeated once you insert all the information into the programme. There is a classical mathematical thinking behind the software, which comes from geometry but it's not quantum mechanics - it's geometrics. You put it together and it gives you a tool to be able to say to the client ‘yes I can customise your house'," Malek adds.

In this age of mass-produced, one-size-fits-all property developments, Malek feels it is important that people be offered the opportunity to retain their individuality, even with budgetary constraints. "For the customer, a project isn't just any house - it is the house," she explains. "People are individual creatures and you cannot tell them to live in a house, which is just like one owned by other people, especially since every one of us has different habits," she adds.

The software, which has been four years in the making, started off as a tool Malek used to show designs to clients at her former private practice in Kuwait. The Lebanese conceptualist hopes her software will forever change the way architects and their clients interact.

"When it comes to doing residential projects the architect's dream is not to see the client - the client can call you at midnight and say ‘I want that sort of flooring I just saw on a movie.' They don't mean it but it is their house, their dream and they want their house to be great," says Malek. "My dream is to make an e-office, which makes the user feel like he or she has a designer or an architect friend who is always available to configure their house online," she continues.

The aim of this says Malek would be simply to make the design process as painless as possible for everyone concerned. What can be a stressful time for both the architect and the client could be simplified enormously using Sakani software, she explains.

"I've had clients who divorced during the process of designing a home but it should be a fun time. I've heard women say ‘I didn't know my husband was stingy'," Malek recalls. "I'm not a psychologist and I don't want to go through it all again because it's a very emotional, draining time. I don't want to see clients anymore and that's why I stopped and closed my consultant office," she adds.

She explains that if the client wants to do a house in an individual way, going to a consultant and sitting with them can be a very costly "never-ending story".
Malek believes the trials, tribulations and pressures that many architects experience during certain projects can cause them a great deal of stress. As such, she hopes to reduce the amount of emotion involved in the design process and remove the sometimes awkward budget-related conversations and decisions.

"Part of the beauty of the software is that you don't have to go through this emotion any more - it puts the client in front of a non-emotional machine," Malek explains. "We needed to do it with artificial intelligence because if we want to implement the customisation into mass production we need to cut the costs and when we cut the costs we don't really want to see the client," she adds.

During the process of conceptualising a new project Malek tries to put herself in the shoes of those who will use the building she is designing. This technique has come in especially useful with the conceptualisation of a new cinema-type facility she is currently working on.

The concept involves a building containing numerous themed rooms of changeable sizes, which can be hired out by individuals or groups. In the rooms people can watch a movie at their leisure and create their own atmosphere - free of the constraints and rules of a conventional cinema, which clearly annoys Malek.

"The process of my thinking and concept is always ‘I am an end user' but I am a difficult end user. As an end user of a cinema I smoke, I drink, I talk during the movie but it's like a PhD exam in the cinema now so that's why I don't go anymore - the last one I saw was Pretty Woman 13 years ago," explains Malek. "I've designed a building where you can modulate your own atmosphere.

You reserve a room and the movie you want, download it, order the food and you don't see anybody. You can also choose your atmosphere - from the smell to the temperature and you watch the movie. In this environment you can have a conversation or interact with people and see the movie that you like," she says.

So who is going to snap up these properties and products? KAKS customers, Andari explains, will be like-minded people or ‘minipreneurs' referring to a number of consumers turning themselves into entrepreneurs to address a gap in the market and individuals with a desire to customise and individualise their homes without the expense.

Much of the project has already been designed, however, the user will decide on the final finishes.

"It is already fully designed but it is always necessary to go back to that client and show it to them, to get his feedback. When we see the twinkle in our client's eyes, we know we have done a good job."

One of the biggest gripes architects and interior designers have is the difficulty they have changing a project or development half way through production, in part to the costs required, however, Andari maintains this will not push the overall cost up. "Absolutely it is possible to change. It is always important to attract the consumer. We've designed houses from start to finish but it's always very important to interact with the buyers.

"This trend is not about mass producing, it's about building in places far from the spotlight and at the moment Dubai is the spotlight. Our project is exactly the type of development we are looking to develop but more importantly it is about happiness, "Andari says. For now, the two of them at least seem more than happy with the concept they designed. All that is left now is for buyers of the homes they have developed the reap the benefits of happynomics.

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