Dina El Khackab is one of Eklego Design’s two founding partners, an award-winning Cairo-based architecture, interior, and furniture design firm. The story started in 2000, with her fellow talented partner Hedayat Islam. Dina has always had a passion for detail and perfect form and that translates into her work ethic. After growing up in Canada and graduating from McGill University in Montreal, with a degree in Architecture, she decided to immerse herself back into the middle eastern culture.
Establishing one of the most successful firms in Egypt is not easy. Starting with a team of three, they worked their way up to over 73 employees. Dina is currently the Managing Director at Eklego Design and the Principal Designer of the Studio.
She often integrates new techniques from craftsmen and has a passion for working directly with builders and craftsmen on site.
After years of architectural and interior design experience with medium to small scale commercial, hospitality and residential projects; Dina is now working on Business Development and defining the Projects Departments strategy in order to position the company for expansion with the region. She is also now a member of the Egyptian Association of Engineers.
Dina focuses heavily on hospitality and commercial projects and her key clients are amongst some of the most distinguished companies within the country and within the region.
Her love for design and art is undoubtful. No wonder she has received various awards for the work she led in Ted’s Restaurant, Oobe Restaurant and Bar (Amman) and Sodic Sales Center (Architecture and Interior Design).
We invite you to have a peak into her vision, with our interview . We’re sure you’ll feel inspired, just as we did.
WHAT WOULD MAKE YOUR SOUL SING? WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY?
I would say that there are two things and they are both the polar opposites of each other:
I love being in the middle of nature by myself or with few people. I feel so small in the world and it really gives me a better perspective on my life and my problems. It gives me a chance to really reflect on what is important. It also is the most creative time for me, I think because my mind is so clear.
In Egypt, this means I am usually in the middle of the sea or in the middle of the desert.
The other moments where I feel most alive is when I am placed in situations where I am constantly learning, doing new things, or meeting new people; like taking on a new project or attending an interesting exhibition.
What makes me most happy is being with my friends and family and all the people I love and who love me.
A CHILDHOOD STORY THAT ANNOUNCED THE CREATIVE PERSON YOU ARE TODAY
When we were younger my brother and I were given a lot of space and independence growing up so we were always out in the garage and front yard making things. When I was 7 years old we made a robot costume for Halloween out of an old stove box and a few other boxes, covered the whole thing with aluminum foil and drew all the buttons on it. When we were finished we thought it would be fun if I got on a stroller and put the box over me and the stroller and push me down the driveway! Of course the day ended with the stroller flipping over and me getting 5 stitches in my head but it was a childhood filled with these kinds of days that really grew my mind creatively.
BEST CONTEXT EVER FOR INSPIRATION WAS
The first time I went to Islamic Cairo, or more specifically a street by the name of “Moez Street” in Cairo; it is populated with some of the most beautiful mosques, buildings and markets in the world and masked with a recent layer of street vendors or shops. Every time I go I discover a new building or a new wall or a new pattern I didn’t see before. The current layer of “new” shops that have been superimposed on the historic architecture is also very interesting as well because I always meet a new craftsperson displaying their products there. Some of our best copper craftsmen used to display their products in shops there.
THE PROJECT YOU LOVED MOST
The project I most loved working on was the First Sales Offices for Marakez, a real estate development company located in Egypt. The project was a fast-track project with a great client; located in a historic villa in the neighborhood where our office is located and with a great team of contractors, architects and so on. From the beginning to the end it was a very interesting project to do and watch while it was built.
THE PROJECT OTHERS LOVED MOST
If I have to pick one project that I think people most loved in my career I think it would be the Sodic Sales center. Although it is an old project for me (completed in 2005), it was a bit of a landmark project for me and for our clients. It was one of the first professionally built sales centers in Cairo for real estate developments and it was also my first architecture project from A-Z. The scale of the building was large for the type of building it was and the space integrated a lot of indoor/outdoor spaces as well as a lot of landscape so it made the space very pleasant to spend time in.
THE BEST THING ABOUT EGYPTIAN CREATIVITY IS
The collaboration it inspires. The greatest projects or pieces I have worked on have always been collaborations between the client, many designers and many suppliers. Often we are working with the unavailability of some sort of product or material so we are often coming up with different ways to re-create what we want and this is a very interesting team exercise and always comes out with very creative solutions.
BEST STATEMENT OF EGYPTIAN HUMOR
I was not raised in Egypt and so often the humor that is inherent within the culture usually fly right over my head, and more often than not this results in a lot of humorous situations. It’s like I am always lost in translation, even after 20 years of living in Egypt. That said, Egyptians make light of any situation and that makes day to day life a lot more pleasant.
ADVICE FOR INTERNATIONAL HEADHUNTERS, RELATED TO EGYPTIAN CREATIVES
I am not sure if this is Egypt specific but I think creative people need a lot of space and a lot of inspiration to flourish, and it is important for a headhunter to understand that. The more conceptual the individual the more space they will need, i.e. Less structured environments. They also need to be surrounded with fellow creatives to help them grow and to make them feel more understood.
BEST PLACE IN CAIRO
The best place for me in Cairo would be Islamic Cairo and especially Beit El Suhaymi, a historic villa found within the area.
BEST PLACE IN EGYPT
The Western desert. The feeling of being lost in the middle of the desert many miles away from anything is unbelievable.
MOST DISTURBING CLICHÉ ABOUT EGYPT, IN THE MEDIA OUTLETS OF THE WORLD IS
The danger and risk that is always portrayed around the country. In the twenty one years I have lived here I hardly remember a time where Egypt was portrayed as a safe and beautiful place to visit or to live in, even though this is how I perceive the country.
EGYPT SHOULD BE KNOWN FOR
Their kind, generous and very hospitable people.
YOUR VIEWS ON SPIRITUALITY
I believe in energy and that everything and everyone is connected by this energy. I try to listen to nature and to my body to take cues on how I should act and react. My beliefs are not different from a lot of other formal religions or spiritual practices but I try not to define things too much, as is common practice in today’s idea of certain religions. I really try to listen and to feel what is happening around me, without prejudice, before deciding if something is right or wrong for me.
YOUR VIEWS ON MONEY
Money is something I didn’t think about till much later in my career, but what I have learned is that it’s important to secure so that you can always do what you love.
AN INSPIRATION SOURCE YOU RECOMMEND FOR A YOUNG CREATIVE
I love the book Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. It opened up a lot of philosophical questions, and changed the way I think and the way I look at the world. It made me realize that a lot of things in our world today actually constrain the way I think and create.
AN EGYPT BASED FEMALE TALENT THAT DESERVES TO BE PROMOTED AT INTERNATIONAL LEVEL, AS EXPONENT OF LOCAL CREATIVE SPIRIT
Azza Fahmy, who is the owner and the founder of a very well-known Egyptian jewelry brand in Egypt and internationally, is someone who I look up to and who I am always fascinated by her authenticity; her personality is reflected within her brand. She has also been able to pass on this authenticity to her daughters, who are now running the business with her. She is very passionate about everything Egyptian and always displays it in the most relevant and interesting ways.
If you want see more of Dina’s work at Eklego, check out their site right here.