Architectural Digest (UAE) - - Contents - WORDS JU­MANA AB­DEL–RAZ­ZAQ

As­tound­ing wed­ding set­tings fit for roy­alty cour­tesy of De­sign Lab Ex­pe­ri­ence

Wed­dings are a mas­sive in­dus­try. When I started work­ing 40 years ago do­ing stage sets and cin­e­matog­ra­phy, the­atre was the big thing,” says Mootassem El­baba, Man­ag­ing Part­ner of De­sign Lab Ex­pe­ri­ence, a Dubai and Beirut-based events busi­ness that has be­come renowned for its show-stop­ping events and ex­trav­a­gant wed­ding con­cepts.

It is clear that El­baba is also in­flu­enced by the the­atri­cal in his cur­rent role, as he cre­ates cel­e­bra­tory ex­trav­a­gan­zas that in­clude guest lists of thou­sands, com­plete with full-fledged pro­duc­tions, ar­chi­tec­tural in­ter­ven­tions and chore­ographed per­for­mances. His team has even flown in Bol­shoi Bal­let dancers all the way from Rus­sia for one such event in the Mid­dle East.

Along­side Man­ag­ing Part­ner Hiba Al­bakree and Lead Ar­chi­tect Mar­wan Maalouf, El­baba de­vises themes so imag­i­na­tive and com­plex that they have caught the at­ten­tion of roy­alty and gov­ern­ment bod­ies. “We met in 2009,” Al­bakree says. “I was a big fan of their work at the time and I was also a wed­ding plan­ner. I even­tu­ally met with them, and felt that with my pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence, I could re­ally bring some­thing good to the ta­ble.”

Both El­baba and Maalouf have had im­pres­sive ca­reers prior to De­sign Lab Ex­pe­ri­ence. Maalouf is an ar­chi­tect with 18 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence, while El­baba has worked across a va­ri­ety of fields, from vis­ual ef­fects for the­atre and tele­vi­sion to de­sign and en­gi­neer­ing over his 40-year ca­reer.

“What re­ally makes our projects stand out the way they do comes down to the ac­cu­mu­lated knowl­edge that Mootassem and Mar­wan have be­tween them,” Al­bakree ex­plains. It was only by hap­pen­stance, she adds, that the part­ners even­tu­ally de­cided to en­ter into the world of wed­ding plan­ning, re­ciev­ing re­quests af­ter hav­ing worked as ex­hi­bi­tion de­sign­ers in Saudi Ara­bia.

With size­able bud­gets, and height­ened emo­tions sur­round­ing such a per­sonal day, the team has de­vised a method to guar­an­tee that the client gets ex­actly what they want, even if they’re not sure what that is. “How we work is very sim­ple,” Al­bakree says, “We al­ways try to get a feel of the client’s per­son­al­ity in the be­gin­ning. We then ask them to send us ref­er­ences that have noth­ing to do with wed­dings or events. As a team, we do not want to be in­spired by other wed­dings, but from a num­ber of other as­pects, in­clud­ing ar­chi­tec­ture, art in­stal­la­tions, light­ing, fash­ion shows, and even shop win­dow dis­play – just beau­ti­ful im­agery. I of­ten tell them not to think about it too much so we can help them iden­tify what as­pect of the im­ages they like the most.”

“It’s no longer just about a wed­ding, but more about cre­at­ing dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences in ev­ery project” MAR­WAN MAALOUF LEAD AR­CHI­TECT

From vi­su­al­is­ing the con­cept, to de­sign­ing the space and con­struct­ing the project, the process can take months to be re­alised. The creative also de­pends on the venue and any cul­tural con­sid­er­a­tions. “Whether it a ball­room or a house, it al­ways hinges on those pa­ram­e­ters, then we start work­ing on the de­sign,” she ex­plains. “It’s all about the client’s as­pi­ra­tions, there­fore we do not have a spe­cific style or sig­na­ture.”

The ar­chi­tec­tural as­pect is just as com­plex. “It’s no longer just about a wed­ding, but more about cre­at­ing dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences in ev­ery project we cre­ate,” Maalouf chimes in. “As­pects of ar­chi­tec­ture are in­te­grated in ev­ery de­sign process, whether it’s through ur­ban plan­ning or land­scape ar­chi­tec­ture for a park wed­ding in the heart of the city.”

The ar­chi­tect talks about the com­plex­i­ties that come with or­gan­is­ing such large-scale projects that re­quire an as­tound­ing amount of time and re­sources, as well as con­struc­tion. “We en­gi­neer venues and cre­ate struc­tures that can hold very com­plex ma­te­ri­als – like a hang­ing crys­tal ar­range­ment sus­pended above a crowd of over 2,000 guests,” Maalouf adds.

On site, De­sign Lab’s team spend hours in­stalling thou­sands of com­po­nents with light­ing, car­pen­try, and weld­ing tak­ing place on a mas­sive scale. As each project is cus­tomised, so too are the team’s lead­ing them. “We al­ways try to fig­ure out the right match when it comes to the peo­ple we hire,” Al­bakree adds. “For a project in Kuwait, the client was very clear from the be­gin­ning that they did not want it to look too west­ern, but au­then­ti­cally Kuwaiti, so we brought in an Arab art con­sul­tant just for that.”

To­gether with the client and com­mis­sioned in­ter­na­tional tal­ents, the part­ners bring to­gether a plethora of dis­ci­plines to cre­ate a mem­o­rable dis­play. “This ex­per­tise and knowl­edge that we have ac­quired over the years has al­lowed us to cre­ate some­thing truly spec­tac­u­lar,” Maalouf says.

While the busi­ness con­tin­ues to evolve, ex­pand­ing across borders to in­clude mar­kets like In­dia and China, clients are also evolv­ing, Al­bakree adds, ex­plain­ing that th­ese days, size doesn’t al­ways mat­ter. “The project we did last April, for in­stance, had around 2,000 guests for the royal fam­ily in Abu Dhabi. Five years prior, we would have seen 5,000 guests at one party, and a few years be­fore that you’d have nearly 8,000 guests. So, it’s chang­ing, and be­com­ing more in­ti­mate.”

Above all, they at­tribute their suc­cess to their ex­act­ing clients. “The best clients are the one that be­lieve in what we do, but push us,” El­baba says. “Though there is pres­sure to cre­ate some­thing unique and creative ev­ery time, we al­ways man­age to bring a client’s ideas to life. See­ing the re­ac­tion is the ul­ti­mate re­ward.” de­sign­lab­ex­pe­ri­

“We en­gi­neer struc­tures that can hold com­plex ma­te­ri­als – like a hang­ing crys­tal ar­range­ment above a crowd of over 2,000 guests”

An in­stal­la­tion by the South Korean artist Jee Young Lee for an event in Kuwait en­ti­tled Mise-en-scène OP­PO­SITE: The space was de­fined by ribbed pil­lars formed from faceted spheres

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