Roland Helou is a University of The Arts London MA graduate and the founder of ROHD (Roland Helou Design), a Beirut-based architecture design studio that specialises in interior and multidisciplinary design. Nayla Kurd quizzes ROHD’s founder about the influences that have inspired him throughout his working life.
The conversation begins with Mr. Helou discussing his early life and how he initially became inspired to pursue architecture as a career. He reflects on his earlier years, in particular a day spent with his father. “Beirut was under reconstruction, and my dad took me on a tour of the city’s central district while explaining the process behind the area’s revival. Meanwhile, my thoughts drifted, and I began plotting; creating my very own Downtown Beirut in my mind. It was there and then that I knew this is what I wanted to do.”
Mr. Helou has a very distinct approach to design, describing it as a holistic one. He explains, “in my opinion, successful design engulfs both functionality and aesthetics. Functionality as a base, laying the guidelines; while aesthetics to aggregate the design process.” He emphasises the importance of understanding design as a whole, and how one should take all the smaller parts of the design process into account in order to do so.
While many designers credit a single object or person as their inspiration, Mr. Helou has other ideas. He says, “my way of thinking was not influenced by any one singular being. In fact, it was a sum of elements; the sum of interactions, meetings, encounters and feelings, which I had experienced in my life, put together to attain a certain perception.” This idea of his inspiration coming from a collective multitude of elements is a reflection of his holistic approach to design, again crediting various smaller components in order to understand the bigger picture. He comments further by saying, “accordingly, whenever I am working on a project, my main approach is ‘human’ based. It is the person’s interactions and experiences around the space and how it caters to his/her lifestyle, and façon d’être. My creative workflow hence remains constant in every project. It is the best process development that allows me to mature my ideas concretely.”
When asked about tools and which of them he enjoys using the most, Mr. Helou’s answer is short yet thought-provoking. “A pen,” he replies, “it directly translates an idea while still in its most sincere form, before it transforms into the virtual expression of it.”
Speaking of virtual expression, Mr. Helou goes on to explain how he records his ideas. “I have a powerful photographic memory,” he says. “Sometimes I find myself representing abstract concepts in my mind as geometric and physical forms in order to retain and process them more effectively.”
When it comes to his projects, we ask Mr. Helou if he has a favourite. “I don’t have a favourite project. Each one has different challenges, processes and approaches. However, what I enjoy most is the sight of my work developing and morphing throughout every enterprise. Sometimes it can be a surprise, but at the same time it is always an addition to my learning experience.”
Mr. Helou’s learning experience is continuously changing, and he is currently working on a project in Rabieh. He gave us a little insight, telling us, “I am currently working on a residential refurbishment project in Rabieh. It is always a pleasure to work on refurbishment projects because I love reimagining a new space within the constraints of pre-existing elements.” Mr. Helou goes on to explain how he uses opposites to create a balance, saying “on this occasion, this means working with minimal furniture that would further enhance the meshed marble flooring. For instance, the incorporation of a ‘medieval- inspired’ bar connecting the three main living areas, and acting as a bridge between the traditional and the contemporary.”
So what is it that inspires the creative mind that is Mr. Helou? “The movie industry,” he tells us enthusiastically. “Movies are not only my release from the daily frivolous problems, but it is also a source of inspiration for my work – particularly fantasy and sci-fi movies.”
Delving a little deeper into the life of Mr. Helou, we probe him further and ask him to share any rules he tries to go by. He tells us, “I am a planner by nature; this is why I created a blueprint for my life that I try to live by. My personal motto has always been based on setting goals and having a specific vision of what to work towards in terms of reaching the ultimate objective.”
In order to keep himself on track, Mr. Helou arms himself with two devices, in particular, his phone and his tablet. “My phone has gradually become an extension of my body, and my tablet is always on my office desk for surfing the net,” he says. Mr. Helou’s reference to his phone as an extension of himself highlights how we are becoming more dependent on technology to complete everyday tasks, from checking our emails to carrying out research. He isn’t always working, he reassures us, “my Kindle is waiting by my bed for a good read too.”
Technology has become so advanced that it now plays a huge part in our lives – be it in the workplace or at home. Speaking of the interior design industry in particular, Mr. Helou says, “we are becoming more and more exposed to the global design industry, and with the seemingly endless capability of the internet, everything is a mere click away. However, it is vital to know how to filter the resources presented to us, as they are often polluted with misinformed information.” Mr. Helou makes a valid argument, pointing out one of the issues related to the sheer amount of information available online is that it isn’t always correct. He continues, “it is also important to remember that new technology – no matter how tempting it might be – should maintain its position as a tool, rather than as an end in itself.”
The impact of such technologies has meant the development and creation of smart homes. This smart technology has the potential to change the way we live, and Mr. Helou has a lot to say about it. “Smart homes and EIB systems are fast becoming as close to living organisms as the ones who reside within them.” An EIB (European Installation Bus) is a system that allows all electrical components to be interconnected through an electrical bus – or communication system; and each component can send commands to other components, regardless of where they might be. Mr. Helou continues, “these homes both understand and cater to your needs; however they require the same understanding in return in order to prevent them from becoming a burden rather than beneficial.”
ROHD offers high levels of both commitment and refinement, and is a place where collaboration is an important element throughout the design and construction process. The design studio prides itself on being able to explore imaginative and innovative ideas, all the while maintaining a pragmatic perspective that results in the creation of functional, beautiful and memorable spaces.