The Woman in Construction Boots and Fendi Bag


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The Woman in Construction Boots and Fendi Bag is the feature title in Egypt Today Magazine about Dalia Sadany's career

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The Woman in Construction Boots and Fendi Bag

  1. 1. HomesDalia SadanyArchitectwww.EgyptToday.com64 Egypt Today December 2012By Nadine El SayedI t’s hard to imagine a trendy young woman in a funky blouse, cropped trousers,perfect hair and polished nails on a construction site blasting orders to workersthen sitting down with her crew to share a glass of tea and a fuul sandwich.It’s hard, that is, until you meet Dalia Sadany in person.Sadany, the chief designer and founder of Dezines Architecture and Interior Design,bursts with confidence. We met at her eclectic but contemporary office lodged in the heartof busy Mohandessin, and the ambiance definitely reflected her: bold, trendy, clean-linedand standing out amidst the busy mismatch of buildings. Sitting in the reception waitingfor our interview, I could overhear her conversation with a client, so the first impression Igot, before even meeting Sadany, was that she definitely spoke her mind.Shuffling between two appointments, Sadany came rushing out and sat down to chatwith me while her assistant took over the other meeting. The multi-tasking skills of a mas-ter builder shone through several times as Sadany attended to a client, answered her em-ployees’ enquiries, and managed to spend an hour and a half with me speaking about hercareer, her love life, architecture, art and even politics.The Master BuilderTo see a successful businesswoman who juggles her personal life, career and all the pres-sures society puts on women in our culture is inspiring, especially if it’s one thriving ina very male-dominated industry like contracting. And Sadany believes women can do arather good job at it too.“Women have a tendency to be meticulous and have an eye for detail,” Sadany says.“This is why we are drama queens, we focus on de-tails and contracting is about details.”Sadany, who has been in the business for almost20 years, explains that designers have to know thematerials they need to transform a visioninto reality and how practically feasibletheir designs are. She, for one, is a firmbeliever in being very hands-on at the ex-ecution phase, and she isn’t afraid to getdown and dirty to work on a piece of fur-niture, or even a wall for that matter.“I realized then that however good I amHow a perfectly polished young woman carved herself a place in the very macho world ofcontracting and construction, all the while maintaining her design flairThe Woman in theConstructionBoots and Fendi BagSadany’saward-winningBabourDawartableCourtesyDaliaSadany
  2. 2. December 2012 Egypt Today 65HayssamSamir/EgyptToday
  3. 3. www.EgyptToday.com66 Egypt Today December 2012HomesDalia SadanyArchitectto really pin down the personality of herclients and gives them a psychology test soshe can design something they are com-fortable living in.“I can’t do a conservative design forpeople who are funky and fresh. Maybethey will like it at first, but they won’t feelcomfortable with it later,” she explains.Instead, Sadany believes her work needsto reflect the client’s personality and theliving spaces she designs can’t look alike.“I design homes, not houses; a refuge,” sheadds.Her design persona is eclectic with apassion for contemporary. She doesn’tbelieve in sticking to one design style andloves fusion, altering styles to suit her cli-ents’ tastes.This year Sadany was voted one of the53 winners at the A’ Design Furniture,Homeware and Décor Items Design com-petition held in Italy, which saw over 4,000contestants from 140 countries compet-ing in 80 design categories. Her winningentry was a table inspired by a very Egyp-tian icon: the babour (a local version of aprimus stove that was very popular duringthe last century). She got the idea for theBabour Dawar Table after sharing a glassof tea with her workers on a constructionsite. The tea was boiled on a babour andshewasinstantlyinspiredbythehistoricaland folkloric heritage the item presented,as well as the proportions and design ofthe handy little cooker.“The concept that every item in ourlives, even an outdated kitchen appliance,can have beauty in it if seen from an art-seeking eye,” inspired Sadany to take anold Egyptian household icon and makeit into a trendy, yet authentic and char-acteristically Egyptian piece of furniture.The piece, which took about 10 months todesign, was handcrafted in Old Cairo andthe wood was given veneer polish or lac-quered paint to put a contemporary, hiptwist to the design. The design not onlyaimed to pay tribute to our culture, butit also served as proof against the prevail-on site.” And to do so, she adds, she needsto always be on top of her game “You haveto master your tools, know your work verywell, treat the workers with respect andthey will respect you back,” she says.Sadany, her craftsmen and her workersare now in perfect harmony, having spenthours and hours working together on site.They’ve lost count of the times Sadany hasrolled up her sleeves, gathered up a brushand paint and climbed a ladder to get justthe right shade. “Now they can’t wait formy next crazy idea” she says. “On site I amtreated like an older sister. I am their back-bone, I support my men, they are my crew,my team. They know I know the job andthe details and if I don’t, I ask. I am nevertoo embarrassed to learn.”The DesignerSadany’s own contracting expertise hasnot cannibalized the artsy designer in her.She doesn’t believe in the commercial-ization of design and architecture, has astrong opinion about Egypt’s architectur-al identity — or lack of one, really — anda strong passion for experimenting withwood, paints and brushes.As an interior designer, her processstarts with a friendly chat over coffeeto get to know her clients, their lifestyle,what they like and are comfortable withand what they expect of the house. Hav-ing studied psychology, she dedicates timein design I can’t do design and turn it toreality unless I study contracting,” Sadanysays.With a degree in construction engineer-ing, she wanted to do more than to de-sign models and watch from a distance assomeone else brought them to life — andnever to her best liking at that. So she de-cided to take on the whole job, from theminute when it’s still a vague idea herclients might be interested in until thepoint where they happily move in. Aftergraduation, seeing she needed to learnmore about her business, Sadany went toItaly to study and get hands-on experiencein interior design and landscaping. Shecame back to work for one of the biggestreal estate developers in Egypt, becomingthe head of the architectural departmentin 1995. In 2005, she established her owncompany, becoming a master builder whodelivers turnkey projects to clients andsubcontracting to fellow architects anddesigners. Besides her contracting anddesign services, she also launched Gush, afurniture and lighting company, in 2011.Sadany admits it was hard to find work-ers — who generally aren’t used to beingbossed around by a woman, especiallya younger one. Still she believes we havesome of the best craftsmanship locally,and that gaining their respect and trust iseasy with a little confidence.“You have to have some sort of presenceAfterearningherworkers’respect,Sadanysaystheytreatherlikeanoldersister.CourtesyDaliaSadany
  4. 4. December 2012 Egypt Today 67menting strict rules for building facades,tearing down or putting up signs, exten-sions or even trees, but also into fundingstrong district councils able to imple-ment and monitor codes and violations,as well as provide parking lots and pe-destrian areas. “It is a revolutionary proj-ect, but it has to start somewhere,” shebelieves. “The problem is that we don’tfollow systems. We break rules, and it ischaos, and this is what happened to ar-chitecture in Egypt.”Next on Sadany’s philanthropy check-list is to form a committee for women inher field, the entrepreneurs, the designersand the architects, and to connect themwith each other as well as with othersabroad. etthese very rich eras and civilizations andmotifs you’re supposed to end up withsomething magnificently brilliant. Weended up with nothing.”Hence came “The Face of Egypt” projectthat Sadany pioneered with 10 of the na-tion’s most established professors to solvethe problem of architecture in Egypt andsubmit to the government. The mismatchof buildings has become an eyesore, whichSadany believes is affecting the psychol-ogy of citizens who are subjected to stress-inducing streets on a daily basis. Having aunified architecture identity isn’t a luxury,Sadany argues, “architecture is the mirrorof civilizations.”The initiative aims to channel someof the tax money into not only imple-ing stereotype about Egyptian craftsmen.Egyptian workers can be skillful, preciseand dedicated with the right guidance.The WifeLonghours,constructionsitesanddozensof workers who might not be too happy tofollow a woman’s orders would likely testthe patience of any husband, but Sadanysays her husband, who is half Egyptian,half British, is her biggest supporter.“He is fine with the long hours of workand the hectic lifestyle, I couldn’t havedone it without him,” she says. Togetherwith her partner for six years, Sadany saysher husband has become her “personalassistant” in a way. An investment bank-er, “he’s the brains, I am the listener,”Sadany says with a laugh as she explainshow he’s always involved in her work andhelps her brainstorm. Her husband, sheadds, has even developed an eye for de-sign: when they go out for dinner, it isn’tjust Sadany checking out the surround-ings and shredding the design elementsto pieces, her husband now enthusiasti-cally chips in too.The PhilanthropistBelieving in the potential of Egyptianworkers and that machinery and massproduction as well as a craze for collegeeducation have led to the deteriorationof craftsmanship in Egypt, Sadany re-cently started up workshops led by mastercraftsmen to teach younger workers thesecrets of their trades.“If workers today, with all the revo-lutionary technology, can’t recreate [a200-year-old building] because it is tooexpensive to do it by hand, then we’vedeteriorated. To fight the commercializa-tion of the industry and preserve Egyp-tian craftsmanship and design character,70- and 80-year-old craftsmen need topass down their wisdom to younger onesand tutor them on handicrafts that theyshould be proud of.”A pet peeve of Sadany’s, and one of thereasons she got into architecture to beginwith, is the lack of an architectural iden-tity in Egypt. “Egypt is a big bowl of salad,it is a collage of lots of civilizations,” shesays. “The problem is when you have allThe ExpertT he advice she gives young designers is simple: Get inspiration from everythingand anything, even the color palette of a woman’s make up. “Walk aroundwith a camera, start up your own library. There is a library in every one of us; wegrasp what we like. Document it if you can, and keep your senses open,” Sadanyadvise.“And always be alert to things, even the ones that aren’t obvious.”HayssamSamir/EgyptToday