In the studio: Maria Sobh

The young architect discusses her views on sustainability and creating spaces with a purpose.

17 Aug 2021, words by Aneesha Rai in Design & Architecture

Maria Sobh

Maria Sobh wears many hats - from being the  Co-founder, COO and Chief Design & Creation Officer at The Concept, a Graphic and Interior Designer, and a Sustainable Architect & Advocate. Among her many achievements, the 25-year old Lebanese- Canadian designer has developed ground-breaking architectural building strategy and technique that’s stronger than concrete, 100% compostable, amidst scooping up several awards for her entrepreneurship skills. In this edition of 'In The Studio', we chat with Maria to discuss her approach towards designing a sustainable home, her favorite design spots in the city and more.

Q: Tell us about your process and your approach to designing a home.

Maria: I always set a goal towards a positive outcome before any project I start. What’s the point of building or designing something if it’s not going to serve a purpose?

The goal could be directly related to the client or could be an advancement or innovation throughout the building process. Whether it’s to create a space to encourage an active lifestyle for the client or to ensure the building process is as less toxic as possible to the construction and fitout workers, there’s always an opportunity to improve the way society is used to things into what change we should really be reaching for.

My process and technique comes from a wider purpose and it’s this: as humans, we were so intricately created on earth to serve a purpose; we were also given the authority to create; and so I enjoy following the steps of our creator which is to create with purpose in all I do.

I definitely feel like society has used and abused the word ‘sustainability' way too much for it to hold its true value anymore. I’m committed to my personal purpose to define the ’new normal’; to make it normal again to build purpose-filled spaces and buildings, to make it normal again to use non-toxic natural materials and to make it normal again to value the well-being of society and nature together instead of one or the other.

Maria's sketches
One of Maria's sketches

Q: What's your favorite part about the design process?

Maria: A highlight of my design process is definitely the ideation and sketching stage! There’s nothing more impressive to me than pouring out your creativity on paper and exploring how we can bring it into reality. My favourite recurring thought is ‘why not’ during my design process because it helps me push the boundaries for society.

Another major stage in the design process is material selection. It’s unfortunate how society has fought hard to only end up making toxic materials the most affordable and mainstream. To give you an example, let’s just say building from concrete and a bunch of its complimentary materials is toxic, not just for the builders but also when living within it; especially when it’s not finished and treated properly.

Personally, I don’t give myself the option of toxic ways, no matter how cheap or mainstream it might be. It’s either the right way or no way. I don’t design concepts and build them sustainably for attention. I design and build sustainably because that’s how it should’ve always been done. It’s time to bring it back. I think it’s time to prioritize our well-being and not how high we can build skyscrapers.

Architecture project
One of Maria's architecture projects
Bedroom
Architecture project 2
I think it's time to prioritize our well-being and not how high we can build skyscrapers.

Q: What are some of the home design trends you have noticed?

Maria: One of the major worldwide trends I’ve noticed is when architects and designers surround the building structure with trees or fill an interior with plants. There’s nothing negative about this and it’s great to bring more attention to nature, however, I’d only hope the 'sustainable' aspect of their buildings and designs would be more revolved around “actually” making the space sustainable. For example, building from new and innovative sustainable materials or create an energy/electricity supply system within a building that is efficient enough to consume less fossil fuels and more renewable energy sources.

I’ve seen that recent design trends have become minimalistic and clean. The simpler a space is, the more people have been able to keep their minds less clustered. In today’s day and age, with social media and the internet as whole, we have become so easily-filled with thousands of pieces of information that comes across our screens. Interiors and spaces have become a breathing space for people’s minds. No matter how hard we try, our environment will end up influencing us. We’re responsible for releasing trends that will positively affect the way we create new environments.

Q: Who are your three favorite designers that have shaped you? Ones that you admire?

Maria: My absolute favorite architecture studio is led by Chris Precht and his wife Fei. They run a studio named Precht located in the mountains near Salzburg, Austria to a village called Pfarrwerfen. I admire them for the way they create balance between their work and personal life to avoid burn-outs. They believe that buildings should be a part of our productive grid and should be able to give back to our surroundings and community. They are truly setting new standards for architects and expectations for our society. As of now, Precht is the only one that takes a spot in my top 3 favourite designers/design studios. Hopefully more purpose driven design studios come to birth so I can add to my top 3!

Model

Q: What are the best design spots in the city to you?

Maria: My first favorite spot isn’t really a design spot itself but it’s an environment in which you can receive inspiration before starting a project. It’s the Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary; I admire how they’ve worked hard to preserve nature and wildlife as it is. 

My second would be The Farm located in Al Barari. It’s a restaurant built with surrounding lakes, waterways and gardens and serves fresh ingredients only. It’s truly a way to experience the importance of nature. My third would be the Green Planet located in City Walk. The Green Plant is a bio-dome, which is a tropical indoor 7 tiered rainforest, that is home to more than 3,000 plants and animals. It’s a great way to educate every generation through just experiencing the space.