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Belen Nemi, Architect and Founder of Design by Belen

Belen Nemi is an Architect whose leadership journey has taken in projects across Europe, South America and the Middle East. Belen talks to the Industry Leaders about why anything can be accomplished with hard work, and how the limitless world of Design continually excites her.

How did you end up sitting where you are today?

I believe it's a combination of several factors; I started working when I was 17 years old, exactly when I started university. I worked on projects in South America, Europe and the Middle East. I was always encouraged to follow my passions, even if they were not on the easiest path.

Halfway through university, I started working for a bespoke façade consultancy firm in Argentina. I began working on large-scale projects worldwide, which were new and fascinating for me as a young student; international airports, huge campuses, headquarters, skyscrapers, etc. Our clients were award-winning architects such as; Viñoly, Rafael de La-Hoz and Herzog & the Meuron, the magnitude of the projects and design influence was invigorating.

After graduating from the University of Buenos Aires, I held an Architecture's degree (M.Arch equivalent) and had local and international experience, including facade design and detailing. I decided I wanted to keep working in the design of those large-scale, high-profile projects where ever possible in the world. This motivation, plus amazing people that trusted me, brought me to Dubai.

Since moving to the UAE, I worked for the international design firm Gensler for over 6 years. During my first year, I was promoted to Associate and worked on various projects from corporate HQ office buildings and mixed-use projects to hospitality and retail centres. This included Vida Hotel & Apartments in Bahrain, National Bank of Abu Dhabi HQ and the award-winning retail centre The Avenues Bahrain.

Today I divide my time between my family and my passion for design. Recently IGS Magazine published my article, "Facades in times of pandemics", a 10-page study on façade enclosures to make façade design improve building occupants' wellbeing in times of pandemic.

What kind of work does your role involve?

As a Design Architect or Project Coordinator, my role is to be all over the place, depending on the project's scale and requirements.

As a Design Architect, I can be anywhere between designing the arrival experience for the visitors, sketching floor plan layouts for the buildings, designing options for the facades, detailing interfaces or selecting materials. In the past few years, I've led multidisciplinary teams through different design stages of a project, taking them from concept design, throughout schematic all the way to detailed design.

In many cases, I've been the point of contact between the client and the design team. My role has been to achieve client requirements, manage client and stakeholders' expectations and meet agreed deadlines, always striving for design excellence and efficient solutions. A crucial part of my role is developing a strong relationship with the process.

As Project Coordinator, my role has been to plan and coordinate between the design team and the consultant's teams. This means coordinating with structures, MEP, FLS, AV, VT, Signage and wayfinding, lighting, Landscape consultants, etc. and supervising design decisions to make sure they align with client requirements.

What gets you excited about your industry?

There is no limit in design, it keeps evolving endlessly; creativity does not have a limit. That is fascinating.

With design solutions, you can positively and directly improve people's wellbeing. For this reason, I admire design approaches that can help promote a transformation or positive impact on people's lives or a community by using efficient and environmentally responsive design. It's always challenging to incorporate sustainable strategies, passive systems and adaptable schemes to meet the client's needs and budget.

What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?

You can accomplish anything you want in life with dedication and hard work.

You can do it; I believe in you.

What, or who inspires you?

Everything around me that I find appealing:

Nature: Biomimetic solutions taking inspiration from natural solutions adopted by nature and translate to human design principles.

Cities: Many cities are art galleries in and of themselves — facades, buildings, other architects and designers' creations and thoughts.

Travel: Ancient, emblematic and innovative architecture. Arts, Crafts, Furniture.

How do you keep up to speed with what's happening in your industry?

A few months back, IGS Magazine published my article, "Facades in times of pandemics", a 10-page study on façade enclosures to make façade design improve building occupants' wellbeing during times of pandemic.

Generally, I read essays and online articles that catch my attention. These are mainly architecture and design magazines, sharing newly developed technologies applied to buildings, architect stories, and new developments or projects. I am passionate about understanding and reading about cutting-edge technologies and materiality for architectural purposes. I take webinars whenever possible and, before Covid, I used to go to events whenever submission timings would allow me too - I love participating in these events and have a couple that I particularly enjoyed. I was a panellist in ZAK World of Facades Summit 2017 and Façade Design & Engineering Middle East Forum & Awards in Dubai. In Argentina, I was a speaker in Batimat Expovivienda - Aluvi 2013, the region's largest construction exhibition. In addition, while I worked within the BestChem firm, I gave over a dozen lectures on weatherproofing and structural sealants and their application on glass facades.

What was the most challenging project or situation you've overcome?

Possibly the first time I worked on an Interior Design project. At the time, all my experience relied on architecture or planning projects, designing, detailing and façade experience. So, it was out of my comfort zone for sure. Slowly, and by learning daily from my colleagues' work, I started to get more engaged by it. As the project evolved, I ended up leading it, working side-by-side with a multidisciplinary team across 3 different offices in 2 countries. Over 20 designers jumped in and out of the project, depending on the project's availability and need. They were all from different backgrounds, experiences and cultures. Adding to that, it was a long and demanding project. Looking back, it was crazy times, but I learnt a lot out of it!

You finish work today and step outside the office to find a lottery ticket that ends up winning $10 million. What would you do?

First, I would make sure I have the right to keep it, haha.

Second, I would build and buy property around the world. With the revenue, I would live, help my family, travel and open a foundation to help children in need in Argentina. And keep investing and dreaming…

How do you switch off after a day at work?

Before having my son, it was harder to switch off from work.

Back then, I needed to walk home, train with my PT, go running or rollerblading on the Corniche, to feel the air and let my mind wander off the project. When you work in design and have lots of responsibilities, it is quite difficult to stop thinking about designing and solving technical solutions once you leave the office, because there's always work to do.

Now it's different; I switch off faster. Generally, I play with my baby, go to the beach, swim, or go to the gym, however, I noticed most of the time, design solutions come by themselves when you are more relaxed and well-rested.

If you had one wish for the future of your industry, what would it be?

Allow time for design. Embrace design innovations.

Respect the design process and production.

Encourage design that promotes; efficient, environmentally responsive, sustainable, passive, adaptable and resilient schemes and strategies to solve design solutions.

What book or podcast should everyone know about?

I love books that tell the story and anecdotes of iconic and historic buildings. I find it captivating to see the details of construction, site and craftsmen pictures, and understand the process and difficulties that the architects had while designing or building them and overcoming the challenges.

I recommend books like "Secrets of Versailles, the palace and beyond" by Nicolas B Jacquet, or "Sydney Opera House", by Michael Moy.

Other times when I'm looking for inspiration, I enjoy more experimental books such as "Bio-Structural Analogues in Architecture" by Joseph Lim. These kinds of books show a series of design experiments on structural prototypes derived from biological systems.

How should people connect with you?

I always like to connect with people in the industry. You can find me on LinkedIn: or Instagram @design_by_belen.

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