Find out how Kuwaiti architecture force Studio Toggle goes against the grain
If you spend some time looking into residential architecture from Kuwait, you’ll likely come across a small but growing team called Studio Toggle – run by Kuwaiti architect Hend Almatrouk and Kerala-born Gijo Paul George. While Almatrouk and George have delivered designs for pavilions, malls and cinemas, their portfolio largely centres on private villas and residential complexes, with projects like the Edges Apartments winning an Aga Khan Award nomination in 2015 and F.LOT taking home the MEA Award for Residential Project of the Year in 2016.
The yearly recognition is no small feat, as Studio Toggle was launched in Vienna just five years ago in late 2011. Moving to Kuwait in 2012, the small company recently established Studio Toggle Porto in June 2016.
“We met when we were doing our internship in 2005,” said Almatrouk. “Then we went our separate ways. But soon after, our paths crossed and we enrolled in the same masters programme in Vienna. We started collaborating on projects beginning with an international competition and that was the beginning of Studio Toggle.”
During the earlier years of Almatrouk and George’s creative partnership, the architects slowly came to realise that their professional goals and visions were aligned, despite their varying backgrounds. “From that point on,” said George, “it was a no-brainer to join forces to explore and further our creative agendas.”
Today, Studio Toggle has grown to be a multicultural team of nearly a dozen individuals. With a design philosophy that draws heavily from the architects’ diverse backgrounds and training, the company operates via three units: architecture, urbanism and activism.
“While not overtly subversive, our work definitely goes against the grain,” said Almatrouk. “We reject styles and trends. We reject non-functional ornamentation. We challenge norms and standard
practices. We embrace technology and optimisation, and we embrace minimalism as a lifestyle and reject it as a style.”
She added, “Our focus is on spatially rich optimised spaces, and the multiple layers of interactions with the surroundings. We believe that simplicity is complex, and we believe in the democratisation of design and urbanity and the freedom that entails. We believe in the evolving role of architects as facilitators, as opposed to authors.”
As CEO and partner at Studio Toggle, Almatrouk manages the client relations and marketing while also
collaborating on design and planning. George is the principal architect and partner. Operating as design director, he oversees the technical operations. Their team of 12 is split between the Kuwait and Portugal offices.
Studio Toggle’s projects vary in scale and scope, like the Pneumatic Grove in 2013 or the multi-use F&B development for WREC in Kuwait, to be completed in 2019.
“We are sensitive to the surroundings – our architecture is responsive and it’s important to us that it stays this way,” said George. “In the past four years of operation, we have successfully designed, supervised and handed over six projects, including three villas, one residential tower and a commercial building, with many more that are under various stages of design and construction.”
Among the team’s growing oeuvre, its standout projects include its most recognised – F.LOT and Edges Apartments. According to both George and Almatrouk, F.LOT’s visual aesthetic – comprising a structurally optimised modernist residence with six-metre cantilevered bedroom and barrier free spaces – is among its strengths. The other, Edges Residence, which was shortlisted for an Aga Khan Award for Architecture, is an example of the studio’s flair for maximising the incremental impact of simple gestures to achieve design articulation.
“We emphasise the importance for buildings to connect with their surroundings,” said George. “Context is relevant. But more than context, architecture needs to reach out, connect and collaborate. We value these connections that we call synapses, and focus on their ability to enhance the social aspects of inhabitable spaces. Our language is simple, but our ideas are complex.”
According to George and Almatrouk, Kuwait’s architecture scene is undergoing an exciting phase. With a proliferation of young and enthusiastic designers competing with established architecture firms, the Kuwaiti design scene is proving to be dynamic. As Almatrouk put it, the local industry is less about the scale of projects and more about the enriched user experience and international trends.
“Kuwaiti design and architecture firms are being recognised for pioneering cutting edge design techniques in the region,” she added. “However, it remains to be said that the construction quality and techniques haven’t caught up with the progress in design thinking, and that is the biggest obstacle that design firms face here.”
While the team is working on a few projects, like a seaside housing development in Muscat’s coastal city Al Seeb, as well as an F&B concept in Al Khiran, Kuwait, the studio’s Porto branch is helping extend the reach across Europe, with a few projects in the pipeline there.
“The priority is quality over quantity,” said Almatrouk. “We believe strongly in a small and intimate team, and in doing projects that are aligned with our views with regards to sustainability, responsible design and