Video: Ellen Søhoel and Lee Nellis talk XBD Collective’s new architecture division

“I think what we are looking for, in terms of architecture, are unique projects that are going to make a statement,” said Lee Nellis, managing partner at XBD Collective, and head of its division XBD Architecture. “We don’t want to do the standard two-plus-four apartment building – we are trying to think outside of the box a little bit.”

Having launched XBD Architecture just two months ago, XBD Collective – a newly established practice itself – has made sure to enter the market on a platform of strength and confidence, making its interests clear to the industry.

Ellen Søhoel (formerly Bishop) originally launched Bishop Design Residential in 2015 – the residential design arm of her previous, award-winning firm Bishop Design, which Søhoel co-founded in 2004 and helped grow over a decade. In October of 2016, Søhoel partnered with Nellis, a RIBA-chartered architect, and established Bishop Design Architecture, which took the emerging team one step closer to having complete creative and quality control over commissioned projects

In early 2018, Søhoel then launched XBD Collective, an all-encompassing design and architectural concept that would grow to contain XBD Interior Design, XBD Architecture and Bishop Design Residential. Stepping out on her own after more than 10 years, Søhoel intended to prove that not only could she start over, but that when she launched her new practice, she would launch big.

Residential project by XBD Architecture

In the two months since, XBD Collective has managed to surpass the ‘start-up’ phase and cement itself within the GCC’s competitive design and architecture industry.

“It was strategic,” said Søhoel. “It is much more beneficial for the client, in my opinion. Being a one-stop shop in terms of design and architecture is the future.”

“We’re expecting rapid expansion,” added Nellis. “And for us, growing our architectural team is not only about finding the right people, but also training them properly. We are training each member of the team to use BIM, and that will make us more efficient. So it’s not necessarily about bringing another 20 people on board, it’s more about manpower, efficiency and skill.”

Within the first week of business, XBD Architecture already signed on to a residential project, which was one of XBD Collective’s interiors projects. In the short time since, XBD Architecture has racked up 18 projects and of those, 10 are in collaboration with the practice’s design team.

The Dragon Pearl Floating Casino

Already established within the residential sector, XBD Architecture is looking to focus on commercial and hospitality projects and its two largest architecture projects – the Dragon Pearl Floating Casino in Macau and the Brova Floating Residences in Monaco – are quite experimental. They reflect the practice’s creative vision, as well as its intent to build comprehensive sustainable projects.

According to Søhoel, “These two architecture projects are hugely significant for the firm as we have competed against some of the world’s biggest architecture companies in the tender process.”

Brova Floating Residences in Monaco

The Brova idea consists of technology-driven, sustainable floating structures that can essentially take up post anywhere in the world. It can feature residences or commercial projects – like the Pearl concept, a floating superstructure that’s currently being utilised for the hospitality industry with two hotels currently planned.

Constructed from concrete, each custom-built structure is built to withstand high levels of impact as well as be erosion-resistant.

“Each structure is designed to be 100 percent sustainable, with recycling of all organic material and waste-taking place on site,” said Nellis. “Brova’s constructions have a state of the art process and programme to recycle all waste, such as cleaning water, food waste and sewage.

He added, “The leftovers from food processing and restaurants, for example, plus the sewage are transported via vacuum to a composting unit connected to a dewatering unit separating water and solids. The solids are led directly into a composter, which is also accessible for manually feeding recyclable natural materials such as cardboard, paper, clean wood, flowers, grass, garden waste and so on.”

With XBD Collective’s various divisions working adjacent to one another in Dubai Design District, it seems that the company’s vision of expansion is not so far down the road – in fact, the office space just next door is vacant, mentioned Søhoel.

Ellen Sohel and Lee Nellis. Image by Aasiya Jagadeesh

And with the international projects that are major landmarks in XBD’s growing portfolio, the practice aims to extend its reach beyond the region. “The way we see it moving forward in architecture is to definitely have projects outside of the region, but Dubai will always be our base,” said Nellis.

“The more bespoke we can be, the more brave we can be in our designs and actually rely on them to be properly executed,” added Søhoel. “Our main focus with XBD Collective is to be able to open more doors towards larger and more innovative projects, not only in the Middle East, but worldwide.”