2021 Judging

AHEAD MEA is adjudicated by an independent panel of experts, comprising leading hospitality architects, designers, owners, operators, developers and industry commentators.

The judging process for AHEAD MEA has been carefully developed to ensure a rigorous, robust and balanced procedure is followed to select the final winners in each category.

Judging Panel Announced
22 June
Shortlist Announced
30 June
Awards Ceremony
9 September

Khawla Al Hashimi

Chief Projects Officer - Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq)

Khawla Al Hashimi is currently the Chief Projects Officer of development at Shurooq. She has worked there for the past 13 years, where she started as an architect and grew through the ranks. She has designed and managed the development of many projects spanning from hotels to beach promenades and libraries. Her project portfolio includes Kingfisher Retreat, Al Faya Retreat, the Chedi Al Bait Hotel, House of Wisdom, Khor Fakkan Beach to name a few. Some of these projects have won prestigious awards like: Conde Nast Traveller’s best new hotel in the ME in 2020, and Luxury Lifestyle Award for best luxury eco retreats and best luxury boutique hotel in the ME in 2020.

She also worked as an architect at Dubai Properties before moving to Shurooq, and has several projects in Dubai under her belt as well. Graduated from the American University of Sharjah with a BA in 2008.

In essence Khawla is a values-driven architect and a strong advocate for Sharjah’s image. She believes in sustainable projects that compliment and showcase their context and history. She believes that buildings are the platform with which we get to experience a location. It is with this philosophy she is leading a team that is single- handedly transforming the face of Sharjah.

Jack Alexander

Architect - Fox Browne Creative

In early 2017, I partnered with Fox Browne Creative, to bring architecture fully into the overall design culture of the team. Collectively, we saw an opportunity to craft projects more thoroughly and more conscientiously; to understand the requirements of a project from inception to user-experience.

In our work together thus far, I’ve had the opportunity to craft a large-scale masterplan for an entire private island, build a 4-storey tree-house in a Big 5 Private Game Reserve and rebuild a unique Lodge in the world’s oldest desert in Namibia; andBeyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge. I am currently in the process of designing and developing lodges in Zambia, South Africa and Tanzania, including a spa with a floating lap pool on the precipice of the world’s largest intact caldera.

My inspiration comes from the extraordinary places in which I’ve had the opportunity to work and to build. My design work is fundamentally premised on its ability to reconcile itself with its context – physically, culturally, and aesthetically. The buildings are all different, but they all follow the same basic principles: always reactionary, always circumstantial. In many ways, I spend my time creating comfortable viewing platforms; beautiful caves; contemporary huts.

Prior to collaborating with Fox Browne Creative, I worked for Silvio Rech and Lesley Carstens for 7 years. During this time, I was the project architect for some of the world’s most prestigious and award-winning private islands and lodges including Time + Tide’s Miavana Private Island, Madagascar, Leobo Private Lodge, Waterberg, South Africa, Norman Carr’s Chinzombo Lodge, Zambia and Angama Mara, Maasai Mara, Kenya.

Jonathan Ashmore

Founding Principal - ANARCHITECT

Jonathan Ashmore is the Founding Principal of award-winning RIBA Chartered Practice ANARCHITECT, based in Dubai and London. A practicing architect and active design critic, Ashmore is a post-graduate of the Bartlett School of Architecture, member of the RIBA Gulf Chapter and a British Council Cultural Excellence Fellowship Mentor.

In a short time, Jonathan has won the international interest of design-conscious clientele, thanks to his refined approach and contemporary aesthetics, with a signature style of translating architecture across diverse scales of design; with superlative craft, detail and materiality. Together with his team, Jonathan creates highly refined buildings, spaces, and objects beautifully balanced in form and function. Continuously pushing the boundaries of architectural discourse to deliver projects at the crux of understated luxury and contextually modern architecture, his work has gained international recognition through invited creative collaborations with Burberry, Wallpaper* Magazine and projects regularly published in the global design press.

Jonathan is frequently invited as a spokesperson for Middle Eastern modern architecture, drawing upon a decade’s experience, uncovering its opportunities and rich contextual vernaculars. His thought leadership and success delivering projects with strong narratives continues to attract widespread print and digital coverage which subsequently fosters clients’ success beyond design commission, including his practice’s soaring social media following.

Tatoum Athanassiou

Director, Interior Design (MEA) - Marriott International

Ms. Tatoum Athanassiou joined Marriott International in 2014 and serves as Director of Interior Design for luxury brands as part of the Global Design team in the Middle East & Africa. With 20+ years of experience in the hospitality and leisure industry, Tatoum has an extensive wealth of knowledge on the requirements and standards of international hotel design and operations. Her exposure to various cultures has been manifested through an international career spanning across Europe, America, Middle East and Africa, where she has worked on a variety of hospitality, mixed-use, and luxury residential projects.

In her current capacity at Marriott International, Tatoum oversees interior design decisions throughout Middle East and Africa for new-build projects and renovations across all brands, utilizing strong leadership and negotiation abilities that enable her to manage projects successfully from inception to completion. She employs a resourceful and proactive approach to design problem-solving, and ultimately understands the importance of retaining a positive rapport among key stakeholders such as GM’s, project designers, and owners, ensuring her strong passion for forward-thinking design and keen eye for detail is executed, which ultimately results in a unique guest experience for each project.

Tarek M. Daouk

Founder and Managing Partner - Smartotels Group Holdings Limited

Tarek M. Daouk is Founder and Managing Partner at Smartotels Group Holdings, a hospitality investment and asset management firm based in Dubai, UAE. Mr. Daouk is currently advising SWFs, large- to mid-cap private equity funds, and HNIs on off-market opportunistic and distressed real estate deals in the USA, Europe and Asia. Further, Mr. Daouk actively advises hospitality technology start-ups and government agencies in the Middle East.

Prior to founding Smartotels, Mr. Daouk was Head of Hospitality at Goldman Sachs's Realty Management Division in Europe responsible for hotel acquisition, asset management and divestment activities. Prior to his time in Europe, Mr. Daouk was involved in hotel acquisitions for the Whitehall Street Real Estate Funds in the USA.

Before joining Goldman Sachs, Mr. Daouk worked at InterContinental Hotels Group in the Development & Investment Analysis Division of the Americas regional office. Prior to InterContinental, Mr. Daouk was a management consultant in the Hospitality & Leisure Practice of PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Mr. Daouk received a BSc in Hotel Administration with distinction from Cornell University and an MSc in Real Estate Development from Columbia University.

Pallavi Dean

Founder & Creative Director - Roar

Pallavi is the founder and creative director at Roar; recognised by Frame and Interior Design Magazine as "emerging designer to watch out for" and described by Architectural digest as "One of the hottest boutique design companies in the UAE”.

Pallavi is a trained architect and sustainability specialist and has won multiple awards for work across a range of sectors including commercial, hospitality and residential. She was born in India, raised in Dubai and spent years working in London; her designs reflect these eclectic influences. A former professor of interior design at the American University of Sharjah, she strives to implement the latest theoretical and practical research into the firm’s designs.

She is an active member of the UAE design community, writing for industry publications, assisting with key trade events and mentoring students in the region. Her work has been profiled in some of the world’s leading international media including the Financial times, the BBC, Monocle , Wallpaper and the Architectural Digest. Flagship projects by Roar include the Delano Dubai hotel, UAE offices for media firm Edelman, and The Nursery of the Future for the UAE Prime Minister’s Office.

Tristan du Plessis

Founder - Tristan du Plessis Studio

Tristan du Plessis is an internationally recognised award-winning interior architect based in South Africa with offices in both Johannesburg and Cape Town.

His bold, distinctive design has been serving international luxury hospitality, dining and tailor-made residential design spanning from Africa, Europe, the Middle East and the US.

Tristan Du Plessis Studio was founded in 2015 with a focus on collaborative groundbreaking projects throughout the world. Since inception, the studio has accumulated a number of awards including Best Global Restaurant Designer at the Restaurant & Bar Design Awards 2019, The Hotel Of The Year at AHEAD MEA 2019, Best Luxury Design in MEA at the Restaurant & Bar Design Awards 2021, and GQ's Man of the Year to name a few. Most recently, he was selected as Head Judge for the prestigious Accor Design Awards in 2022.

To date, he is the most awarded designer to come out of South Africa.

Born and raised in Johannesburg, Tristan currently splits his time between Cape Town, Johannesburg and Dubai with his two golden retrievers, Nobu and Mischu.

Clinton Freeman

Design Director - IHG

Clinton has over 25 years of interior design experience in the lifestyle sector in roles ranging from Designer to Managing Director, with projects predominately encompassing hospitality and leisure. He has gained a wealth of experience which has seen a significant number of high–end projects completed in Europe, the African Continent and the Americas.

In his role as Design Director, Clinton’s extensive experience across all phases of design has established him as a highly skilled lifestyle professional, and he is a key member of renowned companies including Terence Conran, Fitch & Co and David Collins.

Omar Ghafour

Founder - Light Space Design

With over fifteen years of professional experience in the design industry from renowned practices, Omar Abdelghafour founded Award Winning multi-discipline Design and Architecture Practice L.S.Design (Light Space Design) in 2004.

Born and raised in London, he received his masters in Transport Design and then Architecture from the UK. His professional practice has given him the opportunity to work in Europe, Asia, North America and the Middle East. His ability to practice architecture globally enabled him to be invited to be part of the Venice Biennale of Architecture and Light, as a key note speaker. AS well as mentoring he is an active member in a variety of professional Design and architectural platforms in the Middle East and Europe. His work is regularly published in global design publications from Europe to Asia.

For him, architecture is one part of “Design” as the language for life not a singular discipline. This philosophy translates into every aspect of how human interface and contextual accuracy is used in both his private and commercial architecture. It encompasses urban planning, product, furniture, lighting and even transport Design, resulting in the delivery of a detail-rich fully immersed designed environment. This is apparent in his diverse body of work. He has a regard for unique craftsmanship and refined aesthetics, with a firm belief that design should be passionate, dynamic and contextually relevant for the region in which its being delivered.

Sue Henson

Interior Designer and Design Director - SID Bahrain

Sue is the founder of the award-winning practice SID Bahrain. She holds a BA in Interior Architecture from the Nottingham University UK.

Sue has been designing hospitality projects both regionally and internationally since relocating to Bahrain 2006 to join DWP as Hospitality Design Director. She established SID in 2012, a boutique design studio focusing on hotels and workplace projects, and her work was recently recognised with the recent AHEAD award Winner for Best Lobby & Public Spaces for the Merchant House Hotel in Bahrain.

Among numerous high-profile projects, her 15 Years in the GCC has recently included Heritage design at the UNESCO World Heritage master planning project at Diriyah Riyadh. SID worked with Italian architectural preservation experts to restore and convert 300-year-old mud houses into a luxury 5-star hotel, a project emerging soon.

Hilda Impey

Creative Director - Hilda Impey Studio

Hilda brings more than 20 years of interior design experience and an acute specialisation in FF&E to her role as Creative Director of her recently open multidisciplinary studio. Born and raised in Mexico, her international career in textiles and interiors began early, and in 2002 she was awarded first place in the International Design Biennale in Mexico City. She received a master’s degree in textile futures from Central Saint Martin’s College of Art & Design in London, and her deep knowledge of textiles and passion for interiors bring a unique approach to her methodology.

She has worked as a creative leader launching textile ranges for the interiors industry, as well as a fabric buyer, product developer, and trend forecaster for suppliers around the world. Previously Associate of FF&E at Godwin Austen Johnson’s Dubai headquarters, Hilda is known within the interiors and hospitality industries for her particular and exciting creative style. She was part of the core team of Wilson Associates’ Dubai studio as Design Principal assisting the team in creating unique concepts with outstanding results.

Hilda’s expertise is often sought by industry publications and brands in forecasting upcoming design trends and providing input on emerging ideas. She has been named one of the region’s most influential designers and was listed in the Top 50 Power List published by Commercial Interior Design Magazine.

Paola Mantello

Exec Director, Interior Design, Design & Technical Services, Luxury - Accor

Paola joined Accor, Design & Technical Services team in Dubai in 2018 and she is driving the direction of Interior Design strategy for new hotels, conversions and renovation projects within the Luxury brands in the TIMEA region such as Raffles, Orient Express, Fairmont, Sofitel and many more. Her passionate approach for “designs with a story to say” and unique background in both interior design and set design is bringing flair and a fresh approach to the growing stable of key properties that are under development in the region.

Paola started out in 2004 in Milan, Italy, designing sets for photoshoots, events and exhibits for designer brands such as Giorgio Armani, Valentino and Calvin Klein. Paola moved to the Middle East in 2008, working as the Head of Interior Design for Armani Casa in Bahrain, from where she moved to Qatar in 2011 specializing in VVIP residential properties. In 2013 she moved to Singapore, joining the well-known hospitality design consultancy, HBA (Hirsch Bedner Associate).

Prior to joining Accor, Paola was part of EMAAR Properties in Dubai as Assistant Director of Design for Hospitality Projects from 2015, supporting multiple luxury hotel and residential brands through the region.

Paola holds a Master’s Degree in Interior Design from Politecnico di Milano in Italy and a Bachelor’s Degree in Theatre Design from University of Central England in Birmingham, England.

​Hakan Ozkasikci

Executive Vice President, Design & Technical Services - Kerzner International

Hakan is Executive Vice President of Design and Technical Services at Kerzner International, overseeing the overall direction of the company’s new and ongoing projects. He joined Kerzner International in 2019, as Senior Vice President of Design & Technical Services, with over 30 years of experience working on iconic projects in 36 countries over 4 continents including the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Europe.

Kerzner International, through its subsidiaries, is a leading global developer and operator of destination resorts, ultra-luxury hotels and residences and innovative entertainment and gaming experiences. He has been instrumental in the development of SIRO Hotels, Rare Finds along with Atlantis Resorts & Residences and One&Only Resorts and Private Homes.

With a passion for architectural design and fixtures, Hakan’s specialties include architecture, interior design, design and process management, branding, conversion, innovation, and sustainability. He approaches each individual project to reflect the locale, their culture, and their people to reinterpret their values to strike a streamlined balance between comfort, sophisticated simplicity, and luxury.

Hakan completed his master’s degree from Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University in developing sustainable design models for the hospitality industry including small, unbranded luxury hotels. He is a member of the Turkish Chamber of Architects, International Design Management Institute (DMI) and Ashford Institute Alumni and he holds a certificate on Hotel Real Estate Investments and Asset Management from Cornell University.

Prior to joining Kerzner International, Hakan worked as a consultant designer and architect in different parts of the world. He joined Intercontinental Hotels Group to lead the design and development of the brand in Europe. Following that, he went on to work with Aman to lead the design of the brand across some landmark sites and instill the brand’s determination to preserve their natural settings and offer a luxurious peaceful refuge.

Recognised as a thought leader for the hospitality industry, Hakan has been an active attendee at prominent international hospitality events as a keynote speaker and moderator. He is also a loyal pupil of classical motorcycling, an experiential cook, and is currently penning his first book chronicling his adventures around the globe.

Isabel Pintado (Chair)

SVP, Design and Innovation - Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts

Isabel Pintado’s mandate as Senior Vice President, Design and Innovation at Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts is to continue to evolve the brand’s design vision and aesthetic across its growing global portfolio of hotels, resorts and residences. In this newly created role, she works in partnership with the Senior Vice President, Architectural Design & Construction, and reports directly to the President, Global Operations.

Working closely with each property’s owners, design consultants and on-site teams, she oversees new builds, conversions and enhancement projects. In addition, she is engaging in multi-disciplinary collaboration with other Four Seasons teams with a focus on enhancing the guest experience in strategic operational areas including guest rooms, food and beverage outlets, spas, the brand’s Kids For All Seasons program, and expanding retail offerings. A particular area of interest is the integration of wellness programming into all areas of hotel operations.

In addition to working with the world’s leading visionaries in the design space, including forging new relationships with designers on behalf of the brand, Isabel seeks inspiration beyond the usual creative resources. Grounded in the belief that great design goes beyond the visual and tactile, she takes a critical eye to the flow and function of spaces, encompassing how they work and, for guests, residents and employees, how they feel.

Prior to joining Four Seasons in early 2021, Isabel lead several top design studios around the world. In 2020, Design Middle Eastmagazine placed Isabel in the #1 position on its annual Creative 30 Power List. Previously, she accumulated more than 25 years of experience working in the design industry, with studies at INSEAD, Stanford University and the University of Wales.

Fluent in both English and Spanish, Isabel is currently based in Dubai, with plans to relocate to the company’s corporate office in Toronto in future.

Husain Roomi

Partner and Director - H2R Design

Having grown up in some of the world’s most architecturally inspired cities, Husain developed a keen interest in design from a young age. This passion led him to obtaining an Architecture Degree from Kingston University in London and soon after, helped him carve a trajectory working within top international firms.

Driven by his entrepreneurial spirit, Husain founded H2R Design with his brother Hasan in 2012. A multi-disciplinary design firm based in both London and Dubai, Husain, Husan and their young, progressive team have made their mark creating spaces with significance, influence and soul.

Today, Husain’s comprehensive understanding of architecture and design combined with an ingrained appetite for innovation has allowed him and H2R to thrive with the hospitality, F&B and retail sectors. His calm, level-headed nature compliments his innate creativity, bringing a sense of refinement, finesse and respect to the firm and any project that comes its way.

Lotfi Sidirahal

Creative Director - Atelier Pod

The architect graduated from the Ecole Spéciale d’Architecture in Paris. By the end of the 1990s, he published radical designs about new media’s sociological impact on urban lifestyles. His foremost research and prototypes were displayed in renowned art centres and exhibitions worldwide such as Vitra Design Museum, Graz Art Museum and Hangaram Seoul.

His early works not only attracted the attention of art critics but also quickly drew the attention of the world of luxury that soon began to engage his design studio; “Atelier Pod” to create signature works in accordance with their brand image, surrounding culture, and an everlasting guest experience.

Atelier Pod, the architecture and interior design firm he still manages today is based in Paris, Casablanca and Dubai and is referenced by prestigious hotel operators such as Four Seasons, Marriott Luxury,Anantara, Hilton and Accor Luxury.

Last year, Lotfi won the Villegiature Awards at Chateau de Ferrières in Paris and the prestigious Versailles Prize for hotels at Unesco.

Mike Sievwright

Vice President for Design & Construction - MGM Resorts International

Mike Sievwright is Vice President for Design and Construction for MGM Resorts International, based in the UAE and covering the International stage. He is responsible for strategic and operational oversight for design and construction related matters for all integrated hotel and entertainment developments for MGM Resorts in the region. With previous experience including Jumeirah and Abu Dhabi Capital group across Europe, MENA and ASPAC, Mike brings cultural sensitivity, a wealth of technical and design experience, and fiscal responsibility to the role.

Mike is a highly innovative Engineer and Project Management professional with over 25 years’ cross-functional experience in the hotel development and construction industry across contracting, asset management, design, hotel development and as a hotel operator. Mike is passionate about the Hospitality Industry, believes in encouraging innovation and pushing the boundaries of what is normal, and aims to create inspiring, efficient and profitable spaces. Whilst managing the design and construction process, he is always looking for pioneering design solutions to identify opportunities for increasing efficiencies, increasing revenue, decreasing costs and maximizing benefits for all stakeholders.

Mike holds an Engineering Honors Degree from Oxford Brookes University and a Certificate in Real Estate Development from Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration.

Justin Wells

CEO - Wells International

Founded in 2020 Wells International has leveraged of over 25 years of hospitality industry experience through founder and CEO Justin Wells, architect and designer, having previously occupied executive roles with Hirsch Bedner Associates (HBA) and Design Worldwide Partnership (dwp) among others. Wells has the privilege of notable clients such as Royal Family members and Head of State.

Wells International designers have experience with illustrious hotel operators such as Four Seasons, Marriott (Ritz-Carlton, St. Regis, Luxury Collection, JW Marriott, Sheraton, Renaissance), Kempinski, InterContinental (Crowne Plaza), HiltonInternational (Waldorf Astoria, Curio), Accor (Sofitel, Novotel), SLS, Melia (Gran Melia), Rotana, Emaar (The Address), Six Senses, Viceroy, Langham, Radisson, Hyatt, which outlines the capabilities of the experienced designers and network within the hospitality industry.

Kristina Zanic

Owner & CEO - Kristina Zanic Consultants

Kristina Zanic has had a distinguished career for three decades as an international designer for projects in over 20 countries. After starting an interior design company at age 26 and growing it to a multinational firm over 15 years, Kristina set up her eponymous studio to offer a more personalised service to clients.

Ten years on, the studio has grown to four offices and 180 staff and won numerous design awards – including #1 Interior Design Firm in the Middle East in 2022, with Kristina also earning the #1 Designer title. The studio designs interiors for urban hotels, nature resorts, VIP private resorts, and restaurants across Middle East, Asia, Africa, and Europe.

Kristina particularly enjoys working on projects in unique natural settings, where the story of the place shapes the design and the visitor experience. She designed the award-winning interiors of Ritz Carlton Al Hamra and Al Wadi resorts, inspired by Bedouin life and the UAE desert.

Her studio is also behind the interiors of two Saudi luxury island resorts in the Red Sea, with architecture by Kengo Kuma and Foster + Partners, opening in 2023 and 2024. Other notewrothy projects include the JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge situated within Kenya’s awe-inspiring wildlife reserve, and a beachfront resort in a UNESCO-listed nature reserve in Qatar. Kristina’s work is inspired by a passion for travel and exploring different cultures. She has been to over 70 countries, often seeking places off the beaten track.