2023 Judging

The judging panel for AHEAD MEA - comprising architects, interior designers, hoteliers and industry commentators - follows a carefully developed judging process to ensure a rigorous and balanced approach, with the criteria for success based not only on creative excellence guest experience but commercial viability.


Andrew Moore

President (MENA) - HBA

Since joining Hirsch Bedner Associates in 1998, Andrew has been privileged to participate in two of the most dynamic decades of growth in Asia Pacific, especially China.

Andrew has led his design team in Singapore in creating some of the region's most important hospitality projects, and developing lasting relationships with HBA clients.

Firas Alsahin

Co-Founder & Design Director - 4SPACE

Firas, the visionary Co-Founder and Design Director of 4SPACE, has consistently pushed the boundaries of architectural and interior design across the Middle East. Under his leadership, 4SPACE has emerged as one of the region's premier interior design firms, renowned for its innovative blend of light, space, and meticulously curated features that craft unforgettable aesthetics.

In 2023, Firas' exceptional talent and dedication were further recognised when he was honoured as the "Interior Designer of the Year"at the prestigious CID awards.

Guiding the design divisions at 4SPACE, Firas' international experience propels the team to venture into uncharted territories, exploring diverse shapes and forms. This results in spaces that seamlessly merge feasibility, efficiency, and originality. His hands-on leadership style ensures that every stage of the design process, from 3D modeling to site supervision, is executed with precision.

An accredited design professional with SBID, Firas' design philosophy is a harmonious blend of futuristic, minimalist, functional, and sustainable elements. His influential presence in the industry is evident through his active participation in various Middle Eastern discussion platforms. As a tech- savvy global influencer, Firas' innovative thinking and nurturing leadership inspire his team to craft unique designs using only the finest materials.But Firas' vision extends beyond the present. His ambitious plans for 4SPACE and the broader design landscape reflect a forward-thinking approach, always anticipating the next evolution in design and innovation. He envisions a future where businesses are equipped for the META space design era, harnessing cutting-edge technologies like virtual reality, augmented reality, architectural NFTs, and virtual real estate.

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.

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.

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.

Leila Abdul Rahim

Director, Design - Hilton Worldwide

Starting her career designing theme parks in Japan and Malaysia, Leila moved into corporate interiors in the late 90’s, where she had the privilege to design the newly created Lexus car brand headquarters for Toyota, as well as vanguard offices for Dreamworks, Warner Bros and Warner Records. It was through the start of the actor-owned restaurants that Leila veered into hospitality designing F&B venues for the likes of Michael Wayne.

In 2003, Leila and her family relocated to Dubai, where she first joined the developer Emaar properties and established design and execution standards within the retail department. A few years later, she returned to the consulting side of design, and headed the Dubai brand of several interior design companies, including DiLeonardo, HBA and Bilkey Llinas.

Today, with over 35 years of experience in the industry, Leila oversees interior design experiences for Hilton Corporate’s ME region.

Mark Eacott

Global VP, Design - Ennismore

Mark joined Ennismore in 2018 from Los Angeles as part of the Accor acquisition of the SBE Lifestyle Brands. Bringing with it his in-depth knowledge of the SLS, Mondrian, HYDE, and Delano legacy brands, Mark was part of a small team based out of Singapore, instrumental in the growth of Ennismore in Asia-Pacific.

Now under a global role from Dubai, Mark co-leads the Ennismore Global Design Team with Charlie North. Working as a ‘hand-to-glove’ link between the Ennismore brands and regional design teams, Mark is responsible for high-level design direction along with defining the design and product strategy for Ennismore brands, ensuring they remain future-proofed and true to their unique brand DNA and purpose.

Prior to Ennismore, Mark spent more than 19 years working in London, New York and Shanghai, training under renowned architects, designers, and hospitality groups such as Soho House, OMA, Richard Rogers, Softroom, HBA and Philippe Starck’s YOO.

Nick van Marken

Managing Director - van Marken Limited

Nick is currently acting as senior adviser to a range of hospitality owners, investors and operators. He serves a wide spectrum of clients, including private family offices; PE; SWF’s and corporates.

Nick spent the early part of his career in hotel operations in Africa and Europe, working with Holiday Inn, Sun International, Gleneagles and Meridien. Thereafter he spent 30 years in Professional Services - with PKF, Arthur Andersen and Deloitte, based variously in London, Hong Kong and the Gulf. He has worked in over 110 countries and 250 markets and is a sought-after speaker and moderator.

He has made a life-long habit of staying in legendary hostelries.

Nick and his family split their time between Dubai, Noosa, Cape Town and London.

Paulo Mancio

Senior Vice President (South America) - Accor

Paulo gained 21 years of experience in real estate, design, engineering, and sustainability at Accor in Brazil. He also contributed to the technical development of the group in Latin America and assumed the position of Senior Vice President for South America in 2013.

Paulo is also a professor of the postgraduate course in Architecture and Interior Design for the Luxury Market at the University of Vale do Itajaí (UNIVALI/SC). He has conducted classes and lectures in the USA, Italy, Dubai, and Chile.

Recognised for implementing innovations and pioneering initiatives in Brazil, Paulo is responsible for conceiving and curating the Design & Technical Summit, considered one of the main events for the hospitality market. With a comprehensive program of content, networking, and awards, it annually brings together the key leaders of the hotel sector, design professionals, and the segment's production chain.

Throughout his professional career, Paulo has participated in several international conferences on hospitality, sustainability, and innovation in the USA, Europe, and Asia. He has overseen the implementation of around 450 Accor multi-brand hotels and has been responsible for a pipeline with more than 125 hotel projects. He has also worked in project management and the construction of hotel complexes belonging to global chains such as Melia, Staybridge, Radisson, Quality/Atlântica Hotels brands, and other international companies including Cinemark and Brookfield.

In 2022, Paulo and his family relocated to Dubai, where he served as the Global Vice President of the largest private developer in Dubai, DAMAC. His responsibilities included overseeing the technical and new business development of the company's real estate business, focusing on hospitality and luxury residential developments with various brands. During his time in Dubai, Paulo concentrated on developing DAMAC in Europe and successfully forged partnerships with entities in Italy, England, Spain, and Portugal.

In March 2024, Paulo returned to the USA and assumed the role of Executive Director at one of the most esteemed boutique developers in Brazil. Among his various projects and missions, Paulo is spearheading one of the largest luxury projects in Brazil, with Brookfield as a partner in this endeavour.

Currently, Paulo is also a part of the Advisory Council of the WTC in Brazil. Additionally, he is involved in the Council of Decor Social, an important NGO in the third sector in Brazil

Pinar Calimano

Senior Director, Design & Innovation (EMEA) - Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts

Pinar Calimano is Senior Director of Design + Innovation, EMEA at Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. She has over 25 years of experience in hospitality design and hotel operations in Europe, Middle East, Africa, region as well as United States.

Pinar, a graduate of the New York School of Interior Design, started her design career at Stonehill & Taylor Architects in New York. Prior to returning to her hotelier roots in 2013 as Design Director for Hyatt International Hotels for MEA/SWA region, she delivered projects for hotel brands such as Ritz Carlton, Marriot, Sheraton, Hilton, and Millennium Hotels as interior design consultant.

In her current role, Pinar leads Four Seasons Hotels Design + Innovation Team in EMEA region and oversees the interior design of new hotels, restaurants and bars as well as renovation of existing properties.

Sameer Grover

Technical Services Lead - Rove Hotels

As Rove Hotels’ Technical Services Lead, Sameer brings seventeen years of knowledge and experience to the role, from hotel and brand development to construction. With a Master’s degree in Real Estate, he likes to approach hotel projects by striking the fine balance between creative design and ROIs.

As an architect in the hospitality sector, Sameer was former Design Manager at the multinational hotel operator and developer, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, delivering luxury projects across the globe including India’s first W resort in Goa.

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.

Tim Etherington

Co-Founder - ema.

With a career in the design industry spanning 25+ years over 5 continents Tim has worked for both small boutique studios and large commercial practices. Prior to forming EMA Tim was the Managing Director of Wilson Associates and the Co-Managing Director of Gensler’s Shanghai office.

Since graduating from Kingston University in London, Tim worked exclusively as a designer, focusing and specialising in projects in the retail, workplace, hospitality and brand sectors.

From his role as a Creative Director and entrepreneur, he is active in the creative and strategic process, working closely with project teams to develop and elevate design innovation across practice areas.

Working as a creative for much of his career has given Tim extensive insights into the design process, the skills required to knit management and creative objectives, how to build successful teams and develop and apply compelling and viable design solutions. A strategic thinker by nature, he is a true believer that great design is grounded in a solid and thoughtful approach.

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.


Entries open
25 Jan 2023
Entries close
28 Apr 2023
28 Sep 2023