Hala was born and raised in Dubai to an Iraqi family, and has experienced a change in culture and environment since moving to Toronto a few years ago. She has used her background to her advantage to explore crossovers between interiors and architecture by using Toronto as a foreign canvas and reference in her projects. She is currently finishing up a Bachelors of Environmental Design at OCAD University, specializing in interior design and minoring in furniture design. As most expats born and raised in Dubai have a different experience with the city, Hala has been trying to express her own experience there through her work in design.
MultiplicityTO: What was the transition like as a high school graduate from Dubai to starting post secondary education at a renowned art university?
Hala Al-Hadeethi: The transition was very interesting. I wouldn't necessarily say difficult because as a person I adapt pretty well, I would like to think. But going from one big city to another big city was very interesting in the sense that I went from a city that was centered around a lot of Middle Eastern, Asian, East Asian people, as well as East African and West African people to coming to Toronto where it's literally every nationality. Everyone's from literally every part of the world. So that was very exciting and also comforting, going from such a multicultural city to another was very good.
As for the educational transition, going straight from high school to university was actually very difficult for me because. The high school that I went to, and most high schools in Dubai, were just an unorganized system. You'd go on to high school, you sit in a class, your teacher comes to your class, and you have a set amount of materials or a set amount of courses that you'd take. There was no such thing as electives – you stop taking art in grade 9. So imagine that; being fresh out of high school and you literally go right into an art school where people have been taking courses to prepare to go into that kind of realm of studies. So that was very difficult for me and it actually took me a while to adapt to the environment. As for my experience at OCAD, I only started to know what I actually wanted now, in my fourth year now. I think it also has to do with the adaption, because I come from a very scientific background – we had to take chemistry, biology, physics, as well as Arabic studies, English studies...but I had never took art. All of my artwork, my creative work that I've done before going to OCAD, was very self-directed.
MTO: What lead you to pursue environmental design as a career or to even pursue OCAD for education? Were you involved even before you were a teenager, a child?
HA: Well, that's funny because I just randomly chose environmental design. I wanted to get into advertising design, which I'm very glad that I didn't because it wouldn't have been my scene. But I was just debating – I also wanted to go into architecture, so I was looking at Waterloo’s program. But I wanted to go to an art school, where everyone looks crazy, creative, and artsy. I tried to research a lot of universities around Toronto and Canada in order to see what would be the perfect match. OCAD just seemed like the perfect place because the building looks cool and they have all these interesting materials and also the fact that it's strictly an art and design school rather than an institutional University that has many different departments. I saw comfort in a more concentrated area or space for education.
As for art as a career, I started drawing when I was a little kid. I was always kind of creative and weird; I was the weird person in my class. And all these girls would be like “Oh my God! Can you draw me?” And I'd be like “I don't know how but I could try” – that kind of thing. I just liked drawing a lot. Even my portfolio going into OCAD, I had no environmental or design work. It was a lot of drawings, a lot sketching.
MTO: As an environmental design major and furniture minor, do you have intentions to fuse the two together in your future design work or furniture, or maybe even more eco-art pieces?
HA: Well environmental design at OCAD is very misleading name because it doesn't necessarily involve itself within ecological practices. But I definitely do try to keep sustainability in mind as a designer and think about how we could pave the path for future generations without being as wasteful and without having such a huge footprint on our land. In terms of how I want to involve environmental design – it's a very broad program, so a lot of people decide to go to their graduate studies to get their architecture degree. But personally, I'm more interested in working with interior design and interior spaces and I think it's a very good market here because there are so many heritage buildings and there's a lot of renovation projects. It’s really cool to see that shell that looks really old and rustic and then you go and it's a completely different environment – I found that really awesome and cool. For furniture design, merging with interior design is not that hard because there's always the kind of work that you would have to do: built-ins and custom work for actual spaces.
MTO: You've said that moving from the Middle East to the West has shaped your cultural approach towards design, can you expand on that? Whether it is in regards to shape and material, platform usage, or even just concept.
HA: It has definitely shaped. Right now I'm working on a project at school for my core design and hospitality class. We have a site, which is at Spadina and King, where we would have to renovate these two heritage buildings and turn them into a hotel and retail space. My whole concept for that is based on the way I grew up in Dubai: when you want to go out to a fancy place, it's always hotels. So, all of our leisure and nightlife or whenever you go out – if you want to go somewhere really cool, you would go to a hotel. All the hotels are so ornate, there's so much money spent on them from the inside and the outside. Moving to Canada, you don't even know a hotel looks like a hotel. From my own perspective, and I've seen a lot of fancy hotels in my life, moving to Toronto they have not been that ornate. Even going to Montreal it's way more ornate than Toronto. But for the project, my whole concept is to kind of bring the wholesomeness of hospitality and the luxury lifestyle that I've experienced myself in Dubai to Toronto.
Mediterranean Habitat -
En Suite Bathroom
MTO: Within the context of our publication, the theme multiplicity is described as living, working, or being in more than one form. We aim to transgress the boundaries that exist within the realms of identity – cultural, professional, or otherwise. We feel that as artists, multiplicity exists in the messages pursued, the work created, or even down to the materials used. With that being said how do you relate to this concept?
HA: In terms of multiplicity, I think that especially living in such a multicultural city as Toronto... it's manifested in many different ways and from the way I understand the word multiplicity...it's literally how you can converge all of these sides of the world, especially in a creative way and forming it into a singular culture that's literally so eclectic and that binds everyone and connects everyone through one common denominator. Whether it's being a creative person or whether you're living in Toronto struggling with the student life.
MTO: You have a collection of renderings called Babylon that appear very structural and stylistic, but also have tones of being eco-art or design. What was the inspiration for this project?
HA: I wanted to create a project that really related to my own culture because I am Iraqi, even though I was born and raised in Dubai, I have Iraqi citizenship and I was raised in an Iraqi household. Especially not having the chance to ever live in my own home country, I would always get to know my homeland through stories and pictures that my family would show me from the 60s, 70s, 80s and so on. I wanted to kind of create a piece that pays homage to my culture and the hanging gardens of Babylon was a big inspiration for me. I didn't want to use rigid materials like wood and have these geometrical structures alone, so I brought in something soft and organic.
MTO: Late in 2018, you were also able to bring one of these pieces – SH3LF – to life. What was that process like as a designer and builder?
HA: It was a shelf that was made to be a planter's shelf. That would be my organic concept. And it was actually a triptych, so I had three different pieces. One other one was a side table made out to be like a bird cage, where on the inside there would be moss growing. So that's kind of the vibe that I was trying to get. The building process was a lot of manual labour, but I did implement a concept of sustainability. I actually had a previous piece of furniture that I built in the past and I found no space for it so I ended up recycling the wood that I already used. It was red oakwood that I recycled that and turned it into SH3LF.
MTO: What are you up to right now with your studies or your design work?
HA: Right now I'm in my fourth year, not my final year, but I'm just trying to keep it chill and not trying to overload myself with a lot of course work. I'm just trying to finish some of my required courses. But I'm also finishing my minor this semester for furniture theory and I'm actually building a new project. I'm building a lounge chair that's meant to be like a closed mother-daughter chair. The concept is to have this space to share outdoors for parent and child within that piece of furniture. I'm also working on the hotel project that I was talking about earlier. That project is the most that I've tried to put my own culture into especially because I liked living in the Middle East, it’s such a different experience. I've traveled to a lot of places in the world, I think the Middle East is more like Singapore, or like a lot of places in Asia. It's just such a different feel...all of the ornate elements of the whole city...it's made for all people to experience. It's not this fancy hotel you get to experience: the outside and the inside are always so integrated within all these private places and they are integrated within common spaces.