Reimagining design with the Sakhi sisters

The two sisters founded their multi-disciplinary architecture and design studio T Sakhi in 2016 and it has quickly become one of the most exciting creative studios in the region. (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 12 November 2020

Reimagining design with the Sakhi sisters

  • Inside the increasingly influential Beirut-based design practice T Sakhi 

BEIRUT: Walk around Beirut long enough and you just may see some of Tessa and Tara Sakhi’s work; maybe an installation that questions the nature of public and private space, or a stunningly reimagined traditional Lebanese townhouse, or even bespoke pieces of marble furniture. 

Their creativity is matched by their ability to transcend boundaries — they veer into architecture, art, filmmaking and design — and their star has risen in recent years. The two sisters, born to a Polish mother and Lebanese father, founded their multi-disciplinary architecture and design studio T Sakhi in 2016 and it has quickly become one of the most exciting creative studios in the region. 

Their background, unsurprisingly, plays a major part in their work. “Growing up in a city like Beirut, rich in occidental and Arabic historical affluences, in a family where our mother comes from a Polish background while our father comes from a Lebanese one, helped us question the notion of home and our roots and drove us to be conscious of the hybridity of our culture,” Tara says. “These notions are at the core of each project we undertake as they bring back architecture and design to their essence: the influence of the human dimension in time and how to work with a contemporary approach while maintaining the traditional ones.”

Beirut played a large role in the sisters’ formative years. (Supplied)

Most architecture firms are not founded by siblings, and both sisters had to learn to adapt to their new working relationship. “In the beginning it was very challenging to work together because there were no obstacles and boundaries established between us as sisters,” says Tara. “So things tended to get very personal. It took us a couple of years to understand and calibrate the dynamics, and to establish healthy boundaries in order to be inspired and productive in our projects and in our sisterhood.”

Unsurprisingly, given the sheer range of the studio’s work, it’s hard for Tara to pinpoint a favorite project. “It’s like choosing a favorite child,” she says. “Our clients (come from) different sectors and with different types of projects, each very challenging in its own way: from transportable nightclubs, high-end restaurants to small épiceries, private residential projects to public urban interventions and installations, experimental workshops in glass-blowing in Murano as well as an ecstatic experimental dancing space in Tulum — our Lebanese pavilion for Abwab’s 5th edition for Dubai Design Week last November.

Most architecture firms are not founded by siblings, and both sisters had to learn to adapt to their new working relationship. (Supplied)

“We pour our heart and all our energy into working on each. You spend many months, sometimes years, building a relationship with these projects, the clients, the team you work with day and night. You even get attached to the context, and of course once it is erected, there is no greater feeling of pride and joy to experience an idea on paper come to life physically,” she continues.

“In the beginning, people often asked us whether we were architects, designers or artists. Our response was that we are sisters who simply do what we love and what moves us. We are curious (about) intersecting our different interests and watching the results. We do not emphasize a ‘discipline’ but rather a ‘way of thinking’ translated through different mediums, be it architecture, product design, installation or film. Each medium has its own form of expression and stimulates a different form of interaction.”

Witness ADAR, their stunning reimagining of a Levantine restaurant in Paris last year; a beautifully whimsical take on the Middle East’s textures and tones, that never lapsed into cliché. Or “Holidays in the Sun,” a series of public installations in Beirut that meditate on the city’s myriad security and military barriers. 

Indeed, Beirut played a large role in the sisters’ formative years; how could it not? It’s a city at once beautiful and cursed, filled with tales of despair, but also with resilience, creativity and hope. 

“We want to use our designs as a tool for re-questioning,” Tara says. “For instance, our Lebanon pavilion at Dubai Design Week last year, WAL(L)TZ, focused on transforming a wall into an activator of connection, sociability, and awareness. Lebanon is highly congested with (physical) walls, from security barriers and barbed wire embedded in the urban infrastructure, to fenced public spaces and privatized coastal and green spaces. Lebanon, as are most places, is primarily dominated by walls imposed by social-political norms and misinterpretations of religious and cultural values.

“Today, Beirut is unfortunately over-constructed — congested with buildings and construction sites, punctuated by private gardens, squares and beaches, and blocked by security barriers,” she continues. “There are barely any public spaces and greenery for the citizens to enjoy and to feel free in the city.”

That freedom was curtailed even further by the huge explosion in Beirut Port in August that wrecked large parts of the city. “There is hope for Beirut, there always has been and always will be,” Tara says. “It is a country that has raised itself from the ashes over and over again for many decades. It is constantly being destroyed by the corrupt political elite that has been ruling for the past 30 years, but the people and their love for the country are undoubtedly the pulse of the city and make it survive, revive and thrive. The blast destroyed in a split second all we have built and worked for. It is quite difficult to plan far in the future, we are living it out more organically.”

Tom Hanks talks ‘News of the World’ and the comeback of Westerns

Tom Hanks stars in ‘News of the World.’ (File/AFP)
Updated 29 November 2020

Tom Hanks talks ‘News of the World’ and the comeback of Westerns

LOS ANGELES: Depending on who you ask, Westerns are either on their way out, gone for good, or making a slow comeback in Hollywood. At one point a staple genre of the film industry, the classic Western rarely makes it onto the movie theater marquee these days. Big-budget flops such as 2013’s “The Lone Ranger” have served to usher the genre out of popularity, but critical successes such as Quinten Tarantino’s “Django Unchained,” “The Hateful 8” and the Coen Brothers’ “True Grit” are doing their part to keep Westerns from dying off completely. 

On Christmas Day, “News of the World” will be doing its part to keep the Western genre alive, and hopefully bag Universal Pictures a few Oscar nominations. Arab News heard more from the film’s star Tom Hanks.

“I love listening to a great story as much as I like telling one, and that’s why I was so excited about playing Kidd,” Hanks said, giving audiences a taste of what his performance has in store. “He is a storyteller. He is driven, emotional. He is noble. He is moved by a pursuit of the truth.”

Hanks plays Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a former army officer who, after the death of his family, makes his living traveling around Texas reading the news to illiterate townsfolk and entertaining with true tales from across the world.

“'News of the World' takes place in the shadow of the Civil War’s end. There is defeat. There is strife and anger. Because of the war, Kidd came back to having nothing left,” he told us. “Reading the news gave him a purpose. He got up. He collected the stories. He delivered a reading and then he moved onto the next town.”

 As he continues in his travels, Kidd comes across Johanna, a young girl who had been taken from her pioneer family and raised by the Kiowa Native Americans. 

“She has no idea who her family is,” Hanks shared. “Burdened by his own decency, Kidd is going to have to return her to her family and this coming from a man who has lost any semblance of what a family is.”

The movie is adapted from the novel of the same name by author Paulette Jiles, and while it is not based on a true story, its main characters are inspired by real people. Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd is based on the ancestor of a friend of Jiles’ — the similarly named historical figure Captain Adolphus Caesar Kydd — who performed readings of newspapers in the 1870s. Johanna is inspired by the more well-known historical tale of Cynthia Ann Parker, who was kidnapped and raised by the Comanche Native Americans.

Interestingly, there seems to be a disagreement between Jiles and film director Paul Greengrass about their goals in portraying the story of “News of the World.” In a 2016 interview with Texas Monthly, Jiles stated that she had no intention of making a commentary on contemporary politics with the original book, preferring to “move people into the world of imagination.”

Greengrass, on the other hand, told reporters at Vanity Fair that he saw the film, which features families and communities in conflict with each other, as representative of the societal divide in the modern-day US. With these opposing ideas woven into the fabric of the story, it will be interesting to see what audiences take away after watching.

It is clear what Universal is hoping to take away, and that is an Oscar. “News of the World” sees Hanks and Greengrass working together again after their previous collaboration, 2013’s “Captain Phillips.” While not an Oscar-winner, “Captain Phillips” received six nominations as well as attention at the Golden Globes and other award shows. With the film releasing at the tail end of the Oscar season, and a road-tested team of director and star, “News of the World” could be Universal’s best shot at an award for the 2020 film year.

Between award season dreams and the hopeful continuation of the Western genre, there is a lot riding on “News of the World.” At its core, however, the movie promises A-list performances and a compelling story full of action and heart.

“Kidd goes through something that saves him as much as he saves Johanna. She gave him a true purpose,” Hanks told us. “His real message is ‘when you have love in your life you will be alright.’ That’s what all great stories are. It’s just pure love for another human being.”