Mohamed Zaal does things differently. As former CEO of Al Barari he was responsible for one of Dubai’s most progressive eco developments – and in his new role as Founder and CEO of real estate company KOA his vision is equally groundbreaking. He tells Sarah Joan Ross why the property game in Dubai has to change, and why he is the man for the job.
Mohamed Zaal has been bestowed many accolades in his career to date; he’s been touted by Arabian Business as one of the ‘100 Most Powerful Arabs under 40’, awarded ‘Business Man of the Year’ by Esquire and is at the top of ‘Construction Week Power 100’. He’s young, dynamic and stylish – exactly the profile of buyer he is looking to attract with KOA Dubai, a development he founded two years ago as a ‘residential and community hub for the next generation of professional and creatives.’
“We are bringing a new definition to residential living and working in the UAE,” says Zaal. “My desire is to lead Dubai into a new era of renewed cultural and urban enrichment, through the creation of liveable spaces that reflect lifestyles of a new, forward-thinking generation of residents”.
As he points out, the audience has changed, but the offering in the real estate market has not.
“My aim is to bridge this gap by building a community that the next generation of residents can thrive in. All aspects of KOA projects seek to push boundaries – not only in terms of design but also in the way people live and work”, he says. “I’m taking inspiration from around the world to ensure a fresh, new aesthetic across the whole portfolio to redefine what urban communities mean in the region with spaces that are designed to enhance work, rest and play.”
The latest project in his stable is KOA Canvas, a development that is aimed squarely at the millennial market.
Zaal says: “The real estate industry has neglected generation Y. The younger generation, specifically in this region, have huge amounts of drive, raw talent, and vision, qualities that haven’t been taken into consideration by many developers. These people all need homes, and they set ideals for how they wish to live.”
KOA Canvas offers a collection of 86 luxurious residences consisting of modern studios, duplexes, one, two and three-bed apartments and penthouses. Furthermore, there’s a members-only workspace, social club, a photography studio, three dining concepts, fitness and spa facilities and two swimming pools. Decked out in a hyper stylish fusion of modern Arabian and Scandi design, it’s an inspired development that would look at home in any number of chic coffee table design tomes.
How did Zaal come up with the blueprint for this formula?
“It’s incredibly simple. We spoke to the market, we listened, and we came up with solutions. The team and I look to the end consumers for inspiration: what are their needs and aspirations – and where are the gaps in the market? We then develop the brand on those findings. We prefer to build in direct response to consumer feedback, rather than trying to use an outdated model that has no depth or consumer knowledge behind it. Much of our outreach and conversation showed that it is primarily a young professional market that can’t find what they want here.”
KOA Canvas is an incredibly impressive development, but in a city where luxury is the standard, how does this development stand out from the crowd?
“Luxury is absolutely an overused term here, specifically in this market but in many realms too, from fashion and beauty to property, interiors and art. In my opinion, true luxury is in the craft, knowledge, credibility, and quality of a product. Luxury is something that has a story behind it and the quality to match.
“The ethos of the KOA Canvas development is that it is for residents and members to make it their own. It is a ‘blank canvas.’ The material selection was intentionally neutral, pared back and refined to allow those living there to interpret it in line with their personalities and use it as a space to grow their identities. The facilities were chosen specifically for how they can enhance lifestyles and make it easier to get the most out of day-to-day living. KOA Canvas is a place that allows residents to live exactly how they wish. Details are essential in this development. We chose materials that are timeless, and, importantly, are contextually relevant given the climate and conditions. We didn’t want to over complicate the design scheme, so we chose honest, natural materials that will age well. Architecturally, KOA Canvas is a place you will be able to return to in 20 years – or more – and find that it will still be relevant and even better with age.”
Aging is a big problem for many of the developments in the city. The rapid expansion of the 2000s and consequent builds are looking lacklustre already. How does Zaal see the future of the Dubai landscape, and how does he fuse longevity and lust-worthy in the desert?
“It is true to say Dubai’s property market is incredibly saturated; developers are building more and more, creating similar developments and units. Developments are often looked at as single units rather than communities. We need to move with the times to distinguish, diversify and curate new communities in Dubai. To sustain ourselves the idea is Just look to and listen to the market to find sustainable ideas – the cookie cutter approach to building has been prevalent for far too long. This is where our point of difference is. Investors can see the wider outlook of KOA and understand the investment they are making. We are building a true community that will grow in line with our long-term vision. Investors understand this long-term thinking and are confident in what we sell. Plus, we’ve just announced phase two, due to complete by summer 2019. Phase two is on the same land as phase one and will include additional Canvas apartments (in response to the high demand to date) a boutique hotel, and further F&B concepts.”
Born into a clan of successful real estate developers, Zaal joined family business Al Barari in 2005 as a sales executive. With a vision of sustainable luxury, Al Barari has become the benchmark for green living in the region. He was later appointed as CEO of a €2 billion development of uber-eco mansions. An extraordinary project, only 300 villas were constructed in 14.2 million sq ft of land, leaving 80 percent of the space to breathe, all beautifully landscaped with lakes, trees and greenery – a low density build, practically unheard of in the region.
“I’m incredibly proud to have been involved in many enriching and dynamic projects to date across the UAE,” says Zaal. “My experience has been focused on both real estate and service industries and everything I have worked on or have been involved with in my career has always had the same values and principles in mind. I pursue the same philosophy to this day, which is to support innovation, cultural advancement, and lifestyle enrichment.”