From creating a parklet to designing a superyacht, Randa Hanna, co-founder of Belgravia architect Map Projects gives us a glimpse into her varied work.
Words by Jonathan Whiley
Amid the hustle and bustle of Elizabeth Street, as commuters trudge to Victoria Coach Station, plans are being drawn up for superyachts.
Map Projects is an architectural practice currently piecing together the aesthetics of a 55-metre boat owned by a London-based client.
On completion – scheduled for May – it will accommodate 12 people with a minimum of 12 staff.
“They need to feel like they are at home when they are on the boat, but in this case, they also charter it out sometimes,” says Randa Hanna of the brief.
“We needed to find a balance to be comfortable and personal, but at the same time create something that can be chartered out.”
Randa, who set up the company with Pasquale Amodio in 2002, is a friendly figure with an infectious positive energy.
She’s poring over the blueprints on the fourth floor, as her toffee-coloured cockapoodle, Luna, curls around our legs.
“We have always done a little bit of yachts, because we have a friend who is a very good boat designer and we have always talked about doing projects together.
“This isn’t one of them though. This is a client who wanted a semi-customised boat.
“We started off advising and we have almost ended up doing the whole thing. It’s so interesting, the budgets are ridiculous!
“I have a feeling that a lot of the people who work on them, because it’s almost accepted that the budgets are crazy, they become crazier.”
Luxury is space
The yacht has four decks. The bridge deck, Randa says, is “almost like a beach club, you have all your toys such as jet skis”.
Meanwhile the top deck is “just for fun, the sun deck with a bar, loungers. It’s the nicest space and the only space where you can appreciate how big it is.”
Day one starts with “lots of sketches” and then Randa takes a look at the materials.
“So very early on you start to have in your head an idea of what it will look like,” she says.
“Every project is so different, but our values are the same. You will be able to tell when you see something that we have done.”
The challenge is to create a feeling of spaciousness – “because in a way that is what luxury is” – Randa says.
But she adds that it can be tricky to manage the volume of people involved in such a large-scale project.
“You have the boat builders, the initial designer, the client, the crew who start to work on the project early and have certain requirements.
“It’s about trying to make sure everybody gets what they want, but there is still a vision,” she says.
Fortunately, she says, now that the business is established they are able to say no to those people they don’t want to work with.
They have four or five projects on the go at any one time with eight core staff spread across two floors.
“It happens so much,” she says. “You know so quickly that this isn’t going to work out. I think a lot of it is their integrity,” she says.
“We had one footballer’s wife – who I won’t name – but she drove me insane.”
As well as international projects, she designed the parklets on Ebury Street and Pimlico Road.
Currently she is working on a seven-year newbuild of three apartments in Chelsea’s Cheyne Place.
Work with Zaha Hadid
Randa, who lives with her family nearby, relies on word of mouth for business.
Plus her impressive CV can’t do her much harm either – she worked alongside the late, great Zaha Hadid.
“There were only four of us and it was amazing. She was incredible and we stayed friends throughout. She would come in and deal with everything and then she would put a little apron on and start painting, because they used to paint a lot of representations.”
Did she pick up anything from her time with Hadid that she applies to her own business today?
“I think just the love of it, the all-consuming love of it. It really doesn’t feel like work, it’s very much a way of life.
“Because your clients become friends and your friends become clients, it’s very intertwined.”
Main picture: Designing a super-yacht.
Second picture: Randa with her dog Luna.