Architect and Eco-Designer Naji Sleiman Discusses Embracing Nature in His Designs

Lindsay Judge   |   17-03-2023

Visionary green architect and eco-designer Naji Sleiman has dedicated his career as an architect to creating harmonious designs that blend seamlessly with the natural world.


With his own firm Naji Sleiman Architects, he uses his biophilic approach which combines elements of nature, focusing on sustainability and unique ways to incorporate nature into his designs in ways that have a positive impact on the world as well as fit stylishly and seamlessly into their surroundings. Sleiman’s passion for design and ecology has allowed him to promote green architecture that reintegrates urbanism and architecture into the biosphere.


Since setting up his own practice in 2005 Sleiman has split his time between Beirut, Dubai and Paris creating some unique and inspiring designs which highlight the complex interplay between architecture, nature, and humanity. He believed that the relationship between these three elements is one of reciprocity, interaction, and appropriation, and he strives to create designs that reflect this symbiotic connection. Here we find out more about Sleiman’s creative approach and how he sees nature becoming an integral part of design moving forward.



Tell us a little about your style of architecture and what makes it different to others.

As a biophilic architect working between Paris, Beirut, and Dubai, my style of architecture is heavily inspired by nature and the natural world. I believe that incorporating natural elements into buildings not only creates a healthier and more pleasant environment for inhabitants but also helps to mitigate the negative impact of human activity on the planet. I strive to create designs that seamlessly blend the built environment with the natural environment, using materials and techniques that are sustainable and ecologically responsible. What sets my work apart from others is the attention I pay to the sensory experience of spaces. I aim to create environments that engage all of the senses, from the visual beauty of natural materials to the sound of running water and the scent of greenery. My approach to architecture is both innovative and deeply rooted in a respect for the environment and a desire to create spaces that nurture both people and the planet.


Why is it important for you to blend your designs with the natural world?

It is important for me to blend my designs with the natural world because our relationship with nature is fundamental to our well-being as individuals and as a society. The natural world provides us with many benefits, from the air we breathe to the food we eat, and it has a profound impact on our physical, emotional, and mental health. By incorporating natural elements into architecture, we can create spaces that promote well-being, reduce stress, and enhance creativity. Moreover, as architects, we have a responsibility to minimize the negative impact of our designs on the environment. By blending our designs with the natural world, we can create buildings that are sustainable, energy-efficient, and ecologically responsible, helping to protect the planet for future generations. Ultimately, my goal as a biophilic architect is to create spaces that not only meet the needs of people today but also contribute to a healthier, more sustainable future for all.



What can you tell us about the concept of “green architecture”?

The concept of “green architecture” is about designing buildings that are environmentally responsible and sustainable. This means using materials and techniques that minimize the negative impact of human activity on the planet, while also creating spaces that are healthy, comfortable, and functional for people. Green architecture involves a holistic approach to design, taking into consideration factors such as energy efficiency, water conservation, waste reduction, and indoor air quality. By incorporating features such as solar panels, rainwater harvesting systems, natural ventilation, and green roofs, we can create buildings that are not only better for the environment but also more enjoyable and healthier for occupants. Additionally, green architecture can help to reduce operating costs for building owners and contribute to a more resilient and sustainable future. As the world becomes increasingly aware of the urgent need to address climate change and other environmental issues, green architecture will play a critical role in creating a more sustainable and equitable world.


What are some of the ways you consider sustainability in your designs?

Sustainability is a core consideration in my design process. There are several ways that I consider sustainability in my work:

  • Material selection: I prioritize the use of sustainable, non-toxic, and locally-sourced materials whenever possible. This helps to minimize the carbon footprint of the building and reduce waste.
  • Energy efficiency: I incorporate energy-efficient features into my designs, such as passive solar design, high-performance insulation, and efficient heating and cooling systems. This helps to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Water conservation: I design buildings with features such as low-flow fixtures, rainwater harvesting systems, and greywater recycling systems to reduce water consumption and minimize strain on local water resources.
  • Biophilic design: I incorporate natural elements such as plants, daylight, and natural ventilation into my designs, which not only improves the well-being of occupants but also reduces energy consumption by minimizing the need for artificial lighting and HVAC systems.
  • Life cycle analysis: I consider the entire life cycle of the building, from construction to demolition, to ensure that it is designed for durability, longevity, and adaptability and that it can be easily repurposed or recycled at the end of its useful life.

By incorporating these sustainability principles into my designs, I can create buildings that are not only beautiful and functional but also contribute to a more sustainable future for all.



Tell us about some of your favourite designs to date.

I have had the pleasure of working on many incredible projects, but there are two that hold a special place in my heart. The first is a concept I created for a boutique hotel chain called Biophilia_Luxury Loft, which you can find on Instagram. The flagship location is in Beirut, and we are working to expand the concept worldwide. This project embodies the essence of biophilic design, seamlessly integrating natural elements into each space to create an immersive and tranquil experience for guests. The second project that I am particularly proud of is a 200.000m2 white futuristic and sustainable city in KSA. This residential complex includes a commercial area and is designed to blend seamlessly with its environment. By utilizing white architecture and incorporating other landscape features, the city is able to cool down high temperatures and create a comfortable living space for residents. Both of these projects showcase the potential of biophilic design to create innovative and sustainable spaces that are both functional and beautiful.


What is a project you would love to work on that you haven’t had the chance to do yet?

One project that I am currently working on and am very passionate about is my own design line of lamps and other furniture accessories inspired by nature. This project allows me to explore my creativity and push the boundaries of biophilic design in a new and exciting way. By incorporating natural elements and materials into my designs, I hope to create pieces that not only look beautiful but also enhance the overall experience of a space. My goal is to bring the beauty and tranquillity of nature into people’s homes and workplaces, promoting the importance of biophilic design and its impact on our well-being. This project represents a new challenge for me, and I am thrilled to see where it takes me.



What inspires your designs?

My designs are deeply inspired by nature. I believe that nature provides the most fundamental and essential inspiration for all architectural design. From the patterns and shapes found in natural environments to the colours and textures of the natural world, nature offers an endless source of inspiration that I strive to incorporate into every aspect of my work. By embracing biophilic design principles, I aim to create spaces that not only connect people to nature but also promote well-being and health. In short, nature is my ultimate muse, and I am constantly seeking new ways to honour and celebrate its beauty through my architecture.


What are your favourite materials to incorporate into your design?

As I am deeply inspired by the natural world, I believe that the materials we use in our designs should reflect this connection to nature. I strive to incorporate materials that not only have a low environmental impact but also enhance the connection between people and the natural environment. Some of my favourite materials to incorporate into my designs include sustainably sourced wood, natural stone, and living green walls. These materials not only add texture and warmth to a space but also have a positive impact on human health and well-being. By bringing the natural world into our built environment through the use of these materials, we can create spaces that are both beautiful and sustainable.



Are there any eras or regional architecture styles that you particularly love or that inspire you?

I have a deep appreciation for the integration of nature and design in all styles and eras of architecture. However, I am particularly drawn to the vernacular architecture of different regions, where buildings are designed to be in harmony with the local climate, topography, and cultural context. The traditional architecture of Japan, with its emphasis on the interplay between indoor and outdoor spaces, is a constant source of inspiration for me. Similarly, I am intrigued by the adobe buildings of the American Southwest and the mud houses of West Africa, which showcase the use of locally-sourced materials and the importance of sustainability in design. Ultimately, I believe that biophilic architecture can draw from a wide variety of styles and traditions, as long as it remains grounded in the principles of respect for the natural environment and human well-being.


Can you tell us about any trends that you are seeing currently, particularly in architecture in the Middle East?

In the Middle East, I have observed a growing trend towards sustainable and eco-friendly architecture, which aligns perfectly with my values. Additionally, I am seeing an increased interest in utilizing locally sourced materials and incorporating traditional design elements in modern structures. This trend highlights a desire to reconnect with the region’s rich cultural heritage while pushing the boundaries of contemporary architecture. As an architect, I am excited to be part of this movement and look forward to contributing to the region’s evolving architectural landscape through my biophilic approach.



Tell us how you work alongside interior designers to create a seamless finish to your projects.

My approach to each project is rooted in a deep understanding of how humans interact with their environment. I firmly believe that the spaces we inhabit should be designed to promote well-being and harmony with nature. This approach extends beyond just the architecture of the space, and encompasses the entire design process from start to finish. As a complete designer, I work closely with interior designers to create a seamless finish to my projects. However, I typically handle the entire design aspect of the project from architecture to interior and even furniture design. By doing so, I ensure that every element of the space is cohesive and reflects the client’s vision.


What are some of the ways we can make small changes to our homes or workspaces that will make a big impact?

I believe that incorporating nature into our living and working spaces can have a profound impact on our overall well-being. Even small changes can make a big difference in creating a more harmonious environment. One way to do this is by introducing natural elements such as plants or natural materials like wood or stone. Another effective approach is to increase natural light and ventilation by opening windows or installing skylights. Adding water features such as fountains or aquariums can also create a sense of calm and tranquillity. Additionally, incorporating artwork or decor that depicts nature can provide a visual connection to the natural world. By making these small changes, we can create a healthier, more productive, and more enjoyable living or working space.


What is in the pipeline for you this year?

I am thrilled to have a variety of exciting projects in progress for the coming year. Some of these projects have already entered the design phase, while others involve on-site works. I am particularly excited about the new hospitality and leisure projects that I am working on, as they allow me to combine my passion for design with my love of nature and the outdoors. In addition to these projects, I am also focusing on developing my own design line, which will showcase my unique style and perspective as a designer. Overall, I am excited about the opportunities that lie ahead and look forward to bringing my vision to life through these exciting new projects.



Do you have a favourite building or piece of architecture in the UAE?

While there are many incredible buildings and structures throughout the country that I admire, one that stands out to me is the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Its unique design, which features a series of interconnected domes that resemble a floating island, creates a stunning visual effect that perfectly captures the spirit of the city. Additionally, the building’s use of natural light and open spaces create a sense of connection to the surrounding environment, which is a hallmark of biophilic design. Overall, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is a stunning example of modern architecture that perfectly embodies the principles of biophilic design and serves as a constant source of inspiration for me as a designer.