Driving force

Driving force

Diar Consult, Dubai, Samir Daoud, Victory Heights

Samir Daoud is the chairman and principal design architect of Diar Consult, an architectural, master planning and interior design firm, which has offices in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, UAE, Doha, Qatar and Riyadh, KSA.

He is a qualified architect, urban designer and town planner, who completed his undergraduate studies in Baghdad School of Architecture in 1977, and then went on to complete his postgraduate studies in Urban Design and Town Planning in London, at the Polytechnic of Central London and the Architectural Association respectively.

He founded the company in 1987, in London, and together with his partner, Sheila Daoud, now has over 100 employees with projects including master planned residential communities and mixed use developments to commercial projects and royal palaces. The company is also known for its originality in interpretations and adaptations of Arabian traditional architecture.

Its latest project in Dubai, is the completion and handing over of one of the largest master planned community housing projects in the UAE, Victory Heights, a community of 963 villas designed around an 18 hole golf course, designed by the golfer, Ernie Els.

What project are you working on now?
Diar Consult is currently engaged in the architectural, interior design and fit-out of the Rolls Royce, BMW and Mini Cooper showrooms and support facilities at Al Maqta Bridge in Abu Dhabi.

This project, considered to be the largest such facility in the Middle East includes repair workshops, service receptions and headquarters of the client and the dealers, Al Saqer Group and Abu Dhabi Motors respectively.

Two out of three phases of the project are now completed and operational, leaving the third phase, dedicated to the BMW showroom in all brands, which will be completed by the end of November 2011. Aecom is the project manager and Bin Harmal Contracting is the main contractor responsible for the entire scope of work.

We are also working on the headquarters of Abu Dhabi Investment Council with an international consortium. This prestigious landmark development comprises 29 storey twin towers on Al Salam Street in Abu Dhabi and is due for completion by the end of 2011.

On this project, Diar Consult is appointed as the architect and engineer of record, responsible for the full contract administration and supervision services.

The international team includes Aedas, Arup and Davis Langdon with Mace acting as the project managers and Al Futtaim Carillion as the main contractor.

What are the challenges interior designers face today on commercial projects?
Interior designers face numerous challenges during the delivery of their services on commercial projects.

The overall financial and budget limitations of the projects, set by the developers, present a challenge whereby interior designers must have not only the responsibility and rationale to stick to these financial limitations, but also, to have the artistry and management skills to be cost effective in fulfilling the corporate and commercial branding and identities of the end user and his expectations for quality interiors.

In several cases, interior designers face a situation whereby clients are not tuned in with or clear about their operational and utilitarian requirements and hence the brief tends to be sketchy at the outset with issues of flexibility of the interiors, future growth, inter relationships between the various departments of the project etc. being left for future vague interpretations.

Another challenge is when architects deliver a building to their clients where little regard has been given to flexibility in use of space, alignment or spatial organisation for the interior designer to exercise his role, to add interior creativity and rational utilisation of space, positioning of openings, windows, doorways, ceiling heights, etc.

Very often, interior designers are brought on board at the very last stage of the development of the commercial project when they can bring about limited intervention and add too little creativity too late to shape the interiors.

Tell us about some of the projects you have worked on to date?
Over the last 23 years of practice in the fields of architecture and interior design, Diar Consult, has had the privilege of working on a large number of projects where they were responsible architects as well as interior designers and thereby had the opportunity to perform complete and seamless design process from interiors through to exterior.

It includes landmark projects, such as the clubhouses of the Abu Dhabi Championship golf club, the Doha Championship golf club, prominent Royal Palaces in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Dubai and more recently, the largest Rolls Royce, BMW and Mini Cooper Showrooms and support facilities in the Middle East.

In the field of hospitality, we have completed a variety of interiors of guestrooms and suites as well as food and beverage outlets and public areas of four and five star hotels in UAE, including Vision Hotel, Elite Hotel amongst the four star hotels and Ramada, Le Meridien, Intercontinental and Sheraton amongst the five star hotels.

What’s the most exciting part about the job for you?
The success of interior designers can only be gauged and measured by the success of the operation on the ground and how the end users relate to the creative and functional aspects of the interiors.

Striking a balance between the creative aspects of the interior design process, budget limitations and utilitarian aspects is not an easy task for any designer.

This is where a wealth of experience, exposure, technical knowledge and familiarity with technology and techniques of construction, definition of rationales come together when spaces are formed and material and finishes are decided and elements and components are assembled.

For me, striking this balance is a joyful experience when you know it has been achieved. This sense of joy is culminated by the satisfaction of a happy end user who realises that his expectations have been exceeded.

What’s the worst part of the job for you?
Ironically, happy experiences of any interior designer get disrupted by some unfortunate ones.

The absolute is never yours in the interior design process. Such disruptions may be caused by a disruptive client who thinks he knows better and where he himself needs an education process to get him to perceive your designs appropriately and rationally, rather than pre-judging the process or even the end product prematurely.

Unfortunately, the design process and contractual obligations are such that they do not allow for such a learning curve of the client to mature in such a short span of time.

Choosing the wrong architect by the client is equally a painful experience for the interior designer, where mismatch in the creative skills can present numerous problems, which reflect negatively on the project.

What industry changes have you seen over the years in the Middle East?
Over the last few years there have been several positive changes witnessed in the interior design industry, which brought about new prospects and opportunities to the interior designer.

New building materials, finishes and technologies have given the designer a wider range of tools and expressions to reflect aspects of modernity, comfort and durability.

Green designs and consciousness of issues of sustainability of interiors is still a learning curve that offers numerous avenues for exploitation.

IT technologies on the other hand, smart homes and offices provide an on-going process of development of interiors where connectivity, media and communications become an ever expanding tool to add networking value, effectiveness, entertainment and dynamic interiors.

These are no longer “added commodities” to interiors, but very much an integral part and parcel of the interior design process.

What would you like to see more of?
I would like to see interior design specialists emerging for various building types and operations, who are more tuned in with their own field of specialisation and who will cope with progressive concepts and techniques of the industry related to their own field.

In this day and age, you simply cannot cope with the constant influx of new concepts, trends and technological evolutions in all walks of life, just as much as an interior designer cannot cope with such rapid pace of development in all levels of the interior design industry, be it restaurants, museums, theatres, corporate offices, etc.

Therefore, specialisation has got to be the way forward for interior designers and professionals, when accountability is paramount and standards and expectations are getting tougher and more demanding.

On a second front, and in the absence of a professional regulatory body in charge of the interior design industry in UAE, the interior design profession is not and will not be controlled, regulated or protected.

This is no different to the Architectural Consultancy Profession where such a body is still non-existent in the UAE, or in the GCC market, such as the RIBA in the UK or the AIA in the USA.

Such regulatory bodies will help establish clear codes and standards of practice, conduct and ethics, embraced within a legal and contractual framework to protect both the public as well as registered professionals.
This, I would very much like to see emerging in the UAE to take the lead in the GCC market and help these professional bodies acquire legislative powers.

What would you like to see less of?
I would like to see fewer interior designers trying to impress the society at large with their individual uncontrolled creativity and fantasies at the expense of the end users’ requirements and clients’ aspirations for comfort and value for money.

Very often, when you walk into public commercial interior spaces, you cannot help but feel cold, alienated and uncomfortable in unfriendly interiors that may be either too cluttered, over designed or showcase alien materials or products for the sake of it.

The use of inappropriate materials and finishes can result in unnecessary expense for the operator or end user, either because of impracticality or wear and tear or demanding maintenance requirements.

Interior designers must be fully tuned in with user requirements, sustainability and green design issues to set examples for fellow professionals on future trends.

What is your favourite project you worked on and why?
My favourite project is not any given project that I would name but it is a hypothetical project where I am given the full responsibility to design a building from architecture through to interiors and where the client gives me full support to help him achieve his objectives to attain a value-for-money product.

I fully respect a client who shows adequate understanding of my challenges and responsibilities, who interacts with me as a partner in decision making and who sees the evolution and delivery of the project as a collective responsibility and trust. This way, the partnership isrewarded with a product that is not only worthwhile but also value for money.

My favourite project is one built by a competent contractor with good resources, management and engineering expertise with whom a designer can make a happy and cooperative team to meet their collective contractual obligations and mitigate all risks.

The design and delivery process in an ideal world is supposed to be a pleasurable experience from inception through to completion and should not be a painful experience of antagonised relationships charged with unnecessary quarrels, disputes, finger pointing and blame culture, all of which downgrade the quality of the end product, at the expense of its time and cost constraints.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in the UAE?
I strongly advise that any newcomer to this field identifies their market niche at the outset and familiarises themselves with the high level of sophistication, degree of development and design culture that this country has achieved and to never underestimate this.

They should be prepared to compete with the finest of the international consultancy community who are present in the UAE today and I would go further to say that they should strive to have a competitive edge over others by being updated with the latest technologies, materials and techniques of design and execution and be able to work on proactive basis in this competitive environment.

I advise them to involve the client on a step-by-step basis in the design and delivery process. Consultants should not lose the emphasis on the design process at the expense of the project delivery and execution.

I would also encourage newcomers to ensure they take full responsibility in their contracts to oversee the entire process of design and supervision including the fit-out and FFE so that the end product and the final interior ambience and character of the interiors is not compromised by anyone else after completion and handing over.

Where do you see the future of commercial interior design?
I see it heading towards Design and Build forms of contract where contractors and designers merge forces to bid and compete on the basis of time, cost and quality, where quality and aesthetics do not get compromised unnecessarily as a result of budgetary issues.

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