MEA talks to long-established RMJM Architects & Planners about its decision to make Dubai a central business hub for its European and Middle Eastern activities
Leading architect company RMJM is relocating the hub of its Middle East and European operations to Dubai, more than 50 years after it was founded in Scotland.
Now, 450 design awards later, the company says a combination of the UAE’s positive business climate, its reputation for stunning structures and cosmopolitan market led to the ground-breaking decision.
Speaking exclusively to Middle East Architect, CEO Harry Downie and managing principal Boran Agoston explained why they feel the emirates are at the centre of the world of innovative building design.
Downie said historical factors had played a part in the move.
He said: “Although Robert Matthew Johnson-Marshall and Partners (RMJM) was founded in Scotland in 1956 by Sir Robert Matthew and Sir Stirrat Johnson-Marshall the company has always had an international outlook.
“It was one of the very first UK practices to actively pursue and secure workloads in North Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Recognising that this could not be done effectively from a UK base it saw the need to establish company offices in the regions it was operating in and this is what led to the establishment of the Dubai business almost 42 years ago.
“RMJM has maintained a constant presence in the UAE throughout that time and has successfully weathered the inevitable market highs and lows. The Dubai office has always served as the hub for our operations in this region and this has allowed us to effectively pursue workload throughout the MENA region and further afield in Turkey, Iraq and India.
“With the market in decline in Europe and with an already well established and stable base in Dubai it seemed a logical progression to expand the successful working model to embrace the European business and manage this from our Dubai hub.
“This gives us the opportunity to access the considerable skills and experience of our UK teams and at the same time expose them to international work which continues the ethos and work principles established by the founding partners. I believe this is a great working model which will allow staff and skills integration making us much more flexible and agile to grow the business across the geographical spread we will now manage.”
Downie said position of the UAE is also a major plus point when it comes to competing in a world market.
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He said: “We very much see Dubai as an international hub from which our business can be grown.
“It is very easy for us to effectively communicate with our business connections across the world and means that we can conduct business seven days per week 24 hours a day. In addition to this and with the establishment of Dubai and Abu Dhabi as major international air transport hubs it is simple for us to travel anywhere our business demands, or to have our business contacts travel to meet with us.”
And the buildings which the company has worked on were also taken into account as part of the decision-making.
Agoston said: “From an architectural point of view, many buildings that are a familiar part of the UAE landscape were designed by RMJM and we want to continue that tradition into the future.
“In the 1980s and 90s we designed the Camel Grandstand, Jebel Ali Stables, the Nad Al Sheba Golf and Race courses, the Emirates Aviation College and many facilities at Dubai International Airport including hangars and the VIP terminal. In the 2000s we designed the Gold and Diamond park for Emaar, the precinct buildings at DIFC, the Dubai International Convention Centre and the Jewels and Silverene residential towers.
“More recently the Capital Gate and ADNEC complex in Abu Dhabi has cemented the firm’s reputation for iconic architecture.
“We also have a longstanding tradition in master planning in the region stemming from the 1960s when RMJM prepared the master plan for the administrative centre of Islamabad (Pakistan) and the 1970s master plan for pilgrim movements in and around Makkah in Saudi Arabia. Our more recent master plans, such as Aldar’s Motor World and Al Raha Beach, and the Palm Jebel Ali hub, continue RMJM’s involvement in this field.”
The company looked long and hard at the business climate in Europe and the Middle East before making its move – and came up with the view that east is best.
“The UAE business climate is very much one where things get done,” said Downie.” The UAE government has clear plans for what it wants to deliver and has set about ensuring that this happens.
“This makes it a very positive environment to use as a base for developing business. Whilst RMJM may be at the forefront of architectural practices in seeing this as the place to be, other business sectors such as oil and gas, IT and media have long since seen the UAE as an important global and regional hub.
“The portfolio of work already delivered from our UAE hub is considerable and we see this as a strong base from which we can continue to grow to meet the demands and expectations of the developing markets across our geographical spread.”
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Agoston, who designed the unusual and striking shape of the stations for the Dubai Metro, emphasised the importance of the region for architecture as a profession.
“The UAE and Middle East is a great place for architects for two main reasons,” he said.
“Firstly, clients are receptive to innovative, striking architecture and secondly there is a commitment to driving projects through quickly
“The UAE is a very open and cosmopolitan market so competition here is strong and going forwards RMJM’s ability to secure the best project work depends on the quality of our design thinking.
“We enjoy the intellectual challenge of unlocking the value of a project, to make sure that our architecture is inspiring and efficient.
“We have the situation today where although there is over supply in the commercial sector clients still want to build new commercial developments because well designed offices are always in demand.”