Influences and Aspirations

MEA talks to Gensler’s principal and managing director, Tareq Abu-Sukheila, about what influences him and his vision for Gensler in the Middle East

While most architectural firms prefer to be based in Dubai, at the heart of the United Arab Emirate’s skyscraper capital, Tareq Abu-Sukheila choose Abu Dhabi to be the base for Gensler’s work in the Middle East.

“To me, it makes more sense to be in the capital city of the UAE. We want to grow in an organic way and the government of Abu Dhabi seems encouraging of that,” says Abu-Sukheila, principal and managing director of Gensler Middle East.

Three months ago, Gensler moved into a classy, custom-designed 600m2 sprawling office in Etihad Towers.

Situated right next to the grand Emirates Palace, the office offers spectacular views of the city from the 32nd floor. The design firm was previously based in Buteen Towers, which was a converted duplex office space in downtown Abu Dhabi.

“Moving from Buteen Towers was a huge transition, but it was for the better. Gensler is big on open, collaborative workspaces and it was something we could not really do in our old office,” explains Abu-Sukheila.

Gensler’s new location has more than enough space to accommodate up to 60 designers. The design practice currently employs around 40 people in Abu Dhabi and is already expanding the number of professionals in the office. It plans to double its headcount over the next two to three years due to the increased volume of projects currently in the pipeline.

“We are also planning to incorporate the remaining area on the 32nd floor by year end, so that the whole floor will belong to us.” Gensler’s new office, which currently occupies two-thirds of the floor, was designed in-house and features an open plan layout of workstations to allow for collaboration and interaction between project teams.

Throughout the office, the monochrome palette offers a neutral background while the company’s signature red brightens up the space, a visual characteristic of most Gensler offices around the world, highligts Abu-Sukheila.

“Our goal was to create a highly customised environment to increase productivity, staff comfort and to enhance the creative process involved in our services.”

“The floor to ceiling windows allow for plenty of natural light creates a sense of well being for everyone working in the office environment,” Abu Sukheila adds.

In addition, the office is set up into studios so that staff working on a particular project sit together. There are also several corners dedicated for group meetings. These break out areas offer staff a space to gather and share ideas fluidly.

For Abu-Sukheila, it is characteristics like these that make him so fond of Gensler. “When you sit in groups and not in closed offices, there are no barriers. It is like a family, there are no complicated structures.”

He continues: “From the time I joined, I felt a deep connection between my values and that of Gensler’s. The company is honest, transparent and has a great work ethic. This provides a career foundation that lasts and grows along with your ambitions and talents.”

Abu-Sukheila first joined Gensler in 1990 after graduating with an architectural engineering degree from the University of Colorado, Boulder, USA. He was offered a job at Gensler’s office in Denver where he went on to work for nine years, progressing from junior architect to project leader.

Apart from the company’s work ethics, Abu-Sukheila also found striking similarity in Gensler’s design philosophy, which revolves around designing environmentally sustainable buildings, and his own architectural principles.

“My design ethos has been greatly influenced by buildings that grow naturally from the surrounding environment,” he explains.

“I am most comfortable if I can integrate the surrounding nature with the form of the building to create a sustainable design.”

Although Abu-Sukheila enjoyed working at Gensler, he made a decision to leave the firm in 1999 to pursue his passion for design in the Middle East, more specifically in Kuwait, where he grew up.

“I had presented a proposal to the Gensler management to set up an office in Kuwait in 1999 but at that time the firm was very active expanding in the US, Canada and Europe. The vision for a Middle East rollout had not yet been envisioned as the viability of sustained market growth was still very uncertain at that time to commit to a permanent Gensler office,” Abu-Sukheila explains.

He went on to work with several other architectural companies from 1999 to 2008 in the Middle East but continued to keep in close contact with his ex-colleagues, especially Chris Johnson, who today is Gensler’s managing principal for Europe, Middle East and Africa.

“Chris was my mentor and we have come a long journey. He always knew my passion about starting an office in the region and he supported me throughout,” Abu-Sukheila adds.

In 2008, Abu-Sukheila rejoined Gensler as a partner and managing director of the Middle East. Gensler’s initial plan was to have their Middle East office located in Kuwait, however, the vision was altered to match the demands of the region.

“As a result of the success of the Dubai International Financial Centre, which we designed, we got several master planning projects in the UAE, so we opened an office in Dubai to meet the needs of our clients.” But when Abu-Sukheila came across Abu Dhabi’s 2030 masterplan, he knew that being located in the capital city was essential to ensure Gensler’s growth in the region.

Furthermore, the success of Gensler’s design for Saadiyat Island’s cultural district was an affirmation to Abu-Sukheila that the company could play an important part in Abu Dhabi’s growth.

“Seeing Saadiyat Island develop from a vision to reality really encouraged us to have a full
serviced office in Abu Dhabi and in June 2009 we officially announced our decision to have Gensler Middle East headquartered here,” Abu Sukheila explains.

Being part of the community and contributing to its holistic growth is a fundamental part of Abu-Sukheila’s working philosophy. “We want to grow in an organic way by building talent, supporting the education system by offering internships and by integrating with the people.”

For him, clinching the design contract for the National Bank of Abu Dhabi (NBAD) earlier this year proved that his vision for Gensler is yielding results.

“We hope to convey to the government and the private sector that Gensler is deeply committed to making a difference in the expansion of the urban landscape and built environment of Abu Dhabi. When Gensler won the NBAD project, it was definitely a step in that direction,” he proudly affirms.

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