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The upside down world of design

The upside down world of design

Mark Marin

Designer, Mark Marin, discusses bureaucracy and paperwork and why Government departments need to move towards less paper-based documentation

Mark Marin set up his interior design studio in 2009, in Dubai, just as the aftermath of the global financial crisis took hold. He saw that time as a real milestone in history and a turning point for many in the industry.

“Although I could technically go almost anywhere, I made a conscious decision to stay here in Dubai and make it work,” he said.

“Despite the downturn, Dubai still represents a substantial opportunity for designers, architects and others who see its potential.”

With a career spanning more than 25 years, Marin graduated from interior design in his native, Sydney, Australia.

It was here his career started in 1985 on the prestigious New Parliament House in Canberra for architecture firm Mitchell Giurgola & Thorp.

That experience of a high quality public building lay the foundation for a strong attitude and approach to design that continues to this day.

After seeing the project through to its finale, Marin returned to Sydney in 1989 and worked for some other major practices at that time.

Frustration followed and that led to the designer going out on his own in 1990. A variety of assignments ensued over the years and over time, Marin gained a reputation as one of Sydney’s established independent designers specialising in corporate offices or ‘workplace’, as it is more popularly called today.

His work for George Patterson Bates, a prominent Australian Advertising Agency in 2001, was a landmark venture that redefined workplace planning principles by utilising a large bench-type desk for the entire office.

Where do you get your inspiration from?
The world is full of amazing people, places and goings-on. You just need to be able to tap into it. Travel and photography are a constant source of inspiration for me. We are fortunate in Dubai to have so many interesting places relatively close by so travel is mandatory.The art, photography and design scene generally in Europe, US and elsewhere is constantly inspiring – there is so much activity and new ideas.

I also draw inspiration from European architects and designers. Nouvel, Van Duysen, Gabellini and Silvestrin for example, all produce iconic work.

Their approach, design intent and attention to detail as well as consistency across many typologies is unrivalled.

What are you currently working on?
I have been working on premium residential apartments for developers, including a dramatic entrance lobby in the Marina which is drawing to a close. Like many other practices, I have done a fair bit of work on submissions that amount to absolutely nothing.

Furniture design continues to be a focus of activity for me. I have designed many pieces over the years – both for production and as one-offs and am currently working on an executive desk system. However, the main focus right now is on my own flat – designing for myself for a change.

It’s a loft type apartment in the Marina with a big volume of space. It has been a real challenge to do one’s own residence. Normally with a client you make design decisions as to character or culture based on a brief or an observation but, to do your own project means turning yourself inside out and analysing who you really are.

Conceptually the design is very contemporary as is all my work, with a neutral tonal palette – darker, moodier, not white. Despite the challenge it’s been very rewarding and I look forward to moving in very soon.

What projects did you complete recently?
One of our more recently completed offices is for Falcon Private Bank, Ltd. in Abu Dhabi. The Swiss private bank was divested from a large international financial and insurance conglomerate in April 2009 and subsequently rebranded and renamed to Falcon Private Bank. Headquartered in Zurich, the bank caters to an exclusive group of clientele.

This is the first fully fledged office established since the divestiture and, therefore, there was considerable effort by both the client and us to really consider things carefully and get the job right. While it is only 450m2, it is a very nice and refined project. Often some of the best projects you do are small to medium size, as they allow you to really focus in on the details.

The design has a classic modern feel with a lighter neutral palette deriving from a more European aesthetic as is appropriate for a Swiss private bank. Its design is sophisticated and distinguished – in short, a well appointed office space for fine private banking.

What challenges do you face in UAE?
There are challenges in the region but we need to remain mindful that this is a developing country. In December, we saw UAE National Day – celebrations of a nation which is a mere 40 years old – relatively young by any measure. Whilst few would argue that Dubai has accomplished an extraordinary amount in a short period of time, there are still challenges ahead.

Construction management, site works and overall quality of construction are a constant source of difficulty for many designers who have come from abroad. We have been used to practices particularly on-site and in factories that are reasonably effective and efficient. Very often we see things done here which are not either of these.

Bureaucracy and paperwork are also interminable sources of frustration. Government departments and private organisations alike need to move towards less paper-based documentation. Some offices are even still dependant on fax machines.

We are constantly making multiple, signed, stamped copies of everything simply to sit in folders tucked away in dark recesses which nobody can seem to find when really necessary. For example, we have just lost three days of a construction programme on a site because nobody could find where to shut down a sprinkler valve. Computers and the internet have made this easily possible so we need to take advantage and stop acting like dinosaurs and killing trees.

Another one of the challenges would have to be educating clients regarding proper budgeting. I think many designers would agree that the expectations of most clients far exceed their budgets. Clients can be very demanding but not necessarily prepared to spend what is required to achieve what they want.

Unfortunately, I have experienced all too frequently clients, particularly developers, expecting returns far in excess of the bare minimum investments they are prepared to make. There does not seem to be a real grasp of quality of design or construction. Many are content to use the cheapest contractors, finishes and furniture etc.

This will inevitably be a short-term game – as competition increases with increased supply everyone involved in the design and construction process will need to improve quality to differentiate their offering, and actually sell to remain in business.

I think there is a definite need here for some truly innovative contemporary design – especially in interiors. All too often we find the same over-cooked, 80s style interiors that have countless different materials and finishes. There seems to be little understanding of understatement as a design concept. I’d like to see more elegant, considered, pared-back interiors with a real focus on quality and detail execution.

The region is well behind in terms of international standards of best practice. We are still being briefed for offices with planning strategies that I would say are relatively archaic. Workplace planning strategy has advanced significantly over the last 10 –15 years. Some of the first so-called ‘high-performance workplaces’ that I was involved with were in the mid 90s.

The entire way we approach briefing, planning and design has changed – larger international organisations are now very savvy to the nuances of design and the way they affect business performance but few organisations here seem willing to take on those issues and advances.

Other challenges here pertain to the extremely hot climate and our ability to live and work in spaces with a reasonable level of energy consumption.

Buildings have sprung up like mushrooms with a lack of consideration for the environment using readily available low-tech, fossil-fuel based technologies. The UAE has one of the highest per-capita rates of energy consumption globally. This is simply not sustainable and the sooner we come to grips with that the better.

It is ridiculous given our extremely high dosage of sunlight and heat that solar technology is not already in widespread use.

Government needs to lead the way in instigating the reforms needed and movement to cleaner, renewable energy supplies. LEED, or other international energy rating systems, need to be compulsory for all buildings and interiors immediately.

What’s next for you?
A new year has the promise of a fresh start. Fortunately, there are some interesting projects in the pipeline – office projects in Dubai and potentially in KSA and India, which are booming markets. There is a luxury boutique hotel and some large-scale building lobbies in the submission stage but we all know too well that there is a big gap between a submission and a real project.

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