CID reports on Woods Bagot’s interview with Karim Benkirane who recently made the move from London to Dubai to take on the role of regional managing principal – Middle East.
What are some of the lifestyle sector projects Woods Bagot’s Middle East team is working on at the moment?
The team is currently completing Woods Bagot’s largest hotel resort project in Abu Dhabi on Saadiyat Island. The building has its soft opening scheduled for September 15 in preparation for the official opening on November 1 – just in time for the Abu Dhabi Formula 1 Grand Prix.
We are completing the Bahrain City Centre development, which officially opens this month, and have recently completed full design services for the Kempinski Hotel in Muscat, Oman. We were recently commissioned by a Dubai-based developer to design a new residential development in central Dubai, which is their first since the economic crisis.
What are the main differences between the European and the Middle Eastern property industries you’ve noticed?
Primarily that it is a smaller market, but one that certainly has enormous ambitions. I think the recent global economic crisis has had a positive effect in demonstrating the reality that all developments require sound, quantifiable business plans to ensure their viability. We are now seeing our clients use words such as ‘efficiency’ and ‘cost vs benefit’ as key drivers for their recent developments. The ‘pipe dreams’ of the past are exactly that, and our clients are now demanding intelligent designs which are backed up by research.
Why did you decide to focus your career towards management and not design?
Having come from a technical background but also having had the experience of seeing projects through from start to finish has allowed me to gain a very sound understanding of the project journey. With this knowledge I have been able to assist with fine-tuning the journey by clearly defining deliverables and ensuring the proposed team has the appropriate competency to produce quality outcomes. While the commercial aspects of projects require a certain acumen, it is certainly made much simpler when we are managing the project and the client and not the other way round. What gets me up in the morning is knowing that every day presents a different challenge and a management role allows me the freedom to make contributions throughout that journey.
How do you ensure global knowledge flows into projects with a local focus for clients?
The trick is to truly believe it’s not “one size fits all”. Our clients expect bespoke solutions, intelligent solutions, solutions which challenge the norm and respond to the local demographic. Recognising our global experts and bringing them to bear at the appropriate moment, combined with local knowledge tends to reassure clients that they are getting solutions which are benchmarked globally and are relevant to their market.
Where do you see Dubai heading in the coming years?
Dubai continues to be the city of choice in the Middle East for everything from trade to tourism. Its infrastructure and relaxed quality of life surpasses other Middle East cities which makes it ideal for tourism and financial transactions. Its challenge will be to consolidate the city, fill in the gaps left behind from the economic crisis and continue to build on the strong platform it has developed. It is strategically very well placed centrally on the map, capitalising on the emerging markets of the east and Africa. It certainly has every opportunity to be the equivalent of what Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore are to Asia, what New York is to North America and London to Europe. Maybe without the history but certainly in its ambition.