At a roundtable discussion held by DesignMENA at the RMJM offices in Dubai’s Design District, David Daniels, principal architect of SSH, said Dubai’s design market has begun showing signs of maturing in the past few years.
“It’s become a lot more savvy,” he said. “It’s not about iconography anymore. It’s about quality. There’s a lot more intelligence on the side of the developers and clients.”
The discussion was attended by a number of the UAE’s known architects and designers who spoke of the industry’s current conditions and trends, with hope of setting the agenda for this year’s designMENA Summit.
Those in attendance included Sumaya Dabbagh, principal of Dabbagh Architects; Neil van der Veen, principal of RMJM; Salim Hussain, principal architect, Atkins Global; Paul Bishop, owner and managing partner at Bishop Design; Johnathan Ashmore, founder and director of Anarchitect; Tatoum Athanassiou, director of interior design at Marriott International; Martin Dufresne, partner of U+A Architects; Justin Wells, regional leader of lifestyle design at Woods Bagot; and David Lessard, director of hospitality at Perkins+Will.
“Going into 2018, we can see the beginning of a new era and the maturing of a new building market,” Wells added. “Developers are looking at risk analysis way more now. The new era is very sophisticated. Clients understand the proper constraints of putting a project together and figuring out how to get the best use. I wouldn’t say we’ve arrived at the new era, but we’re definitely arriving.”
While many agreed that practicing architecture and design in the UAE is progressing, with issues like compromising on quality to save money becoming less prevalent, the time-squeeze enforced by clients continues.
Dufresne noted that architects are the ones to blame. By demonstrating a fast design process to begin with, clients and developers are taught to expect faster and faster delivery, with architects continuing to bend, aware that peers would accept the contract. “It’s a vicious cycle,” he said. “And we’re kind of shooting ourselves in the foot.”
According to Ashmore, with greater growth of bodies like AIA and RIBA in the region, such vulnerability in the workplace could begin to soften. Supporting architects and designers, such organisations ensure that a particular framework is set in place and that clients are well informed.
“As long as we stick together as an industry, we might be able to find a way to actually not have these issues,” Ashmore said. “We need to ask, ‘how do we support each other,” and how do we inform the client that to get this type of project with this type of quality, it will take this much time?'”
“It’s one of the things we want to bring awareness of to developers,” replied Dabbagh. “They see the financial value of the better quality projects. Emaar have been very good with that, but I think there’s definitely a gap where developers are still operating in an old-school way. There’s still a big gap and its still lagging behind.”