As building activity in the region continues unabated, fit-out sector has seen an exponential increase, but integration with design still remains a concern, says Patrick Bean, head of design at LACASA iD, LACASA Architects.
The market for interior fit-out in this region is vast, approximately AED9 billion this year alone. As a company, the trends we see coming through within the design and fit-out market are significant throughout the hospitality sector. We are seeing a lot of progress within the Dubai and Abu Dhabi markets in particular, and for that matter across the GCC, with the potential in Saudi Arabia creating quite a stir.
The number of new hotels and resorts being planned and tendered has escalated very quickly despite there being a feeling of a downturn in the market. However, there is also an increased demand for refurbishment, as established hotels throughout the region are now looking to upgrade and modernise their offerings. Although we see ourselves as world leaders in the five-star hotel segment, hospitality is still seen to be in its infancy in this market, and there is always room to develop our expertise.
There are also other factors that are fuelling the growth of the fit-out industry. For instance, office spaces are now being re-imagined as residential, hotel or serviced hotel apartments. This is clearly being driven by the rising room and occupancy rates in Dubai, as well as the forecast demand linked to tourism growth projections ahead of Expo 2020.
In addition to this, the huge growth in the residential sector sparking the “if we build it, they will come” mentality is seeing the fit-out market having to adapt to the now design aware populace of Dubai. No longer are consumers happy to accept below par levels of fit-out. They require long term commitment to a design ethic and timeless finishes of a quality not seen to date.
CHALLENGES AT WORK
Gaining a complete sense of confidence within the whole team and gaining trust in both directions has become paramount in our hunt for the “perfect” fit-out contractor. We no longer accept below par project management and the lead contractor is expected to give his full in supporting all the sub-trades to deliver the level of quality expected. With this in mind, designers find that while it’s important to always be conscious of finding and appointing the best contractor, experience and word of mouth from your peers can make this a far simpler process. As a company, we have a long heritage of post supervision within the market and this has allowed us ample opportunity to assess and work with the right people.
One thing we’ve found to be eminently true is that we always need to search for those ‘providers’ who perform best in their particular sector. We don’t look for a contractor, who is trying to be all things to all people. It’s best to focus on the team that consistently provides not only the greatest quality of fit-out but also the right type. It goes without saying that a contractor with excellent experience within the food and beverage sector may not have the same knowledge to adequately handle a retail, residential or commercial fit-out project. We try to focus on the combined knowledge of all our members on the job and approach the people we feel will be best to execute it.
Designers spend a huge amount of time and energy coming up with what they hope will not only please the client aesthetically and commercially, but will also satisfy their curiosity and design ethic. To do so, we need to encourage our contract partners to deliver that “dream” and fulfil the wishes of all parties by delivering successful well-executed projects which meet all the expectations.
UNDERSTANDING THE INTRICACIES OF LOCAL MARKET
Workmanship and material knowledge in the region is a constant source of concern. There is still a mentality of value engineering for its own sake. Although we accept this as a necessary evil, from the point of view of a designer, we strive to express to clients that with an excellent understanding of detailing and the materials we are using, it is still possible to produce stunning results with more cost effective materials as opposed to resorting to the classic favourites.
One area that we do have issues, rears its head when we are relying on input from design sources that are not based in the region. Some clients require a concept from an international design house, which is understandable when the finished result is required to carry the prestige of a certain brand. However, when we, as a company, are asked to develop these concepts through to schematic stage, we do hit regional contentions. The problems arise for us when these projects are designed by consultancies who do not understand the intricacies of our local market.
By understanding that we spend an inordinate amount of time revising details to make them achievable in this region, you will comprehend why it’s frustrating that we don’t always have the available skill sets or readily available materials to undertake some of the finer details that can be achieved in other regions, albeit at a much higher cost of production and workmanship.
For designers to find a contractor that has a true in-depth understanding of the aesthetic we wish to display and to be able to provide the needed detailed solutions through their understanding of the process is always challenging. But if we do, it means they will help us lift the quality of the finished space through the shop drawing process and execution at site.
We encourage this consistent team approach when bringing subcontractors on board. For instance, MEP should be brought in at an early stage when they can truly make a difference to the design aesthetically and practically. But this requires that the subcontractors either have a true understanding of design, or at least are willing to be led by both the designer and the main contractor to provide results that are pleasing to everyone.
Supervision has become so rationally necessary to us as a team that we realised it was important to bring on board our own LACASA iD project managers to oversee our designs from both our point of view and the clients. We hire only talented interior designers with great site skills who can solve issues on site without the constant need to follow the request for information (RFI) procedure. This speeds up the process of problem solving and allows designers to deliver projects, we are proud of, on time and within budget.
INTEGRATING DESIGN WITH FIT-OUT
The end-to-end fit-out process is always challenging. Issues inherently include a lack of clarity within both the design and the budget, and finding a suitable and sustainable procurement route. It’s a challenge to identify a competent contractor who can deliver to a brief. Any lack of understanding of local and statutory approvals, and the complexity of the management of the programme, cost and quality objectives can cause unforeseen issues, so designers have to do their due diligence.
Projects typically fail when a systematic approach hasn’t been adopted, often due to time constraints. We usually find that clients have not agreed on clear objectives, therefore exposing themselves to huge risks during the delivery stage. Important aspects such as third party, landlord and authority approvals may have been overlooked. Project forecasting and budgets are frequently inaccurate and do not include all necessary costs. All the above impact both the programme and cost objectives.
A fit-out should not only aim to make an internal space suitable for occupation, it should fulfil the dreams of the designer, the client and ultimately, the end user.