In conversation with Tarek Shuaib, managing partner of Pace.
Tarek Shuaib joined Pace in 1988, where he kicked off his career working on a number of esteemed projects such as the Bayan Palace and the Central Bank of Kuwait. Since becoming partner in 2005, Shuaib has been leading Pace as a design principal, focusing on a number of key projects in the state. As well as being a committee member of the Technical Board of the Union of Consulting Offices, Shuaib is also an international associate member of the American Institute of Architects and member of the Kuwait Society of Engineers. Having been formed in 1968 by Hamid Abdulsalam Shuaib and Partners, Pace has grown to employ over 300 professionals and has worked with the likes of Zaha Hadid and SOM on signature projects in Kuwait.
What valuable lessons did you learn from your father, the founder of Pace?
My father was always ahead of his time. He was a visionary who foresaw a golden opportunity for local architects and engineers to be a part of a historical transformation and leave a permanent mark on the country’s history. He was very accessible to all the staff members, from top to bottom, and had a wealth of knowledge. My father was an expert within his field – he was the chief architect in Kuwait Municipality and people from all across the construction industry used to come to him for advice. He started his own company in 1968 to fill what he saw as a major gap in the on-rise Kuwaiti market. In a reflection of the spirit of the time, he called the firm the Pan Arab Consulting Engineers. Back then, there were hardly any consulting offices who were designing and building anything across the country and it was my father’s ambition to create the best architecture along the highest international standards. We learned a lot of lessons from him. Firstly his good nature influenced the business because clients and employees were devoted to him. Pace was never just a business – it was a family firm. And this is one of the traits we try we instill in the firm nearly 45 years later.
What is it like to work for Pace nowadays?
It is very important for me that all employees feel proud to be part of Pace. As managing partner I always try to be a handson leader and as accessible and close to all my colleagues as possible. I believe that if we have a clear vision of who we are, we know where we are going as a firm. When we make commitments to client, we deliver on them. ‘My building should be a landmark’ is a standard statement we hear from clients. Therefore, creativity is an important factor in our work – each architectural design should be different. As a firm, we always need to adapt and stay current. Therefore, we make sure that our employees get the training that we feel is the most relevant to their particular skill sets. There are many people who have been at the company for a long time – 40 years in some cases. Staff retention is very high at Pace compared to other work places and we believe that this, among other things, is a reflection of the close-knit working environment we have always maintained.
Pace offers many services such as architecture, engineering, planning, interior design and quantity surveying. Was the initial vision to have a multidisciplinary consultancy?
No doubt Pace started as an architectural firm, but the need to have engineering disciplines under one roof became a vital necessity. Because of the local requirements, we developed all the other engineering departments by bringing in the best experts at that time. Pace is now the home of exemplary creative minds heading our various departments of engineering – mechanical, electrical, plumbing – essentially, all the services that are needed for the complete design of a building. A new discipline we have added in the last few years is highway and transportation engineering.
What are the main challenges of operating a large multidisciplinary consultancy?
Multidisciplinary organisations usually face many challenges. Working with a diverse team of experts does give us an edge at Pace where our team comprises a number of professional architects, engineers and consultants from different backgrounds – each bringing in their own expertise to the table. However, in order for us to maintain cohesion as a team, communication is a must. An architect has the vision but the engineer has to make sure it is implemented. Naturally, this means there can be plenty of room for misunderstanding.
Therefore, one of the biggest challenges is to make architects and engineers think together. One way we try to ensure this happens is by having regular team meetings, where we enable people to sit and interact together. Our meetings are an open forum and a space for creative dialogue, and we have found them to be very useful. For quality purposes, we ensure that all parties and sub-consultants are also involved. Communication is, of course, key.
Is there any discipline which Pace has to bring in from an external consultancy?
The full spectrum of the construction industry is met by all our disciplines, but sometimes we have to get assistance from specialist sub-consultants. For example, IT-AV consultants, specialist lighting designers and security consultants. However, one of our goals is to have some of these capabilities added to our own internal team soon, so that we become less reliant on external specialists.
Which of the disciplines bring in the majority of
Pace’s revenue? The main three major revenue generators for us are: architectural buildings, roads and infrastructure and construction supervision. The company began with architecture and engineering services being the major source of revenue but over the past five or six years, highways and infrastructure has become a larger revenue generating source.
This is because most of the developments in the region have been focused on roads and infrastructure. Construction supervision is also a very important discipline and generates substantial revenue.
Pace is working with HOK on the Central Bank of Kuwait. Are you partnering with any other international consultants in Kuwait?
As early as the 1970s, Pace was the first in the market to introduce the concept of bringing in specialist architectural firms. We have worked with many renowned consultants such as SOM, Gensler, BDP and Arup, as well as signature architects such as Zaha Hadid. For example, on the Avenues project we were working with Norr during phase one and two, and from phase three onwards we are working with Gensler. For Kuwait University we are working with SOM and we have teamed up with Louis Berger for Jamal Abdul Nasser Street and Jahra Road – one of the biggest highway projects, not only in Kuwait but also in the region. We have always been able to identify with these big international players and associate with them successfully. A lot of them – such as Gensler and SOM – have been repeat partnerships. We have introduced some of them into the Kuwaiti market in order to bring in the highest level of design professionals. This all, of course, culminates in client satisfaction.
Do many clients use multiple services from Pace, or is it mainly engaged for just one service per project?
Clients tend to use multiple services as most of them are aware of all the multidisciplinary services we provide. As clients usually want things in the shortest time possible, most of the projects are fast-track and we normally get projects that have everything together, including construction supervision – which is the trend we are seeing right now. All of this has given us a lot of market confidence.
Wayfinding and graphics is also listed as a service – how important is wayfinding in projects?
Over the years, wayfinding and graphics have not been part of any particular discipline. Towards the end of the project is when people usually remember to think about their signage. Usually a sign is put up that doesn’t reflect any of the architectural finishes in the building or the institution. Sometimes it will be very unsightly and doesn’t serve the purpose of why it was put there. Wayfinding has now become very important and RFPs have come tospecifically include it as an element of the scope of work.
We have our graphic design team who are responsible for design of wayfinding and signage. They work closely with the architectural and interior design groups to achieve the most creative solutions. We should remember that once a project is complete, the signs are what the people and the visitors see first. Especially in the case of corporate, hospitality, education, airport, and healthcare projects, we can’t overemphasise the need for the proper development of wayfinding and graphics.
What projects is Pace working on internationally?
Pace continues to expand its presence on a regional and international scale. We have an international division within our firm and this concentrates on all of our projects both in and out of the Middle East. We also have multiple regional offices and branches in several markets, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iraq, Djibouti and Tunisia, with projects in Yemen, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Ethiopia and Mauritania. Due to the large amount of development taking place, Saudi Arabia has now become a major area of focus. We’ve set up an office there and are working on numerous projects.