Façade face-off as industry comes under scrutiny in Middle East

Middle East Consultant speaks to façade consultants and suppliers over the pressing issues in the field

The façade business sector in the Middle East is extremely important and one of the fastest growing, but industry professionals bemoan that it is largely unrecognised and not given the eminence it deserves.

That is changing, however, as the industry is under pressure from building designers, architects, contractors, consultants and developers pushing for viable, practical solutions on all fronts. As a result, new challenges are also coming to the fore.

The façade is one of the three biggest functions on any project (along with MEP and super structure) and visually is the most prominent of these on a majority of projects.

Perspectives from the suppliers

“With 90% of our time spent in buildings, and buildings being responsible for 40% of the energy requirements worldwide, Schuco’s goal is to make buildings comfortable, secure and energy-efficient. This is possible with smart façades that are aesthetically pleasing and functionally efficient,” says Alastair Common, technical manager, Schuco Middle East Windows and Façade Systems.

According to Common, Schuco is among the largest suppliers of international aluminium systems for façades, doors and windows and counts Etihad Towers, Abu Dhabi; Damac by Paramount, Business Bay; Al Fattan Crystal Towers, JBR, Dubai; and Rafal Living, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia among the brand’s blue-chip customers.

Berlin-headquartered multinational Priedemann is another major provider of façade products and expertise in the region. “The Priedemann Group’s focus is mainly on upgrading façade technology with research and innovations, creating a pool of façade innovative products, ideas and developments,” says Micha Pawelka, managing director, Priedemann Middle East. Khalifa University, Abu Dhabi is a major client, as the company is involved in other big projects in Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

The consultants weigh in

“Façade engineering is not required for every building. The Middle East is very elaborate and intricate in building construction, and there are a larger number of projects that require specialist input by a certified façade engineer,” says Agnes Koltay, Façade consultant and director, Koltay Façades, which typically works on high-rise buildings, large-span glazed roofs and structural glass enclosures.

Façade engineering consultants can work for architects, developers or contractors. “The consultant gets involved with independent system concept selection, advises on materials, pre-engineers all elements and, most importantly, carries out an in-depth coordination with the structural engineer and others, to ensure smoother construction progress when it goes on-site,” she elaborates.

Koltay believes that a professional façade engineer-consultant has to get to grips with a host of functions including preparation of tender documents, drawings and specifications, and pricing aspects. “Developers, architects and contractors can benefit from the expertise and experience, as well as the effective oversight and timely site inspections by façade consultants.”

Consultant counsel

Abdulmajid Karanouh is head of Innovation Design, Façades & Sustainability at Ramboll, a multi-discipline, multinational provider of engineering and consultancy services including façade engineering across different industry verticals. He has a different take on the role of the consultant. “The Middle East is a region struggling to rediscover and redefine its identity at all levels, including the face of its cities and buildings, particularly in the field of façades,” he remarks.

In Karanouh’s estimation, four factors influence facades design styles in the region: image, reputation, the local identity, and politics and the economy. Futuristic and iconic solutions, sustainability, local cultures and geopolitical and economic conditions are considerations when deciding on building facades.

Karanouh is clear about the role of the façade consultant. “The façade consultant assists the project team – the client, architect, the main contractor and the specialist façade contractor – in developing the aims and objectives for any building façade. The consultant helps to formulate design and technical criteria.”


The prevalent market conditions for the façade industry in the GCC remain extremely challenging, according to Pawelka. In his opinion, each project has its own challenges in aspects of construction and manufacture, performance and costs. “Prices are under tremendous pressure owing to stiff competition, over-supply, spending cuts, lack of liquidity, late payments and staffing challenges due to change of visa and labour rules.”

For Schuco, the challenges are surmounted thanks to its long presence and familiarity with the region. “We are operational in the Middle East for over 30 years and are well regarded by the construction community,” affirms Common. “Over this period Schuco has developed many systems and adapted to market conditions. We work closely with our clients to provide the competitive edge.”

For Common, the Middle East is an architect’s playground where there is considerable freedom to express ideas and implement them into reality. “The problems often are the intricacies of façade design and the demands of fastidious clients. The big test is often to convert designs into economical, workable, functional and practical solutions.”

Koltay is flush with business despite the overall downturn in the construction sector. Her concern is with the anticipated changes in fire regulations. “We are all awaiting the final version of the updated regulations.”

Corrective measures

The downturn is resulting in tighter budgets and shorter project delivery durations, notes Karanouh. “This is resulting in most cases in mismatching priorities between the major stakeholders on any given project, often resulting in responsibilities gaps, resources misplacement, and the widespread practice of false economy,” he says.

He opines that the façade business is adapting to current market circumstances by reducing the detailed design development scope of consultants to the bare minimum, and by shifting more design responsibilities onto specialist façade contractors.

According to Karanouh, one of the greatest challenges that the façade industry faces in the market is to identify and eliminate malpractices. “It is the responsibility of competent consultants, contractors, and specialist contractors who take pride in what they do and care about the quality of the products that they develop and deliver.”

Trends and technologies

According to Common, one of the current trends is for façade designs to be minimalistic. Consultants and clients are often looking for less aluminium and more glass. “We recently developed the slimmest curtain wall system in the market with mullions only 35mm wide, and a new Panorama Design Slimline sliding system specifically designed for the Middle East.”

Priedemann’s Pawelka sees the drift and is all for sustainability and adaptation. “When we talk about sustainability and practices that are in conformity with local culture and sentiments, we assume this is a new trend,” he counters. That has always been the case and Priedemann has adapted well to its regional milieu. In our opinion, it is their way to say, “Stick to the roots and rules of nature.”

ROI and resilience are top trending subjects in the façade business, according to Koltay. “There is more awareness and emphasis on long-term durability, adaptability and lifecycle performance. Investors are looking at returns on investments.”

Karanouh says the region is increasingly showing more interest in developing context-inspired solutions that offer more original, innovative and context-friendly solutions. There is also more interest in integrating biological and adaptive systems into building façades, as opposed to traditional static solutions.

Practitioner proficiencies

New and pioneering technologies are also making inroads in the region. The requirements and performance in the Middle East of façade systems in relation to air, water and wind penetration are equal to and often exceed international standards and practices, notes Common.

“The primary area where there is less focus, compared to Europe for example, is the thermal performance. The tests for systems used in Europe are often far more stringent than for the systems used in this region. This is primarily because of climatic conditions and energy costs,” he explains.

For Pawelka, the Middle East is different to the rest of the world, particularly Europe, where Priedemann has a strong base. “While Europe is concerned with the quality of materials and lifecycle cost considerations, the Middle East is pushing boundaries in terms of design and in view of the current economic situation, within specific budgets. The region is also moving towards new technologies and seeing increased demand of BIM modelling,” says Pawelka.

Schuco plans to expand across the GCC with a larger workforce. “The present outlook for Schuco is bright. Despite the current tough financial conditions are tough, we continue to perform well in the region thanks to our proactive measures taken. We continue to enjoy a sizable share of the architectural aluminium supply market,” he says.

Positive projection

Pawelka is also buoyant and upbeat about the future. “We are looking forward to an improved market situation prior to Dubai’s Expo 2020 and Qatar’s World Cup 2022 and other economic initiatives taken by Saudi Arabia and other GCC states,” he states.

For Koltay, sophisticated new emerging technologies are redefining the industry, making complex designs more implementable while slashing costs. “Over the years, as computer-instructed parametric production methods spread more widely in manufacturing, it became easier to procure something at this level of complexity. Technology is rendering projects more affordable,” she remarks.

Locally developed solutions

Karanouh says high-tech solutions imported from abroad (North America, Europe and the Far East), are in most cases inefficient, unsuitable and non-sustainable when implemented forcefully with little adaptation in the Middle East region. He advocates locally developed low-tech solutions, because they are truly and genuinely inspired by local conditions and are more efficient than imported solutions.

Some local specialist contractors and suppliers are offering interesting opportunities in developing new solutions that are drawing interest from other regions and markets. “These should be further invested in and developed, as it could improve profitability and quality of the products produced locally,” he concludes.

* Energy Saving Facades
Contributed by Andrew Pack, global technical support manager, Kingspan Insulation

Cutting Carbon and Cutting Energy
A region-wide study from Mott MacDonald has shown that improving U-value specifications (thermal transmittance) reduces building energy consumption and carbon emissions. Furthermore, the consultancy firm found that increasing the U-value of a building façade is comparatively the most effective way to reduce energy demand. So could we be doing more to make our building façades more efficient?

Mott MacDonald’s Study on Façade U-values
For its study, Mott MacDonald modelled six buildings representative of common building types within the GCC: house, low-rise residential, low-rise commercial, high-rise residential, high-rise commercial and hotel. The study looked at two build-ups within the building façades, one using an insulated cladding façade and one using an External Insulation Finishing System (EIFS).

The firm then compared the effects of improving U-value specifications through the use of additional insulation on the external walls of the buildings, by modelling the buildings in Sefaira Systems Software. For each of the scenarios, an energy consumption comparison was made between two different U-value specifications to assess the energy savings and carbon emissions reductions.

The Results
An example Mott MacDonald looked at was a new high-specification 16-storey hotel modelled in Dubai. The building was modelled using concrete blockwork walls which used an insulated cladding façade, a concrete slab floor insulated below and a concrete deck roof insulated above. The U-values of the roof and the floor did not change throughout this study.

Another example Mott MacDonald looked at was a new medium-specification five-storey residential building modelled in Doha, Qatar. The building was modelled using concrete blockwork walls which used an External Insulation Finishing System (EIFS), a concrete slab floor insulated above and a concrete deck roof insulated above. Again the U-values of the roof and floor did not change.

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