The big players

Exclusive interviews with construction’s top names

The developments that have risen from the sands over the last 50 years have not only transformed the region for its people, but have also placed it on the world stage as a beacon of innovation in the disciplines of both engineering and design, while breaking records on the way.
There were many defining moments, as the visions of the region’s leaders developed into the landscape we see today.
Some of these moments were triggered by regional social and political issues; some moments were put on hold as a worldwide economic crisis threw the industry into turmoil and threatened the very future of what had been achieved. Some moments are yet to be experienced.
From the big budget record breakers to the life changing basic infrastructure projects, The Big Project has tracked down the big players in construction to hear these stories; past, present and future.
More than a mere countdown of who we perceive to be the industry’s most influential people, projects or companies, the next six pages weave a narrative of the Middle East’s defining developments by Smith and Gill, AECOM, Kizad, the
Habtoor Leighton Group, FXFOWLE and Albert Speer and Partners.
Their projects include the World Cup stadia for 2022; the world’s tallest building (both current and possibly future); a 417 square kilometre port; hospitals, schools, universities and utilities infrastructure; and mixed use developments, so vast they create new new cities within existing ones.
This overview captures the glitz, grit and grand designs that provide the next generation of opportunity and will define the future of the Middle East for generations to come.

Icon under construction

Adrian Smith, senior design partner at Smith + Gill

It was during his work with previous company Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) that Adrian Smith designed Dubai’s record-holding supertall Burj Khalifa, but today it is his new firm Smith + Gill driving the world’s fastest growing trend.

Founded in 2006 by Smith and partners Gordon Gill and Robert Forest, AS+GG’s founding principle is “global  environmental contextualism” — a design approach which incorporates building orientation, day-lighting, generation of windpower, solar absorption, and a site’s individual geothermal properties”.

It’s an approach AS+GG says represents “fundamental change in the design process, in which form facilitates performance”.

Recently confirmed winners of the design competition for the first of China’s planned supertalls is Wuhan Greenland
Centre. Other current projects include 1 Dubai and work at Masdar City. Earlier this year, Smith was presented with a lifetime achievement award by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitats (CTBUH).

Yet there is one project since Burj Khalifa that has truly caught the world’s imagination. While Smith has publically revealed that he has designed an “experimental” building theoretically capable of reaching a full mile into the sky, a rumoured new recordholder to be built in Saudi Arabia is still shrouded in mystery.

Two months ago the firm was unofficially named architect for the bold plan to exceed Burj Khalifa by around 200 metres,

yet officially Smith maintains it is a topic he “cannot really comment on”.

Saudi Arabia is far from new territory for the firm; SOM has ongoing projects at King Abdullah Economic City, which follows Smith’s auteur’s habit for designing landmark record breakers surrounded by their own cities.

“Saudi Arabia will continue to be a strong place to work,” Smith reports, referring to AS+GG’s own activities.

“I think that they recognise the need to construct an environment that will elevate the lifestyles of the citizens, and create work and places of work for them.

“I think that the progression of building is one of the ways in which they can create this,” he adds, elaborating that it is the creative challenges of projects that cause him to keep coming back to the region.

“In our competitions for projects in the Middle East there is a certain amount of freedom, but they really are asking you to do your best in a series of circumstances and you either get it done or you don’t.”

Today, globally recognised for his work, Smith warns that too much creative freedom can leave cities resembling chess
boards with little connection to their local culture. He continues to reassure architects that aligning creativity with culture is the key to creating icons.

“I think one of the things about working in the Middle East is that the aspiration for quality is very high regionally. They are very interested in quality architecture and making a cultural statement architecturally,” he observes.

Continuing to predict architects’ eyes will soon be drawn to China, Smith also says there is huge potential in India, providing budget standards and architecture as a discipline are paid due attention.


Port talk

Tony Douglas, CEO of Abu Dhabi Ports Company (ADPC)

There’s a large red sign on the E11 road linking Abu Dhabi and Dubai; “rubine” is the official shade and “Kizad” is the word emblazoned across it.

Built on a land mass two thirds the size of Singapore and featuring a 3.2km key wall, as well as both the first and third
longest bridges in the UAE (even before reaching the shore) it’s easy to see how the UAE’s anchor ports project could
leave one awestruck.

Last month, the site-based team celebrated reaching 78% completion on phase one with the topping out of the operations
tower — standing at 35 metres, it is known within the team as Burj Terminal Operating Building.

Despite spreading 417 square kilometres Kizad’s unique offering is not its sheer size but how that size is utilised.

Drawing an example from anchor tenant EMAL, ADPC CEO, Tony Douglas explains how the vertical cluster in which  EMAL’s plant is located is configured to ensure the entire aluminium production stream is located on a single, albeit enormous, site; boosting the efficiency of production and creating economies of proximity.

Much has changed since The Big Project last caught up with Douglas almost a year ago. Today the Khalifa Industrial Zone and Port, now known as Kizad, is welcoming investors to become part of a mega-project so big not even Douglas himself can articulate its scale.

Launching the Kizad trading brand to potential investors on November 13, 2010, with an official European launch at
Hannover Messe this year, a number of “strategic alliances” have since been formed with financial institutions such as HSBC, Bank of Baroda and Citibank.

Facilitating Kizad’s entry into mature and targeted markets, Douglas says it is one of many variables on offer to tenants that forms a three dimensional matrix of possible business models and choices.

Creating a “fascinating” response from various sectors, the first dimension represents the possible business models: local or regional companies; regional businesses with international partners; or 100% foreign owned companies.

The second dimension is the capability to project manage: Whether that be self-management, assisted, or completely outsourced. The third matrix applies these degrees of sufficiency to financing options: Businesses with the capability to fully selffinance; businesses that can finance but have no such experience in Abu Dhabi; and those without either the capability or interest to financing their own projects.

“Because of the scale of the project, it’s not a one size fits all option and the trick to this is to be able to provide a one-stop-shop — a relationship to show how we can configure any solution,” says Douglas.

Kizad isn’t just extensive in size; the list of records it breaks is also impressive. Yet unlike the region’s other signature record breakers, Kizad exists to serve the future, not steal the limelight of the present.

“One of the things you always end up with on a mega project like this is that you are building for generations to come,”
begins Douglas, adding: “You need to anticipate to some degree the future and the one relatively easy bet to make is that international shipping will get a lot bigger.”

At almost 1km long and 400km wide, the container yard will be the first automated yard in the Middle East, with cranes
doubling in size compared to the existing stock, propelling capacity to 15 million containers a year; on par with the largest trading nations in the world.

“The altruism of infrastructure is that the next generation that inherits it will always wish you had done more, which
commercially means actively safeguarding development as best you can,” he says, adding that the “big part” of Kizad is on the other side of the planned Etihad rail link, in phase B.

“I genuinely can’t think of any examples anywhere, which are as exciting as this in terms of sheer scale, technical and engineering endeavour, trying to bring the resources of many big organisations together and align them with one simple,
common objective, which is to deliver this on time, within budget and safely.”


Everything you need

David Barwell, chief executive, AECOM

With company values that commit to “create, enhance and sustain the world’s built, natural and social environments”, it’s not just any mega-project that can catch AECOM’s figurative eye.

Fully researched, sustainably designed and future proofed, AECOM’s urban planning, architecture and engineering services have been deployed to the region’s most significant infrastructure mega-projects, such as Saadiyat Island; Al Raha Beach; Abu Dhabi’s traffic modelling study; Ruwais bypass; and Riyadh and Jeddahbased sewage treatment and stormwater plant expansions.

“You have to look at the whole Middle East, including places like Iraq, and look at how countries are positioned and what they need for economic drivers,” says chief executive David Barwell, identifying ports and rail to reduce reliance on the Suez Canal.

“In the Middle East as it is it matures, the countries are currently very resource rich, so it’s time to capitalise on the long term sustainability of the countries and putting in good, solid infrastructure to make it work,” he advises, adding: “People have much greater expectations in terms of the quality of the infrastructure they have around them especially when you look at the GDP of these countries.”

Despite the experiences of re-planning existing, often older cities than those in the Middle East, Barwell says the key difference when re-planning ‘new cities’, is that you are changing the direction of the city’s growth, rather than upgrading its services.

Referring to the firm’s work on the Dubai masterplan project, he comments: “It is a new city but it’s a new city that started

in a particular direction that now has to change.

“We are doing the Dubai masterplan and looking at that challenge: Where does it go to, based on the new global economic

“At a high level, there is existing infrastructure that has been put in place and there is still planned infrastructure. So it’s
actually looking at the present, looking at what is planned and what is currently there, then asking ‘how do we bring this
forward into a revised plan?’ ”

It’s a vision explained by the AECOM Global Cities Institute. Describing itself as an “urban laboratory that goes beyond
traditional practice, the body “diagnosis”  the factors preventing a city from completing its social, economic or environmental aspirations.

Already successful in the US, Australia, China and New Zealand, Barwell cautiously reveals the global cities institute “is
looking for opportunities for a city in the Middle East this year”.

Describing the work as a CSR initiative, it is headed by a board of academics, governors and local decision makers, from
around the world to create something that “needs to be sustainable; not a report on a shelf but a seed to better develop the city.”

Last year’s deal with Davis Langdon saw the company’s physical profile grow in territories previously served remotely, such as Kuwait, Beirut and Bahrain.

Despite the widened scope, AECOM identifies the same construction hotspots — Qatar and Saudi Arabia — as the most
exciting markets at this time; albeit for entirely different reasons than the rest.

“If you look at the overall ambition of Project Qatar going through to 2030, I would like to think FIFA isn’t the end game;
FIFA is just a step in the process of achieving Qatar’s 2030 objectives,” Barwelll says, naming Doha Port and the creation of sustainable city Al Shamal as examples.

“From a planning perspective we look through Qatar 2022. It’s just a step in that development and it’s a very exciting proposition but I think they have an opportunity to create something quite unique in the world market place,” he predicts.

AECOM’s key projects in Saudi Arabia deal with utilities infrastructure, specifically the installation and expansion of a
number of stormwater and wastewater plants; projects Barwell says have the opportunity to transform the lives of the
people living there.

Describing AECOM’s work as “essential infrastructure projects”, Barwell also predicts Iraq, once politically stable, will
have “great potential” for development over the coming decade.

“We are looking at the formation of a number of very significant projects in Iraq, through Public Private Partnership
type arrangements.

“At the moment we are looking at forming consortia to approach various types of projects, be they transport, water or
health; our primary focus projects in Iraq are through PPP,” he concludes.


Special FX

Sudhir Jambhekar, senior partner FXFOWLE

“I believe that listening to client aspirations and participation is critical to finding a great design solution,” says Sudhir
Jambhekar, FAIA, RIBA, LEED AP, Senior Partner with architects FXFOWLE.

“I have been fortunate to have some great opportunities to work with the leadership in the Middle East. Our firm and I have belief in the collaborative working processes that encourage client participation.

“When the leadership is hands on it really allows for a greater dialogue and therefore encourages us to explore even further,” he continues.

The New York-based FXFOWLE, is currently involved in a number of projects in Qatar, the UAE and Saudi
Arabia, including the Sixth Crossing Bridge, in Dubai, and Riyadh’s King Abdullah Financial District.

With more than 40 years experience, Jambhekar became a senior partner in 2000 when the firm he co-founded, Jambhekar Strauss, merged with FXFOWLE.

An award winner in his own right, and the subject of many articles in architecture journals, Jambhekar’s projects have
included a 40 hectare masterplan for Dubai Properties’ Business Bay; a competition for a 301 metre tower in Mumbai; and current projects including mixed use towers in Sophia, Bulgaria and Moscow, in addition to a 500 acre master planning project on the Dubai Waterfront, for Nakheel.

“Each city, region and country provides unique opportunities for applying different thought processes to designing a

project,” Jambhekar begins, adding: “People, aspirations, culture, climate and local construction practices all play a major role in the decision making process of design. In addition, building typologies also play a role in this decision making process.

“For example, while designing of an office building planning processes may not differentiate from each other that much as
we all seem to work very similarly in this global economy due to the advent of information technology. But other factors such as site context, city, climate and construction practices may make the difference,” he continues, refusing to name a single place as his favourite to work, but referring to Turkey as “an amazing country with an incredible history and a diverse mix of eastern and western cultures”.

“Religious buildings on the other hand  and in some cases cultural buildings are uniquely different than how we might
approach their design from let’s say in the USA. Residential buildings also tend to be uniquely different on basic levels of planning while considering privacy, family and other cultural issues,” he explains.

One particularly topical issue FX FOWLE strives to address is that of sustainability.

Carbon neutral as a business since 2008, it was Bruce Fowle’s work in the 1970s that led to the firm delivering America’s first green skyscraper; credited as a catalyst for the introduction of LEED accreditation.

It is also the first firm to receive an Energy Star Small Business award. And in creating sustainable solutions through architecture, the firm also aims to continue the “thinking process” around design to address the needs of future cities.
Observing a trend to create “new” cities across the region, Jambhekar says economic and social factors, such as population growth, and a global rethink of how the availability of information, ease of travel,affluence and aspirations has provided opportunities to people to rethink and reinterpret quality of life.

“This trend of creating new cities has certainly provided many great opportunities to architectural professionals.  However, I believe that as architects and planners, we have an obligation to learn from the ideas of the traditional cities and then adopt, reinterpret, explore and experiment while designing new urban environments.

“The design of traditional cities addressed many things but appear to always deal with climatic conditions, culture and
construction technology which was available to them at the time. Perhaps we can continue this thinking process while responding to the contemporary needs and looking towards the future,” he says.

Jambhekar’s favourite examples of such projects include Burj Khalifa and Masdar City, for their integration of innovation
and technology.

“I like many ideas of the traditional Islamic public spaces, gardens and cities. These traditional public spaces, gardens and cities are vibrant and provide many clues to potentially adopting their ideas to contemporary ways of living.”


Expect amazing

Joachim Schares, partner Albert Speer and Partners

“Expect amazing” were the words repeated by Qatar throughout its bid to host the 2022 World Cup.

Instilled at an early stage, the ambitious ethic paid off and while the already affluent Gulf state welcomes hoards of contractors, design consultants and project managers, one stands out above the crowds.

As a firm, Albert Speer and Partner (AS&P) didn’t just design eight of the 12 stadia that will host the games, they also
worked on 20 chapters of the Bid Book, in collaboration with partner PROPROJEKT.

Approached by Qatar’s bid committee in April 2009, at a sports convention in Denver, Colorado, USA, AS&P received a
personal invitation to work on the book, from the Qatar Football Association.

Modestly admitting that the 750 page book is “quite impressive”, AS&P partner Joachim Schares, says much of the bid content was dominated by the stadia.

“We did the entire production of the hosting concept, as well as transport, accommodation, environment, stadiums and
infrastructure, and also the FIFA HQ and media facilities. The bid also involves Qatar’s technology capabilities to host the event.

“The entire start-up had to be planned and the outcome was a 750 page book weighing more than 5 kilos,” Schares adds.
More than designing football stadia, the projects AS&P will be integral to transforming the image of the Middle
East to the outside world, proving critics wrong and entertaining thousands of fans who have most likely never visited the
region before.

No strangers to sporting mega-projects, past achievements include work for the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Munich; a sports infrastructure analysis in Cairo since 2009; and the Allianz Arena study in München, 2001.

Needless to say, the Qatar projects are somewhat of a hat trick.

“These projects are quite unique for several reasons, primarily the climate issues. The stadiums will be air conditioned using special technology based on solar energy.

“This is an approach especially tailored to the region. Providing other countries like Oman, Saudi Arabia and even some
Emirates in the UAE, chance to take a close look at the technologies and make use of these achievements. They could
really benefit from the developments in Qatar,” Schares predicts.

“The second issue is the modularity; it is quite a novel approach. 170,000 seats will be dismantled after the event and shipped to developing countries,” he continues.

Modularity is a concept first proposed by AS&P for the 2010 South Africa games, but one that wasn’t picked up on by the designers and managers involved.

For the Qatar projects, like others in the firm’s portfolio, there’s a science to everything AS&P has been involved in.

“When we started developing the project together with our Qatar client, we looked at the spatial distribution of previous
World Cups. Since 1930, when the first Cup was hosted in Uruguay, the games have only been hosted a few times in Asia
and never in the Middle East.

“Our common objective was to bring football to the region and to find a new way to present the Middle East to the rest of the world,” Schares continues.

When asked which of the eight projects is his favourite, Schares responds by saying he doesn’t like using the word
“iconic”, but that regardless he presented ideas it was felt would live up to the bid’s catchline: “Expect amazing”.

“Thus it’s always quite obvious for us that these stadiums must be amazing, and also Qatar is a relatively small country
and not considered as a big player, so you have the opportunity to showcase its culture to the world.

“The stadiums should be a symbol of the environment and culture in Qatar, so traditional Arabic motifs are incorporated in the designs, for example Um Salal Stadium. Other designs are derived from the environment, such as Al Khor Stadium, which is one of my favourites.”


Pearl in the crown

Laurie Voyer, CEO and managing director, Habtoor Leighton Group

Promoted as becoming the largest single building in the world upon completion, Dubai Pearl will be an integrated city
for 20,000 people. Located at the foot of the Palm Jumeirah, the completed project will occupy a staggering built-up area of around 1.9 million square metres.

To date more than 70,000 cubic metres of concrete has been poured by HLG; the groundwork, foundations, the basements and lower ground floors of the four towers forming the central section of phase one are now complete,
making it one of the largest projects currently under development in the UAE.

It’s an achievement credited to maintaining pace despite the downturn, while also — as a group — moving to secure reliable contracts over the coming years, including work on the GCC’s rail network.

“Consolidating existing projects and strategically tackling new markets and partnerships has seen the group ready itself for continued growth during 2011,” comments CEO and managing director, Laurie Voyer.

“We have added to HLG’s traditional building focus by increasingly focusing on infrastructure projects, including those in
the growing GCC rail sector,” he adds, further stating that growth in new geographical markets has been “strategic” for
the past two years.

“We have established stand alone entities in a number of our targeted growth markets of KSA, Kuwait, Oman, Iraq and Bahrain. We continue to pursue infrastructure and building projects in the UAE and Qatar, as well as rail opportunities in the wider region though our specialist rail provider Advance Rail Group (ARG).

“We have spent considerable time establishing a presence in our identified growth markets and we are close to securing new work there,” he continues.

Admitting to having an established reputation in the building sector, the focus will now be to expand on the potential
provided by ARG.

Voyer comments that “considerable time” has been taken to establish the group in its identified growth markets, while adding that Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq also offer large volumes of new work opportunities, which it is hoped will be tapped this year.

In light of such success, construction professionals were shocked to hear last month that the group plans to move 50% of its operations outside the UAE, yet Voyer says this is just another step in HLG’s growth strategy.

“It’s simply a result of following the opportunities where they emerge. With markets such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and

Kuwait forming a key part of our growth strategy, achieving 50% of our revenue from outside the UAE is certainly achievable,” Voyer explains.

In Qatar, Habtoor Leighton Group has completed its Doha City Centre expansion project — the Al Shaqab Equestrian
Academy — and is also undertaking water infrastructure projects for Qatar General Electricity and Water Corporation
(KAHRAMAA) on the outskirts of Doha.

But as its headquarters, and the Dubai Pearl, remain in the UAE — after 40 years in business — Voyer says it is still a key market.

“Our reputation for high quality project delivery is our driving strength in the UAE market. This year alone we have secured the AED 2.2 billion contract for the construction of the new Mafraq Hospital; the AED 510 million Qusahwira phase one building for ADCO; The AED405million bank headquarters project for the construction of Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank’s new headquarters in Abu Dhabi; and the award of an AED110 million contract for a chilled water plant at
Zayed University for Mubadala Development Company.”


0 0 votes
Article Rating


Most Popular

To Top
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x