Red alert

As MEP consultant Red Engineering opens its Dubai office, director Mick Cairns outlines the firm's plans for the future.

Mick Cairns, director, Red Engineering. (Nemanja Seslija/ITP)
Mick Cairns, director, Red Engineering. (Nemanja Seslija/ITP)

"We are here to make an immediate impact," stresses Red Engineering director Mick Cairns. Sitting in the newly established Dubai office of the UK-based MEP consultancy, the softly spoken Cairns is confident that the firm's approach to business will prove successful in the Middle East market.

Visitors to Red Engineering's Garhoud base shouldn't be fooled by the blank white walls and 'new arrivals' feel to the office space. Those heading the branch all have several years experience in the Middle East's construction industry, particularly in Dubai. And behind the scenes, the firm's head office in Oxfordshire and soon to open London branch will be providing support for the operation. Indeed, contracts for several projects in Dubai have already been undertaken from its UK-base.

In the UK it may take two years to design a project; in Dubai this is cut to eight months.

Red Engineering was created in December 2004 by five senior MEP design engineers, Cairns included, who had worked together for between 12 and 20 years in an international practice. Since launching, the firm has been involved with 45 UK projects and a further 28 internationally. The opening of a Middle East branch comes both in response to client demands and a decision taken at the firm's inception.

"The day Red was set up, it was always envisaged that it would be an engineering practice which would be able to service clients around the globe," explains Cairns. "With the first projects we undertook we immediately ventured into three or four countries, serving Northern Europe from the UK." The increasing number of clients beginning operations in the Middle East prompted the move to Dubai. "A lot of clients are now being headquartered in Dubai, so the project office and client representatives are also in Dubai. [By having an office here] we can provide a better service to our clients - you have to match your operational requirements with theirs," Cairns reasons.

With a business model that cites a maximum of 20 staff in each branch, employing people with the right mix of experience is a key factor for the firm and there will be minimal non-core support staff. "One thing we are most aware of here is the speed of design. In the UK it may take two years to design a complex project but in Dubai this is cut to eight months, so you need to have experienced designers that are able to produce quality designs as this concept design process gets squeezed," he stresses.

Cairns and his fellow directors will also be fully involved throughout the projects undertaken. "The company was formed by people who want to do engineering. 80-85% of a director's time will be spent on project work - this is what the clients want," states Cairns. "There is no use sending out a really good concept design and [involving] a director for part of a project, then sending out a junior engineer late in the job; [the directors] remain hands-on from the beginning to the end of a project," he stresses.


The firm's target markets are primarily hotels, high-rise buildings and mission-critical facilities such as data centres. Its approach is to provide energy efficient solutions that meet international standards. "The inspiration behind Red was, and remains, a conviction by the directors that there must be a better way to provide genuinely innovative, international standard MEP services," Cairns states. "As international funds start looking to buy buildings in Dubai, well designed, easily maintained buildings are going to be required and this is happening now," he adds.

Energy efficiency and comfort levels are focal points of Red's designs, with computational fluid dynamic (cfd) modelling carried out as standard. "In a high-rise building there are specific challenges with how the systems are designed and installed...a lot of people don't understand that the top and bottom of a building may have different environmental conditions externally," Cairns explains. The large atriums favoured by many hotels create added challenges.

"In large public spaces you have to go back to fundamentals to determine the air diffusion needed to get the right levels of comfort," stresses Cairns. "The airflow dynamics in a space is what really affects comfort levels. It's not just a case of calculating how many kW is required for cooling, [factors affecting comfort include] where you introduce fresh air; where heat is introduced from lighting and solar gain; and issues like stack-effect come into consideration. Those can be modelled much more accurately with cfd analysis," he states.

The firm is aiming to increase its offering to the market with its patented Red Chilled Ceiling. Developed in a joint venture with manufacturer Halton, the product is intended to replace fan coil systems in hotel bedrooms. The first installation in the Ocean Village Hotel, Southampton, UK has reduced the operating costs by 30-35%. Cost and business plans are underway to adapt the product for the Middle East climate.

The aim for energy efficient and, ultimately, sustainably designed buildings must include an element of simplicity in order for them to be effectively operated stresses Cairns. "To be sustainable and innovative doesn't necessarily require complex design solutions, it can be done quite simply. There is no point putting in a complex bms solution that needs a very technically-minded facilities manager if that level of qualified staff is not available," he explains. "It can actually be detrimental, as systems quickly end up being turned off and isolated if the fm staff simply don't understand them."

The selection of projects will be a key factor in the firm's success states Cairns: "We have to be selective in the projects that we become involved with. We will choose clients who represent the same values as us - those who have a desire for and a focus on value and quality." Red is currently undertaking several projects in the region, including the design of a 400-bed hotel in Abu Dhabi, plus technical reviews of Dubai Festival City and Dubai Select's Torch Tower in Dubai Marina. And the firm is already planning for further expansion: "The drive is to have an office in Abu Dhabi by next year; if not by the end of Q1 then by end of Q2," states Cairns. "Oman and Qatar are also on our radar, but [our expansion] will be driven by the availability of good quality senior staff," he stresses.

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