Unshakable building

Robert Troup, managing director of Aedas in the Middle East, talks to Jeff Roberts about inspiration, the RTA and the importance of iconic buildings.

Robert Troup.
Robert Troup.

Robert Troup, managing director of Aedas in the Middle East, talks to Jeff Roberts about inspiration, the RTA and the importance of iconic buildings.

Tell me about your architectural background.

After studying in Scotland, I worked in London with Wilkinson Eyre. The last project I worked on there was the Jubilee Line Station at Stratford, a fantastic project for which I was project architect.

In 1997 I joined Aedas in Hong Kong and worked primarily on metro projects throughout Asia before moving to Dubai. So I worked in London for ten years and I've been with Aedas in Hong Kong and Dubai for another ten.

As an architectural student, who were your inspirations?

Our school of architecture was led by Robin Webster, an enthusiast who was himself influenced by Mies van der Rohe, the likes of Craig Ellwood and the Case Study Houses, moving onto the Archigram scene in London.

Many students of my generation were inspired by Renzo Piano whose architecture was very influential.

When did you come to Dubai?

I first came to Dubai in 2004 to work on a design/build tender for Dubai Metro. The consortium that we tendered with made an outstanding submission but the tender was won by DURL Consortium, who are currently designing and building the Red and Green Lines.

Having lost the tender in spring 2005, we were disappointed, but that was that.

However, in autumn 2005 we were invited to be the architect for all the stations and depots. Boran Agoston and I immediately started on the concept designs for the stations that are now being built.

I was working out of our Hong Kong office but coming to Dubai regularly. I guess I moved here permanently in early 2006.

What are your impressions of Dubai as a city?

It was a much different city [in 2004], but there was already a massive amount of construction underway. Many people say it is a big construction site but I feel it is taking shape as a major city.

The RTA has brought great dynamism to the development of transportation in the city. They're doing very well in coming to grips with the transportation issues so quickly, which is good for architects because there is a huge call for metro stations, tram systems, bridges, etc.

The real issue is that Dubai is a very young city, having developed so much in such a short span of time; it's unique in that way. Perhaps a downside is that certain things are not yet in place that will be available in the coming years.

When I see the masterplans that are under construction, I know it will be a truly amazing city. It's fine just now, but there is a growing focus on leisure, hospitality and cultural buildings, which will give Dubai much more depth.

With so many signature architects and extravagant projects in the region, are Middle Eastern cities losing anything in the process?

No. In the case of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, they're essentially "young" cities that are benefiting from expansion. These cities are also preserving some indigenous architecture, so that's good.

The extent of planned development in Abu Dhabi and Dubai is astounding. The influx of top architectural firms is good because it encourages competition. The designs we're producing at the moment are at the cutting edge of architecture.

We're raising the level of architecture in the UAE. I think it's very important for a city like Dubai that international architects are working here. It's a world city and it needs world architects.

Are there too many iconic buildings in this region?

No. I think it's encouraging that developers want their buildings to look good. It's great that they don't want boring buildings.

In fact, I think a lot of the buildings will be relatively conservative in design.

To use an example, Business Bay is 64 million ft² and not all of it will be iconic. However, within such major developments, there are special sites that demand spectacular buildings.

What is your office working on at the moment?

We've got projects in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Oman, Bahrain, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and Libya. We have a healthy mix of interesting projects from very small to ultra-large.

Looking at small projects for example, we're doing the new British Council and we're doing the regional headquarters and training facility for Porsche. We're also doing six marina clubhouses for Island Global Yachting.

These small but prestigious projects provide opportunity for our talented young architects. It allows them to quickly complete an entire project from start to finish rather than working on one small part of a larger project.

At the other end of the scale, we are bringing from Asia to the UAE our experience of ultra-large mixed-use hotel projects. We're working on some very big projects, such as the Asia Asia Hotel Resort at Bawadi, which will be the largest hotel in the world and the largest building by floor area.

As an architect, which is more meaningful, a massive super-community or an industrial building?

We are happy to work across many different sectors; we don't prioritise any type of project over another.

We use the full breadth of our international experience, from commercial, residential and transport, through hospitality, education, healthcare and public buildings.

Part of the appeal of Aedas is that we have specialist design teams operating in many different fields. As long as we're producing architecture of greatness, it doesn't matter what type of building it is.

Who or what is the inspiration behind Aedas architecture?

Aedas Architects has grown fast. Aedas is currently the 4th largest architectural firm in the world with about 2,100 employees in 31 offices. This growth was not accidental.

The company was established with twin goals: to strive for excellence in design and to provide an environment where talented professionals develop their skills. Those aims have been achieved and we continue to develop.

Our main offices are in Hong Kong, London and New York. Most of our design work in the Middle East is done by our design teams in these international offices.

Andy Bromberg and his team in Asia are designing many of our projects in the Middle East. It's fair to say that Andy's designs have caught the imagination of a lot of the major developers here. Andy's remarkable designs in the UAE are really what kick-started our presence in the region.

The Dubai Metro stations and depots were designed by Boran Agoston and a team of 40 people in our Singapore office. Boran has now built up a team of very talented designers here in Dubai who are handling all our designs in this office.

Do you have any favourite projects?

That's a difficult question as we ensure that all projects have something special. Perhaps if one considers projects in terms of a particular achievement, there are some that stand out.

First, the Pentominium. If it were built today, it would be the tallest residential building in the world. It is also a marvellous piece of engineering, being one of the most slender tall buildings in the world.

We're pleased with our designs for the Dubai Metro stations. We've designed underground, at-grade and elevated stations and it is exciting to see them being built throughout the city.

There are also the U-Bora Towers for Bando and Boulevard Plaza for Emaar, which are our most advanced projects here in terms of construction progress.

Are there any particular challenges to working in this region?

All projects are challenging as we push the boundaries in producing great architecture. We support the increasing focus on sustainability and environmental design which presents a particular challenge due to the severe climate.

However, I think that because of the global breadth of our company and our work in many different countries, different climates and with many sophisticated clients, we're not fazed by anything we've encountered here. We're always looking for the next challenge.

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