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'Dubai is laboratory for new global architecture'

Benoy director stresses importance of personal touch

Benoy MENA director, Paul Priest.
Benoy MENA director, Paul Priest.

As new projects are launched across the UAE, following the upturn in the global economic market, developers are looking for greater long-term commitments from architects according to Benoy – a company responsible for some of the highest profile projects in the region.

Its MENA director, Paul Priest, says the trend has become apparent in recent months as “tenders are out, cranes are beginning to move and the queues at property launches are reaching lengths last seen in 2008". 

He said: “The developer’s brief is changing. The past 12 months have seen a rapid return of confidence in the MENA region from developers to consultants and investors alike.

“It started slowly but I feel it is continuing at a rate that is sustainable. And it started in Dubai first which is reassuring as it seemed to be the place hardest hit by the downturn.”

Analysing the trends in the relationship between the developers and the architectural firm is part of Priest’s role at Benoy.

The company has recently been involved with Dubai’s The Beach, the low rise leisure and retail development which has made the area around Jumeirah Beach Residences a new top visitor attraction for the city.

Its range of high-end retail stores and restaurants and cafes, along with cinemas and outdoor performance areas, have been widely praised as a new departure for the region, because of its emphasis on open air and proximity to the seashore and sands.

Benoy projects in Abu Dhabi, where it has its MENA head office, include The Galleria, Yas Island’s Concept Masterplan and Ferrari World Abu Dhabi. The company is also working on projects in Bahrain, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Oman.

Priest says the scope of the developer’s brief has been expanded over the past few years from vision to framework, then from framework to concept, to schematic and from concept to construction and design monitoring.

He says: “Competition for re-launched and new projects is high, and consultants are eager to differentiate themselves from their competitors to secure longer term projects that will enable measured long term growth.

“However, at the same time, consultant’s fees are only now starting to recover and programmes have shortened, putting extra pressure on practice structures. It is therefore more important than ever to ensure streamlined working practice, control overheads and keep the studio flexible and responsive.

“The designer's skill-set has become more rounded, and teams are able to multitask and respond quickly to challenges in terms of both scale and pace that are quite unique to the region. Dubai is the laboratory for new global architecture.”

Priest says this change has meant a new approach to the way his company presents itself, as its team seeks to emphasise long-term commitment.

“It is not just about the initial sketches,” he says. “It is incredibly important for us as a business to plan further into the future on longer term projects.”

Sustainability and a new target user-group is a new focus for developers says Priest.

“The Beach is one example of how developers are attempting to appeal to a broader demographic,” he explains.

And the region continues to be a place where architects – and developers – can explore new design ideas and look to the future, he adds.

“Dubai is a global destination and hub to the wider Middle East, it is a place where people want to visit and do business,” he says.

“The city has infrastructure, tourism and profile; it also has the added appeal of Expo 2020 just around the corner, an event that will refocus attention to its achievements.

“Recent market growth shows a commitment to Dubai further strengthened as a safe-haven for Middle Eastern investment, not only sheltered from regional turbulence seen in the Arab Spring, but further afield in previously stable markets in Europe, America and China.”

But Benoy believes the personal touch is vital in order to develop and retain key relationships with developers.

“In our opinion, the most important factor in winning work is trust,” says Priest.

“We feel very privileged to have long term relationships with many clients across the region - this has come through our flexibility and the ability to adapt to market changes as the developer brief changes.

“The ability for a developer to use the consultant as a sounding board for new ideas or pursue options to develop their brief is key to developing relationships and to gaining trust. There is a saying 'If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.'”

Priest added: “Our strategy has been to demonstrate alignment with the needs of our clients - from reassessing schemes, to creating additional value through consolidation, phasing or increasing financial returns, uplifting and repositioning existing offers, and in all instances, creating destinations.

“In the Middle East, urbanism and place-making is becoming an increasingly important discourse, particularly considering the sometimes fragmentary nature of development, and Benoy has a true understanding that this is imperative for the culturally appropriate and sustainable growth required by developers.” 

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