UAE architects unite

Hisham youssef and Richard Wagner spoke with Middle East Architect about the creation, mission and future of the architectural association of the UAE.


Hisham youssef and Richard Wagner spoke with Middle East Architect about the creation, mission and future of the architectural association of the UAE.

How did the aaUAE begin

HY: Initially it started with three of us. We explored the interest in the professional community for something like an Architecture Association for the UAE.

We brainstormed some names back in mid 2006, then we had the launch event in November of the same year. We were looking for like-minded professionals.

By day, we're practising architects-aaUAE is something we do after hours. It is something we do because we have a great passion for it. We do recognise, however, from our own practices that there is a need for something like the association.

But, what we wanted to find out was if the community at large shared our interest. We found out they did.

What is aaUAE's mandate?

HY: We started with many ambitious goals. We explored continued education, accreditation for architects, but mainly we wanted to provide a forum for professionals in the architecture industry to get together and share ideas.

We decided early on, however, that we didn't want to be exclusive. We wanted to include everyone related to the architectural profession.

Everybody is affected by the real estate development in Dubai and the UAE. It's the public, the policymakers, the architects, the consultants, the developers and the media. aaUAE needed to be an all-inclusive platform for discussion and knowledge sharing.

Is it fair to say that the aaUAE is moving from a grassroots thing to something more 'corporate'?

HY: Yes. We're restructuring at the moment to address the growing interest and demands from the community.

We will always be not-for-profit, but we're not non-profit. We do need to generate funds to support the objectives of the association, and therefore we rely on the generous support of our sponsors.

Thus far, this initiative has been very grassroots, but you cannot sustain something with the objectives that we envision, and have come to be expected of us by just doing it like that. We need more structure.

We're now looking into hiring full time staff for the day to day operations from answering calls, to maintaining our website and staying in touch with our members.

What kind of response have you received from the community?

RW: The response has been tremendous. We now have a mailing list of around 1,000 people, more and more people are signing up for memberships everyday.

We're engaged in many positive partnerships with design-based organisations around the city including The Third Line, XVA and Traffic.

We're also working with some of our partners as organizers of the first Middle East chapter of Pecha Kucha.

HY: Considering that aaUAE is an after-hours initiative for us, we've come much further than we thought we would in this time frame.

It's been extremely rewarding. When people respond and react and recognise our efforts, it keeps us going.

But now we're at a point where we have a greater responsibility to our members. And we can't let them down.

After all, we have to deliver if we want to maintain credibility.

Is the aaUAE nationwide or is it mostly just Dubai?

HY: Our board is based in Dubai, but our objective is to serve the UAE at large. Our events have been mainly in Dubai, though our membership base includes people in other emirates as well.

We knew that doing something exclusively in Dubai would create a very limited focus. Also, if it were something for just Dubai, it would difficult to grow. Calling it an association for the UAE allows us to be all-encompassing within the emirates.

Depending on how things go, we may be able to start looking regionally as well.

RW: We are also planning a chapter in Abu Dhabi next year. We're looking to expand our audience throughout the GCC and beyond.

Why does the UAE need an architecture association?

RW: Dubai is a place in the making and the design community in the UAE has a very specific role in that growth. Architects and engineers are the ones creating it so they're one of the most influential groups here.

In that way we see aaUAE becoming part of a much larger cultural discourse. Currently, there is no platform in which the professional design community comes together. We work in our offices all day, but there is nothing that takes us outside of that.

This is where aaUAE can provide a kind of forum for what is a very important cultural strata of the society.

And really, the talk in Dubai is on right now. Everyone is talking about culture and arts and with the creation of the new Culture and Arts Authority, we're very curious what they'll be doing and how we can support their mandate.

What challenges have you faced? What challenges do you envision for the future?

HY: The biggest challenge at the moment is our ‘growing pain'- a natural progression from starting up to being a recognizable entity in the professional scene in Dubai. We need to continue to provide the same level of product that our members have come to expect while also keeping an eye on developing new offerings.

Our focus at the moment is fundraising. That will also tie into a large-scale PR campaign. I don't want to give a date but I think near the end of this year you can expect to see aaUAE much more frequently.

RW: On top of that, we are also going to focus on human resources. We need to find more dedicated people to be part of this initiative to take it further.

The aaUAE is something we created for the community, and we depend on the community to help keep it alive. Consistent with our mission we look to our membership base to approach us with ideas for events, partnerships and sponsorships, lectures and exhibitions.

We are very encouraged by the possibilities.

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