Top 40 most powerful architects in the Middle East

Our annual shakedown of the region's 40 most influential and powerful architects

Brian Johnson, managing partner, Godwin Austen Johnson.
Brian Johnson, managing partner, Godwin Austen Johnson.

This year the Middle East Architect power list is in two parts – the top 10 international figures who have a huge influence on the region and the 40 who have a continued presence in the GCC and show a commitment to this part of the world.

As well – although the listing cannot help but be in some parts subjective – factors such as numbers of projects, office locations and locally-based staff have also been taken into account.

Those directly responsible for design and concept form the list – not company executives

This is because it is inspiration, innovation, social awareness, ability to understand and develop sustainability and the desire to do what no-one else has ever achieved which is at the heart of the very best design professionals.

You can also view the Commercial Interior Design top 50 list on DesignMENA.


Architect Power List
Rank Name company
1 Brian Johnson Godwin Austen Johnson
2 Raj Patel KEO International Consultants
3 Jamil Jaddallah National Engineering Bureau
4 Stephan Frantzen P&T Architects
5 Paul Priest Benoy
6 Mohammed Al Assam Dewan
7 Emad Jaber Lacasa
8 Christos Passas Zaha Hadid Architects
9 Tareq Abu Sukheila Gensler Middle East
10 Simon Moon Atkins
11 Silm Hussain Smith Brewer Gulf
12 Martin Dufresne U+A Architects
13  Shams Naga NAGA Architects
14 Michael Fowler Aedas Middle East
15 Austin Relton Foster+Partners
16 Ali Bin Nasset Al Khalifa Astad
17 Reiner de Graaf OMA
18 Ian Apsley Broadway Malyan
19 Chris Jones 10 Design
20 Nasser Abdulhasan AGi Architects
21 Alizera Taghaboni Next Office
22 Murat and Melkan Tabanlioglu Tabanlioglu Architects
23 Ralf Steinhauser RSP
24 Andre Meyerhans Andre C Meyerhans Design Creations
25 Omid Rouhani OmidRouhani Architectural Design
26 Samaya Dabbagh Dabbagh Architects
27 Yahya Jan Norr Group
28 Raya Ani RAW-NYC Architects
29 Kourosh Hajizadeh Hajizadeh Partners
30 Fariborz Hatam FHSI Architects
31 Sandra Woodall tangram
32 Steve Velegrinis Perkins + Will
33 Tim Makower Makower Architects
34 Harry Downie RMJM
35 Azin Soltani and Farshad Kazerooni BNS CO
36 Tanner Whiney Skidmore, Owings & Merill
37 Elizabeth Peters AECOM
38 Reza Mafakher XEMA Design Office
39 Mark Powell Kyffin Abu Dhabi Cultural Authority
40 Shawn Basler Perkins Eastman

Click a name in the list to view their profile.



1. Brian Johnson
managing partner
Godwin Austen Johnson
The immensely respected principal and managing partner of one of a company which has become synonymous with the growth of Dubai, Johnson and his company have been the recipients of numerous awards. The British architect began his career in 1973 in London before moving to Dubai two years later. When the existing principal announced he was leaving the company Johnson was working for he invited former colleagues to join him as he realised the immense potential the region held. In 1989 he joined forces with GAJ and established its local presence, becoming an extremely influential voice both across the architectural profession and within the governing and administrative bodies of the region. Johnson has designed some of the most recognizable buildings in the UAE, including the Dubai Creek Golf Club which features on the 20 Dirhams banknote.

2. Raj Patel
design director
KEO International Consultants
Kuwait’s Gulf University is just one of the designs which bare the hallmark of Raj Patel – a subtle and respectful use of Islamic motifs and structures. He has worked for such firms as SOM and Perkins & Will and for a decade has been one of the most influential people in the region across the design and build spectrum. Patel has put together a team at KEO which combines modern and large scale projects with traditional aspects of form and pattern. The company is also at the forefront of the region’s sustainable design and the architect himself as a strong commitment to bringing on young talent.

3. Jamil Jaddallah
National Engineering Bureau
NEB is a company which has been the driving force in the growth of much of Dubai – away from the structures which typify the emirate to a global audience. A huge number of projects in Dubai marina are the work of NEB which is a company with a commitment to the design of affordable housing with practical and functionality at their heart. Jaddallah has continually emphasised the need for homes in Dubai for people who are not among the top earners – but still have an investment in the region and a commitment to its growth.

4. Stephan Frantzen
Group director
P&T Architects
Sustainability and a holistic approach to design are vital in the work of Stephan Frantzen whose company won this year’s Middle East Architect of the Year Award for hospitality with the Viceroy Palm Jumeirah. A global force in architecture P&T continue to be an important voice in the development of the UAE.

5. Paul Priest
head of MENA Benoy
The winner of the Middle East Architect title of Principal of the Year, Priest was behind Dubai’s The Beach – one of the most talked about projects of 2014. He has tripled his company’s business since taking over in the top role and his company is at the forefront of many developments set to take off in the coming months.

6. Mohammed Al Assam
managing director
The man responsible for one of the most well-established practices in the Middle East Al Assam is very much a hands-on member of a team which consists of around 300 professionals in the design and build field. Recent projects include the ADEC School in Abu Dhabi.

7. Emad Jaber
managing partner
Lacasa is a company which works across the GCC, but also maintains operations in more unusual markets in the region such as Libya and Sudan. Palestine is also a thriving area for its business activities. The firm has been in the region since 2006 and offers a complete design, engineering and construction service.

8. Christos Passas
associate director
Zaha Hadid Architects
Christos Passas has responsibility for Zaha Hadid’s major project in Dubai – the mix-use Opus which resembles a melting ice cube. On hold since the global financial crisis the project is now taking shape in Business Bay.

9. Tareq Abu Sukheila
managing director
Gensler Middle East
With more than 20 years experience Tareq Abu Sukheila holds an MA in both architecture and civil engineering as well as a BSc in architectural engineering. He has worked in the UK and USA as well as the GCC and is particularly committed to the social benefits of projects.

10. Simon Moon
Middle East Atkins
The Dubai Opera House is just one of the major projects currently being undertaken by Atkins, a company which is also very active in transport infrastructure across the GCC. Mosr sustainable and connected communities are the current priority for the UK-based firm.

11. Salim Hussain
head of design Brewer
Smith Brewer Gulf
Current Middle East Architect of the Year who has worked in masterplanning, residential developments, hospitals and education. He has also financially managed projects and assisted the development of young talents through academia and internships.

12. Martin Dufresne
U+A Architects
At the forefront of an ever-expanding firm Martin Dufresne was highly commended in this year’s Architect of the Year category of the MEA Awards and won the title of Principal of the Year in 2013.

13. Shams Naga
founder and principal
NAGA Architects
The holder of three Masters degrees in Environmental Design, City and Regional Planning and Architectural Theory as well as a PhD Shams Naga is a leading member of the architectural community in practice as well as one of its top academic voices.

14. Michael Fowler
managing director
Aedas Middle East
With experience of large scale new projects as well as preserving historic buildings Michael Fowler runs the regional office of one of the world’s most important firms. The revolutionary Al Bahr Towers in Abu Dhabi are among the company’s many award winning design.

15. Austin Relton
Foster + Parters
Based in Abu Dhabi Austin Relton is responsible for the global company’s projects across the Middle East. Masdar City in Abu Dhabi is one of the major developments he has been involved with. Relton joined the firm in 1993 and was made up to a partner in 2009.

16. Ali Bin Nasser Al Khalifa
CEO Astad
Asatd is responsible for stadium design for the 2022 FIFA World Cup to be held in Qatar and Ali Bin Nasser Al Khalifa has been at the forefront of designing arenas which emphasise the region’s culture and values as well as providing world class facilities.

17. Reiner de Graaf
Reiner de Graaf
partner OMA
Reiner de Graaf has been instrumental in identifying local solutions when it comes to sustainability. He was also involved in a msterplan for Ras al Khaimah which went a long way towards shaping the emirate’s development. He also works on ways to keep alive the heritage of an urban area whilst keeping it relevant to the future.

18. Ian Apsley
Broadway Malyan
Broadway Malyan was one of the main firms responsible for the realisation of the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi, which has provided a new benchmark for sporting design in the region. The company is also involved in major development on the waterfront close to Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Dubai.

19. Chris Jones
managing director
The company most closely identified with the realisation of the latest stage of the Al Barari environmental residential project on the otskirts of Dubai, 10Design is one of the growing powers in the profession in the GCC, in part because of its expertise in providing sustainability.

20. Nasser Abulhasan
AGi Architects
AGi Architects won the Boutique Firm category at this year’s MEA Awards and the company’s Seed House was voted the Concept Design of the Year. This continues a great run of success in the competition in recent years which also included two top places in the 2013 ratings.

21. Alizera Taghaboni
architect Next Office
Tehran-based Alizera Taghaboni designed the Sharifi-ha House which, in part due to its revolutionary design which includes rotating rooms, was Middle East Architect’s Residential Project of the Year. The company completed a notable double by also getting second place in the category with Kouhsar House.

22. Murat and Melkan Tabanlioglu
partners Tabanlioglu Architects
Tabanlioglu, a husband and wife team, has opened a Dubai office and is involved with a project along the seafront. Most active in Turkey, last year the company published a book on its many award-winning designs.

23. Ralf Steinhauser
project director
With a staff of 1,300 across the world and 60 personnel based in Dubai RSP is a major player – reflected in the company’s first place in the Middle East Architect awards large Firm of the Year category and the large number of projects it is currently engaged in across the region.

24. Andre Meyerhans
founder Andre C Meyerhans
Design Creations
As well as being involved in large scale projects such as masterplanning for a desert community, the Al Nadi Tower - which has become a new symbol of the waterfront in Abu Dhabi - and the Al Garhoud Bridge in Dubai, Andre Meyerhans is also a designer of jewellery.

25. Omid Rouhani
OmidRouhani Architectural Design
Holder of a Masters in designs for a desert environment and an academic Omid Rouhani established his Dubai practice in 2010. Among his current projects are two contrasting homes on the Palm Jumeirah, Dubai, one built with a horizontal theme, the other vertical.

26. Samaya Dabbagh
Dabbagh Architects
Born in Saudi Arabia, but a resident of both the UK and France Samaya Dabbagh runs her own practicein Dubai as well as serving as Hon Sec for the Gulf chapter of the Royal Institute of British Architects which promotes design excellence across the globe

27. Yahya Jan
vice president
Norr Group
Yahya Jan played a leading role in the development of Dubai’s Emirates Towers and his work is a major part of the skyline in Kuwait where he designed the Trade Centre, Bahrain and Jordan.

28. Raya Ani
RAW-NYC Architects
Raya Ani is also a representative for the American Institute of Architects in the region. Her company won Leisure Project of the Year at this year’s MEA Awards for a sustainable sports facility in Doha.

29. Kourosh Hajizadeh
Hajizadeh Partners
Voted Middle East Architect of the Year for 2013 Kourosh Hajizadeh has been instrumental in developing projects which emphasise the history and culture of his native country of Iran.

30. Fariborz Hatam
FHSI Architects
One of the most forward thinking members of Dubai’s design and build profession, Fariborz Hatam promotes connectivity and human scale architecture in his designs.

31. Sandra Woodall
design director tangram
Sandra Woodall was a winner at the 2013 Middle East Architect awards for Sustainable Project and her company was highly commended in last year’s Large Firm category.

32. Steve Velegrinis
Perkins + Will
Currently heading up the urban design team at Perkins + Will Steve Velegrinis is looking to long term development projects in the UAE to cater for an increasingly established population. He also teaches at the American University of Sharjah.

33. Tim Makower
Makower Architects
Tim Makower is playing a leading role in the regeneration of Old Doha while at the same time ensuring the best of its heritage is preserved.

34. Harry Downie
Harry Downie is at the helm of RMJM, a major global firm which has moved its centre of operations for Europe to Dubai, which also oversees operations in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

35. Azin Soltani and Farshad Kazerooni
Architects BNS CO
Winners at this year’s Middle East Architect Awards for Community and Cultural Project BNS and its design team have been active in preserving the heritage of Iran, especially in urbanised areas.

36. Tanner Whiney

Skidmore, Owings & Merill
SOM won the Commercial Project of the Year at the MEA Awards for the AlHamra Tower and Tanner Whitney was one of the principle members of the design team.

37. Elizabeth Peters
Associate Director
Elizabeth Peters is one of the region’s foremost experts on BIM technology and an influential voice on how it can bring the design industry forward.

38. Reza Mafakher
XEMA Design Office

39. Mark Powell Kyffin
Abu Dhabi Cultural Authority
Mark Powell Kyffin has been the leading voice behind the ongoing preservation of Qasr Al Hosn, a building in Abu Dhabi which saw the founding of the UAE.

40. Shawn Basler
Regional Director
Perkins Eastman
Shawn Basler is a member of the American Institute of Architects who has designed resorts, hotels, commercial projects and mix-use facilities across the region and is a leading advocate of sustainability.

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