Face to face: Kambadur, Magill & Steinhauer – RSP

One of Asia’s largest architectural practices, RSP is celebrating 60 years of continuous growth, not to mention a decade in the Middle East

INTERVIEWS, Projects, Africa, Architecture, Asia Pacific, BIM, Building Information Modeling, China, Palm Jumeirah, RSP Architects, Singapore

The Palm Jumeirah is one of the most recognisable man-made marine landscapes in the world and home to some of the most vibrant residential and hospitality offerings in Dubai. In the next couple of years, Dubai’s residents and visitors alike will be given the chance to aerially view and experience the fronds and the trunk of it, linking to the shoreline, from a new observatory deck.

This project — part of a mall and tower, which will integrate the existing monorail system — has been bought to fruition by RSP, an architecture company celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.

Managing director, Michael Magill, says: “This is one of the most significant architectural statements, now underway in Dubai. The two landmark projects currently under construction on Palm Jumeirah are part of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s vision to create more attractions for the citizens and visitors of the UAE.

“The integration of the monorail into the retail mall will create a fascinating and unique experience. A viewing platform on top of the tower will allow visitors to experience and visualise the scale of the Palm Jumeirah for the first time. RSP is very proud and excited to be part of this world-class project.”

The development is just the latest in the track record of RSP, which stretches back to 1956, when Raglan Squire and his partners set up a branch of his English practice, Raglan Squire & Partners, in Singapore.

The company has flourished over the decades and now has 15 offices in six countries, including key cities in Asia, and employs more than 1,400 professionals.

RSP began making inroads into the UAE in the 1980s, resulting in its first commission by the local business conglomerate, Al Habtoor Group, to design a 250-key hotel in Dubai. The success of the project led to numerous new commissions and, keeping pace with the region’s dramatic growth, the firm set up RSP Middle East in 2004. Initially the company was awarded projects by the country’s two major developers.

Director Ralf Steinhauer says: “The practice continued to thrive, delivering Rihan Heights, Abu Dhabi, in 2009, which offers smart technology for efficient energy usage, [and] high-end living standards.

“That same year, RSP ME secured the design of the new Al Rajhi Bank Headquarters Tower in Riyadh, KSA. The 3,200-employee corporate office will be the new HQ of the world’s largest Islamic bank.”

Global developer Emaar also appointed RSP ME to design a number of large-scale master plans across the UAE and North Africa, including the King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) in Saudi Arabia.

Magill says that the RSP team has seen Dubai coming of age after the global economic downturn in 2009 and, because of its experience in the more mature market of Singapore, it was able to quickly adapt to the changing marketplace.

He continues: “Our clients had already realised we were here for the long term. It wasn’t a case of finishing two or three projects and then getting out. After the global downturn, developers started to change their perspective to emphasise sustainability and efficiency. RSP, therefore, strengthened and grew its local presence.”

And RSP is continuing to draw on its Singapore home base for experience and ideas for future projects.

Director Prabhanjan Kambadur explained that the Singapore office is at the forefront of using building information modeling (BIM) throughout all aspects of the design and construction process.

In collaboration with the clients and the contractors, it uses the technology from the project setup to handover, even after completion. In Dubai, the office has been fully BIM-compliant since 2011, and the firm is now waiting for more consultants and contractors to implement it as well.

Kambadur says: “Pre-fabrication will be a big change to construction processes in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, as time and money will be saved utilising these construction methods.

“So far, most of our clients have utilised conventional technologies in designing and building a project. But in the next 10 years, we will see a paradigm shift towards optimised solutions.”

Singapore-based managing director, Lai Huen Poh, who also leads the engineering division, charts the strategic directions and business performance of the firm.

With more than four decades of architectural experience, he has been steering the firm’s expansion to other global markets, including the Middle East. He says: “Work processes and best practices have been perfected in the past 60 years by RSP. This vast amount of experience and knowledge is shared with every office globally to ensure smooth and efficient processes leading to successful outcomes.”

The company has identified Africa as its next target growth area. Its experts believe that it is an emerging market with rising demand for mixed-use, retail, hospitality, and educational developments.

Steinhauer concludes: “Geographically, RSP ME serves as the main facilitator and gateway to Africa for our clients in China, Singapore, and the Asia Pacific region. We cater to companies [that] are looking for the right-fit consultants for their projects in the African continent.

“Therefore, to begin with, we are currently working on large-scale projects in countries like Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Mauritius.”

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