GAJ talks design trends ahead of Cityscape AD

Partners Nathan Cartwright and Simon Chambers at Godwin Austen Johnson (GAJ) give insight on their company's plans for the year ahead of its participation in Cityscape Abu Dhabi, which runs from 18 - 20, April, 2017

Cityscape Abu Dhabi will run from 18 - 20, April, 2017.
Cityscape Abu Dhabi will run from 18 - 20, April, 2017.

How was business for GAJ in the UAE during 2016?

2016 started slowly for us but started to pick up by the summer continuing on an upward trajectory for the remainder of last year and into 2017. This is evidenced in both the number of enquiries we are receiving and the number of projects being awarded. The outlook is positive and what started as a slow ebb a couple of years ago has gradually increased in scale and speed.


Could you provide details of some of the major projects within GAJ’s current portfolio (project name, scope, sector, etc.)?

We have seen an increase in the number of new schools as well as a surge in the number of new hotels in the region which currently accounts for approximately 60% of all new enquiries. We currently have a number of hospitality projects underway across the Middle East, specifically in the key tourist destinations of UAE, Oman and Saudi Arabia. 

In UAE we are involved in a number of hospitality projects including the below:

  • Gulf Hotel Business Bay. This will be Gulf Hotel Groups first hotel outside of their home country of Bahrain. The hotel will be a 5 star business hotel, catering for both local and international guests.
  • Al Wathba Hotel, Abu Dhabi. This is a 5 star desert resort currently under construction in Abu Dhabi. The hotel is due to open towards the end of 2017.

We are also involved in a number of hospitality projects, in Oman, as listed below:

  • Dhofar Beach Resort is a new 5 star resort under construction in Salalah, Oman. This hotel will be operated by Shaza Hotels, and will mainly cater for the GGC market. The hotel is due to open towards the end of this year.
  • Mysk is a 4 star hotel currently under construction in Muscat, Oman and is due to open towards the middle of this year.

We are also involved in a number of hospitality projects, in KSA, as listed below:

  • The Doubletree by Hilton and Hilton Garden Inn in Riyadh is a unique concept where both hotels are to be contained within one building. This hotel is due to open early 2018.
  • Courtyard by Marriott, Riyadh is a 5 star hotel we are currently designing in Riyadh.
  • Four Points Sheraton, Unaizah, is a 4 star resort we are currently designing in Unaizah, KSA.


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What, in your opinion, are the biggest contemporary focusses within the UAE’s design community?

There are a number of factors that are starting to shape the design industry that look set to continue over the next year or so

Sustainable Design

The profile of energy conservation and ecological concerns continues to increase in the market, a trend that will continue as the cost of utilities increases. The drive for sustainable design and the recognition that sustainable design is relevant and required in the region is gaining momentum, although we still see some resistance in getting over the argument that green costs more, which need not be the case.

Our projects aim to reduce the energy consumption for our clients and many have set benchmarks in sustainable design, construction and operation. With our work on the Ladybird Early Learning Centre, for example, we developed an early education setting that was the first in the Middle East and the fourth worldwide to receive the United States Green Building Council's LEED Gold Certification. Likewise the Arcadia Preparatory School, another of our recently completed projects is also now LEED certified. 

Social spaces

Hospitality design is evolving. As the millennial generation starts to make up a larger proportion of hotel guests their demands and preferences are clearly quite different from the generations before them.  For them, what’s important is value for money. Large guest rooms are not as important as high speed internet or bathroom amenities. They just want functional uncluttered spaces.

This trend is definitely on its way to the Middle East which, until recently, has resisted the idea of budget hotels, focusing instead largely on the luxury market.

Offices are also recognising the need to rethink designs to cater to a changing workforce that is fully functional with a laptop, smart phone and a place to share ideas. Today’s workplace has idea walls, reconfigurable soft seating furniture and communal social spaces allowing for much greater flexibility and the ability to re-purpose when required.


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BIM gaining ground

The vision of BIM is gradually transforming our industry as more and more stakeholders come to realise its potential. Not only does it help designers and contractors to visualise problems in advance before construction begins, it also cuts down on rework and avoids duplication by acting as a single source of truth.  Ultimately this approach will encompass the entire life-cycle of a building from inception to demolition.  BIM treats a building as a highly-structured data-set that can be filtered and manipulated in different ways for different purposes. This idea of a central database, accessible to multiple users via many kinds of device, is pervading all aspects of our lives. 

It has changed the way we find information, play music, shop, and socialise.  Ultimately BIM is just a label we pin to this digital revolution as it sweeps across the construction industry.  It’s changing our way of working in very fundamental ways, but it will inevitably take time to reach full maturity.

What are GAJ’s priorities for Cityscape Global 2017?

Cityscape Global provides us with the opportunity to showcase our company and expertise as well as the projects, both current and built that we have worked on. Our attendance at this show also allows us to meet new and existing clients.

We will have representatives from our architecture, interior design, lighting and MEP team on the stand throughout the show to meet with clients and to talk through our capabilities. 


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