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Face to face: Rahim Banizaman Lari, Araco

Rahim Banizaman Lari, managing director of Araco, discusses the need to expand the role of consultants in projects, and explains why doing so will benefit property owners and the industry in general

INTERVIEWS, Projects

Rahim Banizaman Lari has a vision, and it’s one that may see him collecting enemies along the way. Talking about this vision of his, the managing director and founder of Abdul Rahim Architectural Consultants (Araco), tells Construction Week that value engineering must be introduced as early as possible – ideally during the pre-design stage of a project – to ensure that costs are kept down without compromising the development’s quality and performance.

It’s the matter of how to ensure this early introduction that Lari notes is the critical part of his vision – and the part that is unlikely to make him popular among the GCC’s contracting community.

“I have a vision of consultants overseeing the project management aspect of construction,” he says. “You could say that project management – and value engineering – is already part of the consultancy business, since it’s our responsibility to help clients save on costs and provide solutions [for] different conditions. But what I’m targeting is another level of project management and value engineering.”

Essentially, Lari’s argument is that consultants need to take on a bigger role when working on projects, and even assume responsibilities that have traditionally belonged to main contractors.

“At the moment, consultants don’t get too involved in the details of construction because that is the contractors’ job. But by leaving the details to the contractors, we’ve noticed instances of them exaggerating the cost for every single item in the building, just so they can keep bigger margins, which is definitely not to the benefit of the project owner,” says Lari.

To mitigate the issue of contractors – whether intentionally or accidentally – inflating project costs, Lari proposes that consultants become more engaged in the details, even to the point of buying the raw materials for the project and hiring level contractors on behalf of the client.

“This would mean consultants taking over the project and doing much more than general consultancy work. Meanwhile, the main contractors will basically become sub-contractors, only doing the civil engineering work,” he elaborates, adding: “This would mean that I will be carrying more responsibilities; that I may end up making contractors my enemy, because I will have to give them the minimum [of the project budget] and take the maximum and manage it on behalf of the owner.”

The risk of upsetting contractors notwithstanding, the idea of a more engaged consultancy sector promises numerous benefits for the construction industry, notes Lari.

Naming one benefit, he says that an expanded role would entail more competitive fees for consultants, which in turn would allow them to boost their capacity and hire more skilled and specialised engineers.

He continues: “There are so many new materials and technologies available in the market. Consultants won’t have the capability to do the required research unless they bring in more staff to learn what’s out there. The way everything is moving and changing so fast, we fall behind sometimes, and that affects projects. Consultants need to be up to date on new materials – on their applications and costs.”

Lari states that it is only by staying current and well-educated on materials and technologies that consultants are able to provide clients and investors with project designs that are not only of top quality, but also sustainable and cost-effective.

Giving an example, he continues: “Precast concrete, for instance, is a solution to the problem of waste created during construction. And yet, it’s barely used, with more than 70% of the buildings here in Dubai still built using conventional construction methods and materials.

“Precast would reduce the amount of waste coming out of construction sites, [so] why isn’t it used more? It comes back to consultants not being able to afford specialised in-house engineers to do precast designs. Araco now has a separate designer who specialises in using precast concrete, but most consultants don’t have the capacity. They depend on subcontractors to help them in the design, but consultants need their independence so they can put together sustainable designs, as well as control the cost.”

Lari points out that his company’s decision to hire a designer specialising in precast concrete is proof of his commitment to seeing his vision to fruition, as are the strategies that he adopted to win several of Araco’s current contracts.

One such project is Al Nafisi Real Estate Group’s development in Dubai’s Satwa area, which consists of 14 residential buildings and is valued at $155m (AED570m). The tender awarded to Araco by the Kuwait-headquartered developer covers architectural activities; structural works; mechanical, engineering, and plumbing (MEP); design and engineering; the obtaining of permits; and complete management of the construction process.

Speaking about the process involved in getting the contract, Lari says Araco faced tough competition from other consultants, but managed to come out on top by presenting the client with a design that balanced cost and quality.

“I didn’t see the designs presented by the other consultants, but I think we were more sensitive to the issue of doing the proper design for the location,” he explains, continuing: “You cannot expect a design that would work in Dubai Marina, for example, to suit other areas in Dubai. You need to come up with a design that is appropriate for the environment and location of the property.

“We also paid special attention to the cost of the project, because the key factor behind the success of projects nowadays is the combination of good design and reasonable cost. We tried to make the project as cost-effective as possible by maximising parking space and interior layout.”

Reiterating his position on value engineering, Lari points out that the practice of developing tender specifications and then inviting contractors to submit their tenders is outdated, as is having project managers come in after the tenders to try to bring the costs down.

“What Araco does now  is thoroughly investigate every single item before the tender, during the design stage. This means that when we say the package allows for, say, lifts or electromechanical systems, or glazing, it will be practical with respect to the size and value of the project,” he says.

Describing himself as being deeply focussed on the issues of project management and value engineering, Lari notes that it’s not a commitment he expects other consultants to make, pointing out that most equate the extra responsibility with extra risk.

“But I believe I am brave enough,” he asserts. “So that’s what I’m doing – trying to achieve my vision.”

Anyone doubting Lari’s determination in realising his goal may want to take note: when he was in ninth grade, he’d already decided to go into architecture, theorising that the architect is the “main cook” in the construction process. Around the same time, he declared he’d one day establish his own design office. He did both.

“I earned my architecture degree in the US in 1981, and then directly came to the UAE. I opened my own company in Sharjah, for which I got my trade licence in 1982. But the business in Sharjah was too slow for me, so I closed that and came to Dubai. I started another company with a partner, and when we separated, that’s when I established Araco,” he explains, concluding: “That was around 30 years ago. We started with small [contracts], because there weren’t many projects back then. But, as you can see, we’ve grown up with Dubai.”

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