UK's Aukett Swanke bolsters MidEast presence with new partnership

Aukett Swanke and Omid Rouhani team up to consolidate UAE presence

The Adelphi Building London.
The Adelphi Building London.

A desire for longevity in the Middle East and to provide a continuing contribution to the maturing design and build industry in the UAE has led to UK-based global firm Aukett Swanke entering into a partnership with Dubai’s Omid Rouhani Architectural Design.

The British firm has been working in the region since 2007 but is looking to consolidate its presence, using a business philosophy of embracing local established practices when expanding into new areas of operation.

Managing director for the Middle East region, Stephen Embley, said: “We wanted to replicate a successful business model in which we work alongside a local provider who can offer high-end design and is able to deliver what the local market needs.

“We do not want to be part of a ‘flying in and flying out’ culture. We want to be part of the fabric of the region. When we met up with Omid we felt he had all the necessary qualities, including placing a high importance on research and development.

“This is also part of our policy to encourage a mix of races and cultures and both men and women within our business.”

The company has offices based across the world, in places as disparate as Moscow, Istanbul, Berlin, Prague and Bogota.

However each is locally administered and while expertise is shared, a financial setback, such as one the company experienced when Russian projects were halted, does not hit the rest of its global operations.

Current projects in Dubai from Aukett Swanke include a mall which is based on the IKEA model, where customers will examine products in a showroom, ranging from items of furniture to full-fitted rooms, and then order them online to be delivered from the client’s Chinese manufacturing plants.

Another development is a 370 key top-range hotel on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, but it is in the area of refurbishment that the company is becoming increasingly active.

Among its most recent projects are refits of the Kempinski, Address and Atlantis hotels in Dubai.

Globally the company has been recognised for its expertise in the area of retrofitting, including work on the Grade II Listed Ten Trinity Square in London, site of a Four Seasons hotel and residences, along with the city’s modernist Adelphi Building, a River Thames landmark.

In the UK similar developments have also been low-rise and situated away from large city centres. However the firm sees that its approach can be broadened to encompass more ambitious projects.

“We have been working on the site of the Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia,” said CEO Nicholas Thompson. “There were large blocks built for temporary accommodation [for athletes and officials] and these were all designed so they could be converted into flats, providing a legacy use by recycling the space in differing layouts.”

The firm feels that conversion of use is an area in which it can operate extremely successfully in the Middle East, as the original designers and engineers who created the urban landscape took their blue-prints from London or New York and didn’t take into account the severity of the climate and conditions structures face in a desert environment.

So now many structures need to be made fit for current purpose, and if their uses are obsolete, they can be changed, said the company.

“Clients are coming to see that refurbishment is cost effective,” said Embley. “Legacy is now an issue and is being taken on board. Compared to 10 years ago the market has matured and the life-cycle of a building is becoming increasingly important.”

Thompson also emphasised that a long-term approach is now the right one to take when looking to make an impact on design and construction in the Middle East, especially with regard to Dubai.

“Hospitality is very important here,” he said. “And in order for it to be fit-for-purpose a hotel needs to be refurbished every seven or eight years. This is something which we feel can provide a regular income stream for our company, rather than relying on project-by-project work.

“It is also an aspect which is very important for the staff as it provides for continuing work, so making jobs more secure and enabling long-term approaches to be taken. Longevity is the model for us. If we are going to prosper we do not want key players to leave, we want them to remain with us and grow alongside the company.”

Attracting local talent was also a key reason for the merger, said Omid Rouhani, who teaches UAE students, as well as running his business.

“It is important that Emiratis realise that here is a company which wants them to come and work and join its staff in a way that they can play a major part, rather than just be employed in a slightly token way,” he explained.

Thompson emphasised this approach is part of an attempt to reflect as many cultures and approaches within the firm as possible.

He said: “It may be that we see a shift across the business over the next 10 years from a largely western, and Indian, emphasis to one that is much more Emirati.”

Article by CW contributor Nick Aimes. 


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