Technology has “incrementally improved the way we do things”
CW speaks with Al Shafar Interiors (ASI) on the firm’s GCC expansion plans, current & future projects, and technology adoption
Construction projects in the region, despite the slowdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, are gradually getting back on pace.
This means, it is business as usual for interior fit-out companies, which make properties — unlike commercial, residential, or leisure and entertainment — a desirable and comfortable space.
However, the fit-out industry has been witnessing many challenges, the biggest of which are “reduction in sales and availability of work”, according to Dimitri Papakonstantinou, the managing director of Dubai-based fit-out company, Al Shafar Interiors (ASI), a subsidiary of construction conglomerate ASGC.
In an exclusive interview with Construction Week, Papakonstantinou says: “This obviously means you have to work harder to get it.”
ASI has, in the past, worked on some of the most renowned projects in Dubai, including City Walk Phase 1 & 2, La Mer, Valiant Clinic, Bay Square, Emirates International School (EIS), Waldorf Astoria, among others.
Expo 2020 Dubai projects
The fit-out firm has been involved with five national pavilions that it is working on alongside the parent group, ASGC.
Papakonstantinou states: “We are very fortunate to have secured some exciting projects.
“We have a fair amount of work going on at the Expo 2020 Dubai site at the moment, with five national pavilions including Azerbaijan, Australia, and Ukraine, and two others, names of which cannot be disclosed.”
“We are also involved with the Sustainability Pavilion, where our scope of work is fairly limited.
We are fitting-out the auditorium and doing the base fit-out of the exhibition and bathroom areas.”
At the World Expo’s site, ASI is also fitting-out a G+9 storey building near the Al Wasl Plaza for Dubai-headquartered real estate developer Emaar.
“During the Expo, Emaar will be hosting its functions here.”
Explaining about the firm’s scope of work for the pavilions, Papakonstantinou says: “For the national pavilions, we are covering a whole bunch of elements starting from exploration to structural works to fit-out to the exhibition and the content.
However, structural works is not something that we generally get involved in, but we do have the capability within the group. So, we started to pursue it that way.”
He continues: “Additionally, some of these contracts are design-and-build, such as the Australia and Ukraine pavilions,” and adds that “working on these pavilions have been some of the most unique opportunities to be involved in.
The exhibition and the content too are very specific to Expo projects, which are once in a career opportunity,” he exclaims.
Current & future projects
In February this year, ASI was awarded fit-out, false ceiling, drywall partition, and joinery works for Meraas’ Dubai Cruise Terminal, located between Bluewaters and Palm Jumeirah at Dubai Harbour, by the main contractor ASGC.
Despite the fact that ASI’s parent firm, ASGC, is the main contractor, the fit-out company, like others, bids for its projects.
Papakonstantinou says: “We never automatically get any other work from our parent company. They make us work for it, and rightfully so, to show that they are getting the best price in the market. All the work we do for ASGC is tendered.”
He adds: “It is not a definite thing that we will always win [tenders] from ASGC. But, we certainly tender all our work with them.”
Like its parent company, ASI too considers sustainability as one of the main elements to focus on within its scope, and at work. “It is something that we practice on all our projects,” Papakonstantinou says.
“We measure on a constant basis the ways to execute our work by minimising paperwork, in terms of digitising our processes.
This is currently also being practiced at our factory in Dubai Investment Park (DIP), where we segregate our waste and ensure that we reduce it as much as possible.”
Prioritising health & safety
Health and safety is among “the highest ranking KPIs for individuals and not just the HSE department and all of the management,” according to Papakonstantinou.
“We ensure constant communication with our workers at the construction sites. We have to understand that the risks are constantly changing, because of which, continued communication has become a thing of paramount importance.”
The managing director adds: “Even at the expo sites we along with ASGC have set a benchmark in regards to health and safety.
We have separate health and safety programmes for our projects, as each project is different in terms of its conditions and sites.”
2019 marks milestones
The year 2019 had been exciting for ASI that delivered fit-out and joinery works for projects across entertainment, healthcare, hospitality, and residential sectors in Dubai.
These projects include the Coca-Cola Arena, where the company was awarded joinery works, with the main contractor being ASGC, and Dar Al Handasah acting as the consultant.
Another project was the 10-storey Mediclinic Parkview Hospital, located on Umm Suqeim Road in Al Barsha. ASI was in-charge of the joinery works at the 188-bed development.
Papakonstantinou tells Construction Week: “We also did the full fit-out of the residences and some of the public areas at the Taj Hotel in JLT.” The company was also awarded joinery works at the hospitality project.
He adds: “At Bluewaters we were involved with the residential side of the project providing joinery works.”
Meanwhile, the firm also won another joinery contract for the Green Community Expansion project, developed by Dubai Financial Market-listed Union Properties.
The construction sector has embraced the use of technology, wherever possible, to be able to deliver projects better and avoid faults.
This has been the case for construction stakeholders including fit-out firms. ASI too has kept open arms, adopting technological advancement for good.
“Technology is something that not just ASI, but ASGC as a group has a strong policy for.
“All of the technologies, whether it is Revit, virtual reality (VR), or drones, have incrementally improved the way we do things,” Papakonstantinou explains.
Going beyond the UAE
Currently, ASI only operates in the UAE. Papakonstantinou notes that the firm is “looking at opportunities beyond the UAE”.
“We do have plans to venture out in other GCC countries. We are looking at possibilities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
“In fact, our parent company ASGC has a long presence in Egypt, so we are also looking at that as the possible next step,” he concludes.