1. Would you say Dubai is still in an era of the ‘iconic building’ and the ‘starchitect’?

Anyone visiting Dubai, especially as a Designer or Architect, would most certainly agree that Dubai strives to remain at the forefront of iconic Architecture and Interior. Over the years, Dubai has paved the way for innovative, modern and creative design including well known buildings worldwide such as Dubai’s older architectural icons like the ‘Burj Al Arab’ which was completed in 1999, ‘Emirates Towers’ completed in 2000, and of course the award winning ‘Burj Khalifa’ which still holds the title of the ‘tallest building in the world’.

In the past few years alone, Dubai has continued to develop idealistic buildings and create stunning interiors at an extremely rapid rate. Dubai Marina’s ‘Cyan Tower’ continues to demonstrate the unique architecture that the Middle East is now so well known for, with its futuristic and twisting design that was achieved by rotating each floor by 1.2 degrees clockwise so that the 75-floor residential tower rotates a full 90 degrees from top to bottom. With Dubai being so well known for its construction rotation and numerous skyscrapers that seem to appear out of nowhere overnight, it is only expected that this will continue to be the case in the coming years. 

Projects such as ‘The Opus’ designed by the late Architect, Zaha Hadid, is due to open in September and again demonstrates the innovation of Architecture and Design in Dubai, with its unique balance of sharp lines from a glass cube and stunning central void.

2. Would you say developers in the region are looking for ‘the next Bilbao’ to work on their projects? If not, what (in your opinion) are they looking for in an architect/designer – what helps win the project?

With so many developments in the Middle East, it is certainly expected of a Designer or Architect in Dubai to be at the top of their game and to continuously push the boundaries of design through creativity, innovation and above all, individuality and uniqueness. Having said that, although Dubai has developed at a rapid rate, through our 15 years of experience in the industry and having worked on projects across multiple sectors, we have always seen that developers tend to prioritize the return on investment, budgets and selling rate (as they should).

Both worldwide and throughout the UAE, quite often developers are looking for the best design at the lowest cost. As a designer, it is important to be able to design to any budget whilst also meeting the needs and expectations of the client. Simple design solutions such as indirect lighting can be extremely cost effective and the end results can be stunning. Longstanding relationships with high quality suppliers worldwide can also help to secure projects as most of the time you have access to prices that developers or end-user clients would not have directly. To be able to tell a client that you are able to achieve their vision for 30% less than what they had initially planned to spend, will likely secure you that contract.

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3. How heavily does the region’s architecture/design industry rely on trends from the West?

The regions Architecture/Design industry certainly relies on trends from the West. With so many expats living and working in the MENA region (Dubai specifically), designers and architects alike have all adapted and incorporated such trends throughout their work. With Dubai being a relatively new city in comparison to those in Scandinavia, other parts of Europe and the Americas, many well-known brands and styles can now be found throughout the region.

As a designer in Dubai, there is always many factors to consider when creating any kind of concept. These includes the client’s needs, requirements and vision, the glamour and luxury of the Dubai market and the styles, technologies and materials that come along with this part of the world, and finally the design studio’s ‘signature style’. We believe in order to create the ideal project for a client, you must know how to balance these elements and design in a way that allows them all to work harmoniously.

In many ways, Dubai has its own Arabesque, glamourous and extravagant style that is usually softened through applying the styles and trends of the west, therefore creating a unique vision that is not found elsewhere.

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4. Have you noticed any instances of architecture/design in the Middle East being exported/adopted overseas? If so, when did you start to notice this and can you give any specific examples? (Alaa)

After construction of the world’s tallest tower ‘Burj Khalifa’ in 2010, we noticed that this inspired many international architects to create their own versions of tall skyscrapers. With the ‘Burj Khalifa’ being such a prominent icon in the Middle East and worldwide, it became clear that pushing the boundaries of architecture on an international scale was to become apparent.

Two examples that come to mind in this instance is the construction of ‘The Shard’ building in London, UK. Irvine Sellar, The Shard’s developer and joint owner is the man behind the ambitious vision of creating an architecturally striking vertical city located in the heart of one of the world’s busiest cities. The Shard was developed to incorporate retail units, offices, a hotel, apartments, restaurants and a public viewing gallery; similar to that of the Burj Khalifa. The ‘Shanghai Tower’ in China is another great example of how Dubai’s architectural innovation sparked similar developments in the east. ‘Shanghai Tower’ was completed in 2016 and currently stands as the tallest building in China and East Asia.

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Designed by American architectural firm ‘Gensler’ and headed up by Shanghainese architect ‘Jun Xia’, this 128 story tower encapsulated in a glass façade, demonstrates yet another pinnacle of architecture inspired by that of trends from the Middle East.

5. Can you identify an area in the GCC where historic and contemporary designs co-exist beautifully? (Alaa)

There are many areas in the GCC where historic and contemporary designs co-exist beautifully. From an Architectural perspective, Sheikh Zayed Road demonstrates perfectly the blending of older structures with newer, more contemporary architecture. Together it creates a timeless stream of innovative skyscrapers that is ever changing.

Madinat Jumeirah located in Dubai, is another beautiful example of the delicate combination of historic and contemporary design. Based on the concept of a traditional Arabian town, this luxurious 5* resort is the largest in the Emirate and spreads across 40 hectares of landscapes and gardens incorporating boutique hotels, retail shops, a traditional Souk, restaurants, spa’s and wellness retreats as well as residential communities. As well as the stunning design and architecture of this high-end resort, 5.4km of waterways link the various areas of the resort with traditional Abras to transport guests. From a design perspective, what gives this resort such an iconic status is that it has brought Arabian tradition into the twenty first century and is now a hub of modern day life juxtaposed with older values and design.

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The ‘Museum of the Future’ on Sheikh Zayed Road also showcases a more modern contemporary architecture with older traditions. The building itself is somewhat futuristic yet incorporates calligraphy engravings on its facade to resemble the regions history.

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