Team from Perkins + Will emphasise importance of outdoor design

Interview Steven Miller

As the ex-patriot population of the UAE becomes less transient, architects need to focus on more “people-centered” projects, say the new urban design team from Perkins + Will.

Steve Velegrinis is its new director and he is working alongside landscape architects Jason Chi and Patrick Soriano with the team’s final member being Rama Husamddine, who specialises in urban design.

Velegrinis explains: “When I first arrived here in the UAE six years ago it was not a place people from other countries stayed very long. But now people are looking to live and work long-term, bring up their families in a place which is safe, offers a great lifestyle and has a multi-cultural population.


“So they have more of a stake in wanting to make the environment as inviting as possible.

“And that is not about the biggest or tallest buildings. It’s places for people.”

Masdar City, The Beach along the Dubai seafront and plans for Dubai Creek were all part of what the team describes as a new direction for regional architecture.

Hussamddine says “Architects need to let go of design aesthetics and build for a better lifestyle for people.

“The Arab tradition emphasies the creation of place where people can meet, whether in community centres or just spaces between buildings. In many ways these spaces have been lost in recent years – but now they are coming back.”

All four members of the team were former employees of Woods Bagot, leaving at different times before re-uniting.

Now they feel they are in a place where they can make a difference in the direction of design.

Velegrinis said: “This region is past the time of speculative development. It is time to focus on livability, sustainability and the end user.

“Interconnectivity and social space is important and we are seeing it coming to the fore in projects such as Dubai’s The Beach.

“Previously building design, such as that of a mall, has focused on the four months of the year when the heat is such a factor. But what about the other eight months? Then it’s a great place to be I’ve lived in Australia and Singapore and the climate here [in the UAE] is better.”

The team has studied the environmental impact of an outside environment and says it is important for the mental health of residents of a city.

Researchers say it can even increase productivity for workers – as a view of trees can increase output by 20%.

“There is a deep human need for the out of doors” says Chi. “People need to be able to breath the air.”

Velegrinis says sustainability goes hand-in-hand with this approach.

“I believe it is important to make the landscape productive,” he says.

“Fruit trees can be grown, rather than just ornamental ones. To cut down on water usage, salt water can be used for decorative features. Developers have been slow in this regards – no-one want to go first and risk failure.

“But it is something we believe in very strongly.”

Master-planning is also important says the team who want to see a growth plan put into place which focuses on connectivity between neighbourhoods with the use of parks, walkways and cycle paths.

Hussamddine says lessons can be learnt from the past.

“Back home in Syria there are open souks, with alleyways which allow in streaks of light.

“They are places for walking, talking and shopping in a way which is really alive and allows you to discover surprises which could never be found in a mall.”

Soriano is an enthusiastic basketball player and says sport played outdoors is another factor which offers a better lifestyle.

“The body just responds differently to playing in a gym and it’s so much healthier,” he says.

The teams says its philosophy is one of looking towards the broader goals of society when considering design options and the pay-off for the public is of fundamental concern.

Velegrinis says: “When it comes to the urban fabric people in the Middle East look to Dubai as a benchmark. So we are in a great position to push forward the boundaries when it comes to the development emphasizing people and the outdoors.”

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