Dewan Architects director speaks of Dubai’s maturing architecture market

The maturing of Dubai’s design market as witnessed by an architect firm which has been in the UAE for more then 30 years

When it comes to longevity across the UAE in the business of design and build, few companies can compare with the record achieved by Dewan Architects + Engineers.

The firm – which takes its name from the Arabic word for a traditional meeting place – has increased its presence across the region as the architectural landscape itself has progressed.


And its long-term staff are in an excellent position to analyser and examine the way the GCC and wider Middle East has become a global force in architecture – from “a school and playground” for designers to a leading exponent of sustainable values.

“Dubai has seen a very radical change over the years in terms of the architectural language-vernacular and in terms of the quality and type of developments,” said Dewan’s director Ammar Al Assam. “In the 80s and early 90s, the Dubai Municipality was the main party responsible for masterplanning the city and developing projects for the Government – administrative buildings, roads and infrastructure etc.”

But as the century drew to a close Al Assam said he saw a change in direction and emphasis.

“Real estate developers were mostly local trading families working with local architects to develop commercial projects including residential, commercial, and retail projects,” he said.

“Towards the late 90s, and led by the vision of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the city was on the verge of beginning its transformational real-estate boom with the initiating of various governmental entities – with very entrepreneurial ambitions and management style – that helped develop sector-specific cities like Internet City, Media City, Business Bay, and so on.

“The government supported private developers like Emaar and Nakheel, also Dubai Properties.

“Also the initiation of laws allowing expats to own property, the general economic growth cycle, and the overall viability of Dubai as a place to live in, work in, visit, and invest in, were the main drivers of transforming this city from a small trading hub into a mega world class city that continues to awe and inspire.”

As these move impacted on the design and build business across the UAE Dewan looked back on experience gained from its formation in 1984 in Abu Dhabi – and emphasised the part that architecture was playing in the creation of Dubai as a new centre for global design.

Al Assam said: “Architecture and urban planning have been instrumental in laying the framework for the successful growth and development of the city in such a short time.

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“Today the buildings we are designing are world-class in terms of the codes we follow – and in terms of the aesthetics and creativity of the design philosophy behind these projects.

“To say that Dubai over the last 20 years has been a ‘school’ for architects to test new ideas, experiment with new design form and materials, would be an understatement as this has been – and continues to be – the ‘playground’ for architects from all walks of life to design their life-long projects.”

As the new century progressed Dewan expanded its operations across the Middle East and recognised a change in philosophy of architecture.

The company had opened its Dubai office in 1999 and worked on projects such as the Vision Tower and the One Tower, and its design team saw a new maturity entering the market with issues such as environmentally friendly materials and energy generation coming to the fore.

“While 2000-2008 were the years of ‘the iconic’, the years 2009-2015 are the years of designing buildings that are high on quality, design aesthetics, that are integrated into the community and urban fabric – and that are high on performance in sustainability and use of materials,” said Al Assam.

“The market has matured, the clients have matured, and the architects have matured and today, for the most case, only projects that are feasible, sustainable, and of quality – within their respective market tiers – are being designed and built.”

In 2012 the company joined the United Nations Global Compact Initiative which recognises and endorses the value to businesses of operating in and ethical environmental and socially responsible manner. The company founder, Mohammed Al Assam, said this is part of the company’s “contribution towards building a sustainable society”.

Ammar Al Assam said this issue is now a vital part of any building design. He said: “We are living in one of the highest carbon footprint/per capita cities in the world, and with such a high pace of development, and associates environmental costs, we must be wary of sustainable practices.

“Today Abu Dhabi is adopting Estidama, and Dubai has the Green Building Code from the Municipality, and all firms are more conscious of sustainable design and materials. We are on the right track.”

An international focus on the region has also helped the company. Al Assam said: “Architects like Dewan have also benefited by interacting with world-class international firms that have come to work in Dubai and needed partners. “Now, with our 30 years of experience on some of the largest and most complex of projects, Dewan can safely stay that we are ‘world-class’ and this is what Dubai does to hard working firms – they transform them in parallel with the transformation of the city.”

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Vision for growth Ammar Al Assam said the speed of development in Dubai had been a major surprise to him.

“I don’t think anybody expected this sort of pace,” he said.

“Excellent leadership, good government support and transparency, along with solid planning, has helped steer this vision. Of course the global and regional, economic climates, and the local geo-political situation has also influenced Dubai’s growth positively.

“The leadership strongly believes (and rightly so) that with solid foundations of government support, transparency, supporting the private sector, focussing on tourism, being a ‘happy city’ and continuing to be hungry and ambitions to be number one will see Dubai continue to grow and prosper for sure.

“We can look forward to more growth, more sustainable growth, and Dubai becoming a world-class economic, tourism, and commercial hub on part with London, New York and Paris. If not higher.”

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