Bethel Teferra has been in the UAE for just five months – but already she is working as an engineer on two of the biggest projects in the region.
The 24-year-old, who was bought up in Montreal, Canada, is one of the latest intake of talent working at WSP Group and among her current projects are the extension to Dubai Mall and the Zayed National Museum in Abu Dhabi – which will see pillars rising from the desert sands containing exhibits tracing the rich heritage of the entire region.
And she says everything about her work across the Middle East is thrilling.
“I imagined Dubai to be like this” Teferra says raising her hands just above her head. “But in reality it is like this” she says as she raises her arms as high as possible.
“I wanted to work somewhere awesome – and where is more awesome when it comes to building construction and design than Dubai?”
Teferra studied building engineering at Concordia University in her home city which was a course merging many disciplines.
“It took in planning, design and construction,” she says.
“There was also a very strong emphasis on sustainability and the effect of buildings on the environment. Structural engineering was a speciality for me and I also had the chance to work on projects in Montreal as well as study. These included historic buildings which date from the time of the industrial revolution and which are very important to the city’s heritage. The task was to keep what was there and expand on it.
“Some of the buildings I worked on are among the largest brick-built structures in North America and the aim was to keep the historical architectural aspects – yet modify and retro-fit them for use in the 21st century, whether as offices, retail or residential properties.
“From that internship and my studies I knew I wanted to be involved in challenging projects which advance the field of engineering on a global scale.
“I thought – ok where can I best achieve that? Well, in Dubai.” Teferra then launched herself into cyberspace and started googling.
She typed in “best engineering firms in Dubai” and the first name which came up was WSP, she recalls laughing.
Teferra then contacted the company directly stating her references and the projects she had been involved in.
After graduation and the presentation of a ceremonial Iron Ring – which is given to all Canadian graduates in engineering and is part of a pledge to work for the good of humanity and observe the highest professional standards.
“I told the company I didn’t want to be involved in anything mediocre – I wanted to push the current limits of what is achievable,” she recalls. After conversations via Skype, Teferra found herself with a new job in a place she had never visited – but where she had set her heart on working.
“In North America, Dubai has this reputation of being a sort of luxury place,” she says. “But when I came here I thought I’d arrived on another planet. I was inspired and knew I was in the right place – the best place to be when it comes to top-quality engineering.
“I take the Metro and look out along Sheikh Zayed Road and everywhere I look I see something really amazing and iconic.”
Teferra recalls the time she was informed she would be working on the Dubai Mall extension, which will see new hotels, restaurants, retail properties and parking on a 270,000m2 site.
“I just looked up and said ‘I dreamt about it and here itis ’,” she says. “It’s a challenging project but I have a team leader, Andy Veall, who gives off a zen-like calm even in the most problematic of situations. He is someone that I know I can learn from and who really inspires me.”
Teferra is now looking forward to heading off to Abu Dhabi and getting on site at the new Zayed National Museum which has been designed by UK-based Foster+Partners. It will focus on the life and work of Sheikh Zayed- five times president of the UAE – and also reflect the culture and heritage of the country.
“It will be one of the most amazing buildings in the world when it is finished,” said Teferra, who ends her interview with her philosophy of life: “Aim for the sun and land among the stars”.