Design professor

During the darkest days of the downturn, when design firms across the region were scaling back operations or shutting up shop, Naga Architects ramped up its hiring efforts and went on the search for new opportunities.

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Part of this involved broadening its geographical scope – the Boston-headquartered design firm is now present in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia, with plans to expand into Europe and the UK currently in the pipeline.

Diversification plans were also put into play, resulting in the recent launch of a new arm that focuses on fit-out work. Steering this success was Shams Eldien Naga, who founded the company in 2000 and has managed it ever since.

With a BA and MS in Architecture from Alexandria University, Egypt, an MS in urban planning from Rutgers University in NJ, US and a Ph.D. in architecture theory from the University of Pennsylvania, US, Naga takes a very academic approach to the business of design. CID caught up him to find out more about the firm’s plans moving forward.

Tell us about Naga Architects. Naga Architects is an American inter-disciplinary company based in Boston, with offices in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia. Proposed future offices will be opened in Europe and the UK.

We are a planning and design firm that revolves around the urban environment. We persevere to provide highly distinct levels of services in the fields of urban master planning and design, architectural and interior design, landscape, building engineering and construction management.

Having architectural design at its core, Naga has proven that good design requires a deep understanding of various social, economic, physical and environmental aspects.

Integrating such services has been among the most important ingredients in the success of Naga Architects since its inception in 2000.

Is diversification a key aspect of your growth strategy? Yes. We have set up another arm that focuses on fit-out work, which enables us to take projects from initial to final stage of construction, starting with the brief and ending with handing the project over to the client.

Our contract with the French Consulate for their offices in Habtoor Towers, which includes design stage up to fit-out work is a sample of our complete turnkey process.

We were one of the few firms that increased hiring during the recession years, when the others laid off many and some shut down their branches. With our international team’s efforts we have not only survived, but also flourished.

During this time, we tried to maintain and develop our administrative system in house. For the flow of the project information we use a PIM (Project Information Management) system that addresses the basic needs of organising, finding, tracking, sharing, monitoring and reusing technical project information.

Also, with the support of BIM and Revit Software, we have excellent co-ordination, from architecture to structure, MEP and site supervision.

Have you seen an improvement in the market over recent months? Recently, the nature of our projects has changed a little. The residential sector has been stronger than the commercial during the recession.

Clients are more conscious about their money and are using this opportunity to start building their residential villas. During the downturn they could negotiate to get better prices with higher quality.

Is the interiors side of the business performing better than the architecture side? Possibly yes. There is oversupply of buildings on the Dubai market which makes it a good time for interior jobs, especially when it comes to the commercial and hospitality sectors.

On the other hand, markets in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi are strong and we are getting a lot of requests for architecture from there.

How has Dubai changed since you established an office here ten years ago? People are now more practical than they used to be. They are looking to save costs and energy.

Nowadays they are more aware of the need to pay attention to the environment, and are interested in developing sustainable projects. During this time, clients have become more sophisticated and aware of the design world. We believe that a well educated client is our best client.

In terms of commercial projects, what have you worked on? We have done a number of commercial projects in different countries. Dubai Bank is one of our biggest clients in Dubai. We have already finalised most of their branches throughout the UAE.

We are in the process of doing the Lotus Hotel in Bur Dubai. We finished the tender and the contractor is on board. There is a multi-purpose area, restaurants, gym, pool and various other facilities.

We were also involved with the NMC Hospital. We are experiencing strong demand in Saudi Arabia right now. We have started the Sawary Hotel in Al Khobar, which is under construction.

We have also worked on plenty of large palaces for very high-profile clients, including sheikhs and princess in London, Morocco and Egypt.

What other regional markets are you looking to expand into? The Qatari economy is booming now and doing well. It will follow the same trend as Dubai during the boom times. Saudi and Abu Dhabi too, as they are both strong markets for commercial and residential projects.

Do you have much work in Egypt? We have an open proposal to establish another branch in Egypt, but because of the recent political situation there, we have to observe the situation and decide on the right time to enter the market. We have done a number of projects in Egypt, such as Maymanah in Cairo.

What sets you apart? Rather than placing business before people, Naga Architects will not compromise on servicing the needs, expectations and dreams of its clients, as well as end users.

It will provide leadership in design through promoting a balance of design, technical competency, professionalism, applied technology and quality in service. Our firm’s duty is to make real the vision for a better built environment, preserving specific social values in a modern context.

What are the biggest challenges that you face? Our biggest challenge is meeting our own expectations. We have set a goal to become the leading architect and designer in the region.

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