Back for good

Aukett Fitzroy Robinson has returned to the UAE with a quest to breathe new life into tired buildings. Oliver Ephgrave meets CEO Nicholas Thompson and Middle East director Stephen Embley.

UK-headquartered firm Aukett Fitzroy Robinson (AFR) may not be a household name but it is certainly a firm on the up. The firm recently won International Practice of the Year at the AJ100, run by The Architects’ Journal, based on increased earnings and staff numbers overseas. Moreover, the practice played a part in the early development of the UAE and recently returned to the Emirates with focused plans of growth in the region.

Sitting in the plush lobby of the Fairmont Hotel Abu Dhabi, CEO Nicholas Thompson believes the AJ award demonstrates the firm’s well-placed commitment to select overseas markets.”I think it recognises that we have stuck with our international marketplace when it’s easy not to.

“People are looking at Dubai merely as a staging post and shrinking their operations. Our business plan for this region is based on growing not shrinking, which is much more exciting. Anybody can shrink but you tend not to tell anyone about that.”

Thompson reveals the company first ventured to the Middle East in 1975, with several buildings completed in the late seventies and early eighties, including Abu Dhabi’s famous National Day Grandstand which now adjoins Capital Gate. AFR departed at the time of the first Gulf conflict, yet re-established in 2007 with a licensed office in Abu Dhabi.

Since its return to the Emirates, AFR has completed projects for Aldar on the Park Inn and Radisson Blu, Yas Island. It is also providing interior services for a yet-to-be-developed tower in Central Market Abu Dubai, designed by Foster + Partners. Recently it picked up work on the Al Hamra Fort Hotel & Beach Resort in Ras Al Khaimah.

The company has long-term goals for Dubai and the UAE, and is planning to establish a strong Middle East hub. Thompson continues: “We operate a hub strategy. One is London, the other is Moscow and the UAE is our third hub. At the moment this is the smallest, but we’re looking to rebuild that position here, probably more in Dubai than Abu Dhabi. Although we are registered in Abu Dhabi we are looking at Dubai probably being commercially more active long term.”

Middle East director Stephen Embley pipes up to underline the strength of the Dubai market. “Dubai is a mature market – it’s been through a crash but post-downturn people are looking at quick responses and reusing the assets they have.

“There has been a big infrastructure spend while other locations are still behind. We feel it is a mature market and one for the future – that’s why we’re willing to invest in staying here to make it a success.”

Thompson adds: “There are obviously other countries in the region that are quite buoyant, Qatar being one, but we aren’t focusing on them. We’re primarily concerned with the emirates, including the smaller ones such as Ras Al Kaihmah. We feel comfortable in this area.

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