Meet the directors at regional architecture office Dewan

A force in the Middle East’s urban development, Dewan Architects + Engineers was established in Abu Dhabi in 1984 by founder and current chairman Mohamed Al Assam. More than 30 years later, Dewan now has offices in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Riyadh, Basra, Baghdad, Manila, Doha and Barcelona, and its portfolio includes a number of respected buildings across the region. With iconic projects like Dubai’s Vision Tower cementing the firm’s role in the regional industry, Dewan has gone on to deliver mega developments, such as Dubai’s City Walk (phase one) and Lapita Hotel. This issue, Middle East Architect sits down with some of its directors to discuss the company’s value of team work.

Hussein Saleh, Principal designer

Iraqi architect Hussein Saleh joined Dewan in 1998 – more than 10 years after graduating from the University of Baghdad. An emerging architect at the time that had been designing villas across the Iraqi capital, Saleh has happily grown with Dewan. Today, the principal designer’s portfolio spans across different sectors, including residential and commercial developments, villas and palaces across the UAE, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

“The eloquence of architecture is measured by how a building is put together, the joining of materials, the colour scheme,” Saleh said. “Together these elements retain the integrity of each part of the building – whether it’s a small apartment or a university campus.”

According to Saleh, architecture must simultaneously respond to various factors, from the client’s programme to the budget and site. “When I say the site, I don’t only mean the dimensions and the area, but the built environment, the climate and society,” he said. “The design has to respond to all of these factors to create a building that really fits into its context.”

Saleh runs a formidable team of designers at Dewan, which he insists work as one crucible. Infusing his artistic philosophies into his work ethic (“he and his team are considered guardians of Dewan’s architectural identity,” said colleague Samer Touqan), Saleh likely has a way of inspiring those he manages. “We share the same passion towards architecture,” he said, “and we believe that design can help societies thrive, not just survive.”

Yann Pennes, Projects director

Having worked as an architect and project manager for the French Foreign Ministry in Sweden, Zimbabwe and South Africa, Yann Pennes joined Dewan in 2008 as design manager and was appointed projects director in 2012. In the nine years since becoming a part of the Dewan team, Pennes has approached his projects with an international eye tailored to local conditions.

Among his extensive portfolio, Pennes noted the Fountain Views project with Emaar and Reem Mall in Abu Dhabi as some of his favourites to work on. “They addressed my interest for both very large and high-rise towers,” he said.

“It also marked a real step [forward] in the types of projects the company was able to access and successfully deliver in terms of size and complexity. The variety of projects the firm has and is working on is a great driver, such as the French Embassy in Baghdad and the Fairmont Hotel in Abu Dhabi.”

According to Pennes, architecture is about team work. At Dewan, he oversees the delivery of the projects with Saleh and Touqan. While Saleh develops the initial design concept in collaboration with Touqan, Pennes follows through with the design development, managing the contract award and project completion.

“With each project I try to bring the team together,” he said. “Architecture is based on team work and collaboration – without those, projects cannot succeed. For me, that’s a main driver for every project… I find it interesting that the same message is reflected in the company’s name, Dewan – a place to meet and exchange.”

Samer Touqan, Projects director

Joining Dewan in 2004 as design studio manager, Samer Touqan has slowly moved up the company’s ladder. Currently a projects director, the architect has delivered a number of developments including the rehabilitation of Al Najajreh in Bethlehem, the Kempinsky Hotel in Djibouti, and Media One in Dubai. Touqan’s other projects, like the Abu Dhabi Educational Council and the ENOC Tower were awarded for their ingenuity.

“At Dewan, I’ve been privileged to work under Chairman Mohamed AI Assam’s supervision – I owe a lot of my technical skill to him today,” Touqan said. “During the development of my career at Dewan, I’ve had to deal with many technical and interpersonal challenges. I was privileged to be a part of the team that handled our first high-rises in Dubai, and our collaborations with international architects, such as TVS Architects, 5+ and Nikken Sekkei.”

While Touqan has worked on a number of large-scale commercial projects, his earlier work mostly consists of rehabilitation work. Following his graduation from the University of Jordan in the early 1990s, Touqan was involved in reviving historic buildings and sites, and looks back fondly on his efforts in Bethlehem as well as Corsica. Nonetheless, working in Dubai for the last two decades has drawn Touqan to high-rises.

“I’m interested in the small details that make a difference and contribute to healthy living spaces. A poorly designed tower is likely to present symptoms of a ‘sick building’,” he said. “After developing our BIM department, we’re focused on widening the implementation of BIM as a tool for simulation for a wider range of applications.”

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