Global economy affecting design and architecture in the UAE

Daniel Hajjar from HOK and Joseph Romano from RW Arms

Architecture and design firms in the UAE have started working on more sustainable projects in the past year as local businesses adjust to the new global economy, according to the attendees at the Design Executive Roundtable, held last week at The Office Exhibition 2011 in Dubai.

Most agreed the new global economy was causing an increase in demand for sustainable architecture and interior design in the UAE. However, they were divided on whether clients fully understood the benefits of going green or whether it was the economic situation behind the design shift.

“There’s no doubt that the current status of building practice has improved. Clients have a better understanding of the long-term viability of projects. The economic situation has created a wonderful paradigm shift and is perhaps the greatest contribution to sustainability in the longest time,” said Joseph Romano, developer sector leader, RW Armstrong.


The session was convened by the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) and chaired by Peter Di Sabatino, Dean of the College of Architecture, Art & Design at the American University of Sharjah.

“It is our job and responsibility to educate our clients about the bottom line benefits of sustainable design. This is how we can ensure the practice of sustainability becomes a fundamental market shift rather than simply a reaction to economic imperatives,” said Daniel Hajjar, senior vice president and regional manager MENA, HOK Hajjar.

They said there was a lack of local market understanding of the requirements of LEED certification, a provision of UAE green building codes, with some calling for greater legislation.

“It is only a matter of time before companies comply with sustainability. There is definitely more awareness about the importance of environmental responsibility here in the UAE. It even influences purchasing behaviour in supermarkets. Legislation will follow, but I think we’ll see more companies voluntarily comply with green building codes before then,” said Van Tran, head of development and marketing, UAE Business Council for Sustainable Development.

Ben Corrigan, principle and founding partner, interiors consultancy Bluehaus, said a lack of professional qualifications among design practitioners in the UAE remains a threat to the process.

“We need legislation in the UAE to ensure practising designers have the right qualifications. At the moment, a contractor who has an engineer with a trade license can also practice design. There’s no clear way of understanding who is doing what and that undermines market maturity,” he said.

They welcomed the recent arrival of international professional associations like the Royal Institute of British Architects and the American Institute of Architects to the UAE. However, they said it was important for local universities to encourage critical thinking as a grassroots approach for strengthening the UAE’s creative economy.

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