HBA, Stickman and Preciosa discuss challenges of work in the Middle East

The Middle East sets itself apart from other regions in many ways including cultural traditions, religion and language, to name a few. But how much do these differences interfere when it comes to designing projects? Regional experts give us their views of some key differences between designing in the Middle East and elsewhere.

“There are probably more similarities than differences in working on projects in the Middle East versus other regions,” Marcos Cain starts off, chairman and co-founder of Stickman. He explains how these diversities create a “unique flavour to projects”.

“This is not just true for our own Stickman tribe of 23 people representing over nine different nationalities, but also for project teams we work with on the clients’ side. This makes work very unqiue, stimulating and interesting, and it’s an opportunity that’s rare in other parts of the world.”

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With all its positivity, Cain points out that diverse teams are also something one should be aware of. “To be successful in working on projects in the Middle East you need to make sure you are able to communicate and manage well across cultures — that’s vital,” he said.

On the other hand, Preciosa’s art director, Jaroslav Bejvl comments that although every region wants to stand out and present designs that are “100% original”. However, when it comes to modern design concepts, the basics always remain the same.

“It comes from the fact that big architectural corporations have their offices worldwide so even [Preciosa] needs to adapt to this [set up].”

On the other hand, Bejvl adds that what really makes a project stand out in different parts of the world is its cultural context.

“If we create chandeliers for palace projects in either Dubai or Russia, we prefer the classic designs of chandeliers with different decorative elements corresponding to the given geographic area and respecting the honour and the history of the country.

“For example, when we created the design for the Royal Palace in Bahrain, I studied in the local museum all the typical decorative elements that are over one-thousand years old, that was subsequently used in the details of the realised lighting fixtures,” he says.

Another factor that affects working across different regions are the regulations, as Cain advises that it is important that one is “aware and has a good understanding of local laws and regulations to ensure designs are in line with the country’s specific standards.

“For example,” he explains, “here in the Middle East we need to be aware of the licensing laws when working on the development for restaurants, bars and lounges. As these outlets need to be under the cloak of a hotel license, you need to understand how this impacts the type of food and beverage spaces you work with and the concepts and designs you will be able to create.”

Another factor that creates challenges with design projects in this region in comparison to others is the weather conditions, Bejvl says.

“These are very important to surface finishes. We often use vacuum titanium nitrade coating as a base layer. After that we put the final surface finish,” a solution to the climate in the Middle East.

When it comes to creativity and flexibility, Calvin Dix, senior associate at HBA states that “China is the most flexible [market] due to more relaxed regulations” but that there were parts of the Middle East that are easier to work in than others, such as the UAE rather than Saudi Arabia where there are far less expats and more strict religious rules and restrictions.

He also mentions that the main challenge in designing across the globe is the fact that there are so many changes happening.

“In China things are changing so rapidly, it’s hard to keep up,” he comments. “As you know when we design, we have to forecast years in the future so that when the product is delivered it is still ahead of its time.

“The Middle East is changing; however, the change is occurring very slowly.”

Asia is also a dominant market for Stickman, according to Cain, where the company’s second office is based.

“When we first started business in 2009, in the midst of the financial crisis, most of our projects were based in Asia, but we now see a much better balance of projects [occuring] across the regions we operate in, and there is definitely a surge in new large-scale and mixed-use projects here in the region.

“Conrad Duabi is our largest project in the region to date; we have worked on this project over the past five years,” he says.

Cain adds that in the past there were many factors that made it challenging to work in this region compared to other parts of the world, but these issues have either improved or are slowly getting there.

“Attracting talent used to be a challenge in the Middle East, but nowadays that’s a lot easier. The calibre of students graduating from the region’s colleges and universities has improved significantly and we do far more local recruitment today than a few years ago.

“The availability of strong local talent also helps bring quality standards up in the region, which is great. At times there still is a shortage of labour in certain specialist fields, but we hope that this will develop over the years to come.”

One of the main challenges for Cain is the professional level of contractors in the region.

“There are still contractors out there that are largely commercially driven to increase bottom line, irrespective of the design, and this can impact and compromise the quality and outcome of projects.” However, Cain points out that being stationed in the Middle East, specifically in Dubai has a very important advantage to being in other parts of the world.

“Maybe a very practical point, but being based in Dubai is logistically very favourable,” he says. “We can pretty much go anywhere within an eight hour radius, which makes working on international projects much more workable and enjoyable.”

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