Woods Bagot has Dh5.5bn projects in hand in the UAE

Wood Bagot intends to build upon its strength in the education and science portfolio. (SUPPLIED)

Woods Bagot Middle East, the architectural practice, is designing the headquarters of TDIC, according to a senior officer.

It is working on or has projects of around Dh5.5 billion under construction in the UAE.

The Middle East division has also finished the design and documentation for the yet to be announced New Kempinski Hotel and Resort at The Wave in Oman, he told Emirates Business.

"We have seen a major growth in our master plan and urban design and our interiors sections, which indicate new projects at inception and the fit out of completed projects," said Mark Mitcheson-Low, Regional Managing Director (Middle East), Woods Bagot.

"The Kempinski project is not yet ready to go to tender." He also said that the days of "goofy architecture" are over and the market will see good design making a comeback.


What is the total value of the projects in the Woods Bagot portfolio at the moment?

We currently have projects of around Dh5.5 billion under construction and in various stages in the UAE; of which around Dh3.9bn are in Abu Dhabi.

We also have around Dh2bn of construction work sitting on the drawing board in the design stages in Abu Dhabi – across all disciplines – master planning, architecture and interiors. We have seen a major growth in our master plan and urban design and our interiors sections, which indicate new projects at inception and the fit out of completed projects.

What is the total staff strength of your regional practice? There was a rumour circulating in the market in 2009 that your firm had reduced the staff strength by one-third?

We have 150 employees between Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Bahrain. Rumours go around and damage the industry but we did not reduce our staff by one third. However, we did reduce our numbers to suit the work and one of the benefits of the global studio is that we have relocated staff to our studios in Asia, the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom to maintain the skills and knowledge obtained on large UAE projects. Since we collaborate with our different global studios, it allows us the opportunity to move not only people and skills to the required market in other regions but to also receive our revenue in various currencies. This way we are much more stable and not affected by any one region.

How have you coped with the issues of 2009 and what would you term as the major ones?

The major issues facing all consultants and the construction industry, as we know, have been the halting of projects and slowing of projects in the UAE. Consultants and contractors were both affected by this situation and this has also left many chasing large amounts of outstanding fees from clients. Something which we believe few in the industry have been able to escape.

Coming from a very heated and highly geared market at the end of 2008 this required a rapid re-engineering and re-calibration of the industry. No consultant was immune to this but some have weathered the storm better than others.

We have coped with the drastic change in the market by holding a steady hand and maintaining our relationships while negotiating the changes in scope and the direction of projects with our clients.

We have negotiated some reductions with large clients and the value of this reduction is confidential. In some instances, we have got a payment schedule over a period.

But yes, I have heard in the industry of some very severe situations in payment reductions and we have also gone done by 50 per cent or more on few smaller projects but not on the large ones.

What do revenues look like in the coming year with declining number of projects?

It is on a steady incline and we are back to where we were a few years ago and the size of studio in 2007. 2008 was the real crazy. 2009 saw a levelling situation where those who were there for a short time have gone and it is no longer a speculators market. Our global output still has Middle East as one of the largest revenue makers. The Middle East is close to a third of our global business but there is work coming more rapidly out of the Australia and Asia than the former. Our revenues now would be 60 per cent of what we were earning in 2008.

Which building type is predominant in your portfolio in 2010 and what is your strategy?

We see education and science is the strongest sector and in Qatar. Hospitality is strongest in Oman and much of our work in Oman and Bahrain fall into this sector. We also have seen interest for such projects in Morocco and Syria. We see very few commercial buildings being designed right now.

Abu Dhabi is doing a mix of everything, while in Saudi, it is more of cities and masterplans. One of our strategies is to continue to maintain our current relationships and client base that we have built over the past 12 years in the region and to progress out of the downturn with them. At the same time the region has growth in different sectors and to different degrees and regional diversification is important to growth.

Much of our energy will be maintained in Abu Dhabi in the UAE.

Our first major projects in the region were in education and science. The UAE University master plan in Al Ain, The College of North Atlantic – Qatar and the Qatar Science and Technology Park are a few projects that draw on the strengths at our firm and we plan to develop in that direction, particularly the case in Abu Dhabi and Qatar. In 2010, we intend to build upon our strength in the education and science portfolio, which is one of our strongest sectors globally (about 30 per cent of our total global turnover)

What do you see as the new design and construction trends in the market – locally and internationally – in 2010?

The days of "goofy" architecture are over. There have been so many lost opportunities to design good quality functional and innovative award winning buildings without gimmicks.

Budgets were lost to inefficient floor plates and decoration that added nothing to the building, the client or tenant.

The new construction trends coming out of the global economic crisis are obvious. Using design intelligence underpinned by research to design lasting, sustainable and more importantly economically viable architecture is imperative.

A "what were we thinking of" type of attitude now is relevant in the hindsight of some of these previous developments and we are seeing clients who come to us with such projects.

We will now see design where form will follow function and these will be the kind of buildings that will also go on to win awards.

When we last spoke, you had mentioned that the market will witness a shift away from high-rises to affordable housing? Since then, have you seen that shift take place?

We have seen that shift but not as much as we would have thought. It has still not completely gone to affordable housing.

What is the single biggest challenge for your practice in 2010?

To establish clear strong business plans to maintain market share and to take individual companies into a new era and decade. Hopefully many will have learnt that the never-ending long silver cloud of a boom does at some point have to end.

To build viable future companies need to understand their strengths, weaknesses and opportunities that may exist.

These may be a lot different than what they thought was a good idea 18 months ago. That is no longer valid. How much we enjoy this journey depends largely on the skills and knowledge we develop, the people we do it for and the people we do it with.

Are you participating in any design projects and have any new to announce in the near future?

We would rather keep that confidential since competition is tough.


Projects in design and under construction

"The major projects include the Dh3 billion Saadiyat Island Resort, where we are lead architect for Mirage Mile, TDIC and the Starwood group featuring a luxury St Regis beach front resort and residences around the Gary Player designed golf course.

"Construction is ongoing at the resort and is led by the Murray and Roberts and Al Habtoor Leighton joint venture who won the main contract. The project is due to be completed in 2011.

"As lead architect for Sino Gulf, we have also under construction the International Tower (commercial) and the Capital Centre Tower (residential) in Abu Dhabi.

"We have had a studio in Abu Dhabi since 2007 and have been working in that emirate since 2001 when we undertook the master plan for the UAE University in Al Ain, which is also currently under construction.

"We are also lead architect for the 62-storey Michael Schumacher Tower, which is at documentation stage.

"Much of our new work in Abu Dhabi is for similar blue-chip companies undertaking new projects and which involve master plans and architectural concepts for sites in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and so on as well as major commercial and hospitality interiors.

"In Dubai, we are completing the final construction of the Index Tower as lead architect, a 30-storey building at Business Bay and the residential Badrah Development where we have master planned and developed the design as lead consultant. A great deal of our work is for high-end projects," said Mitcheson-Low.

 

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