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Wed 14 Jul 2010 04:00 AM

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KSA rising

Middle East Architect reports from Saudi Arabia, the new frontier for designers, contractors and developers in the GCC.

KSA rising
KSA rising
Exhibitors were positive about the large turnout in Jeddah.

Middle East Architect reports from Saudi Arabia, the new frontier for designers, contractors and developers in the GCC.

It was no surprise when Cityscape Jeddah was billed as the best yet, with Saudi Arabia remaining the region's most attractive market for developers, designers and contractors.

The presence of the Gulf's major architectural firms, as well as prominent developers reflected the excitement that those in the Middle East feel about the Saudi market. The event saw old Saudi hands, new kids on the block and local firms rubbing shoulders with the Saudi money-men who are financing the kingdom's seemingly unstoppable construction boom.

It is an exciting time to be making a move into Saudi Arabia, explained Charles Collett, Aedas's man in the kingdom, from the firm's large stand in the Jeddah Exhibition Center. While Aedas has worked on design projects in Saudi Arabia, its opening of a new office in Riyadh last month demonstrated a its focus on KSA.

"The plan here is similar to the way we go into many countries, we create a local presence first and I think the projects follow from that - rather than having a lot of big projects," Collett said.

Collett said that in order to crack the Saudi market, firms had to have a hands on approach to the kingdom, to be able to meet people and have a solid base in the country. He added that Aedas plans to open an office in Jeddah within a year.

"There are a lot of consultants who fly in with the hope of winning work, but we don't expect to win work until we have a presence in the kingdom," he said.

"We want to get things really moving. This is a great time to be entering the market but there's a lot of competition."

A design firm with a fair bit of experience in the kingdom is DWP, the Bahrain-based architects behind a number of developments in Al Khobar. Kristina Zanic, executive director and founding partner, points out that Saudi Arabia not only has the money to fund massive construction projects, but it has the will to see them through.

"They have the space so they are going to look at things that are more ambitious but I also think that Saudi Arabia is opening up to the world so there is more opportunity for consultants here. They have these really huge visions and they are looking for something mega," she said.

Zanic, whose firm has offices in a number of challenging markets, including Vietnam, China and Thailand, said that developers in Saudi Arabia tended to have a real respect for foreign designers, making working in the kingdom far easier than in other areas of the world.
"There are a few different challenges to working in Saudi Arabia, but not as great as other countries in Asia. I think Westerners are really accepted in terms of design and architecture and people are looking for good advice and good design," she said.

She added that the new focus extended to the style of design, with Saudi Arabian developers keen to see new, ambitious projects rather than only those that reflect the past.

"I think with Saudi opening up they are receptive to looking at things with a very modern approach, not looking at everything look old. They're opening it up to the world so they want it to be iconic," she said.

Meanwhile, Emaar's Middle East CEO Dia Malaeb, speaking from the company's huge stand in the middle of the exhibition centre, said that Saudi Arabia remained a key market for the firm. Emaar won three awards at the Cityscape Awards, including one for the Jeddah Gate development and another for Economic City. Dia said he expected Saudi Arabian growth to continue.

"Saudi Arabia is growing, and it is taking care of its people. They need to build new homes as soon as possible. Their vision and long term strategy tells them that they should hire companies like us to come and establish here and help this development reach its target in the shortest time," he said.

Dia was upbeat about the reception that Emaar got at the event, where it showcased its part in the soon-to-be-finished Mecca Clock Tower, the second tallest building in the world, and Jeddah Gate.

"We have a good response from people, many people didn't know about our profit and now they do. This is the purpose of Cityscape," he said.

In terms of project launches, Cityscape Jeddah was still lacking, although a massive redevelopment scheme for the city's downtown area was unveiled by the Jeddah Development and Urban Regeneration Company (JDURC).

The scheme will see hundreds of thousands of residents of the city's so-called ‘unplanned settlements' relocated while buildings are torn down. The JDURC will seek public private partnerships (PPPs) with a number of developers in Saudi Arabia to redevelop over 50 sites, the area of which amounts to 22 hectares of land and is home to around one million people.

The 54 unplanned settlements have been grouped into four categories, ranked according to their attractiveness to private developers on a sliding scale. Those believed to be the most attractive will be redeveloped first, while some category four sites will be developed by Jeddah's municipality itself.

At the close of the event, organisers announced that Sumou Real Estate and Development Company has signed up to be the Principal Sponsor for Cityscape Jeddah for the third consecutive year in 2011, while Emaar Middle East has committed to being the Principal Sponsor for the Riyadh leg of Cityscape in December of 2010.