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Sun 7 Dec 2008 04:00 AM

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Rapid growth

Tim Askew, managing director for Atkins in the Middle East and India, discusses the architectural industry's biggest recent developments.

Tim Askew, managing director for Atkins in the Middle East and India, discusses the architectural industry's biggest recent developments.

What have been the major changes and trends in the architecture industry during recent months?

Sustainability is an issue which has exploded in the last year or so. In 2006, it wasn't even on the radar but Atkins has quietly pursued a sustainable agenda for many years. From buildings and railways to education, we are at the front line when it comes to incorporating sustainable design into the built environment.

Fundamental to sustainability is providing the right training and support for our staff, which we have done by introducing in-house building physicists and sustainable consultants. They interact with the professional designers and ensure sustainable solutions are integrated into projects from the start.

The aim is to get them working more innovatively and efficiently and avoid the ‘add-on' to technology, which we see as the key to designing buildings that are more efficient from the outset.

The Atkins sustainability team in the Middle East has been making buildings throughout the Gulf and India more environmentally friendly for several years. By bringing the various disciplines together through an integrated design process, we ensure that designers contribute to help lessen the environmental footprint of developments through a range of sustainability initiatives.

Working with our sustainability team are several LEED APs (accredited professionals who manage a building's LEED certification process). We now have more than 20 engineers, architects, project managers and building physicists across the UAE with this qualification.

We also collaborate with the academic world to develop innovative and deliverable sustainable solutions. Through our partnership with The British University in Dubai (BUID), we look at how to design more energy-efficient and sustainable buildings.

We also investigate using passive features of the environment and how to deal with waste. The aim is to ensure sustainability becomes mainstream rather than being an alternative thing to consider.

BUID is Atkins' global academic partner in a landmark agreement that's part of an international awareness programme on sustainability in construction. Representatives from the programme visit Atkins offices around the world to highlight methods of introducing key sustainability concepts in every aspect of building. As a company, How do you differentiate yourself from your competitors?

Atkins is a multi-disciplinary provider of both architectural and engineering services. We can provide holistic design across a wide range of services, which is attractive to clients who need to mitigate design interface costs.

Whether it's masterplanning, road and rail transport infrastructure, building design or industry, our ability to call upon a wider set of in-house skills than our rivals puts us in a favourable position.

We have a proven track record of consistently providing quality products and advice to clients for 30 years in the Gulf region. It's this longevity and experience that allows us to take a strategic and long-term view of clients' requirements.

In addition, we have access to a large resource base drawn from an international business, which allows us to compete on quality rather than just price. The cutting-edge technical work that we do is incidental to the first-class commitment we give to our clients.

We are internationally recognised for our excellence and have recently received some prestigious honours, including the bronze Holcim award - dubbed the Nobel prize for sustainable construction - for our sustainable design of the 400-metre tall DIFC Lighthouse Tower.

Our design was praised by judges as an example of high-rise sustainability, proving that high-rise buildings have the same potential for sustainable design and construction as their low-rise counterparts. We also have the unique accolade of being voted Engineering Consultant of the Year 2008 by Building Magazine both in the UK and the Gulf, which is indicative of the international recognition that we hold.

Is the local infrastructure sufficient for Dubai's current projects?

Infrastructure is the life-support system of modern life and must be able to serve the increasing demands of society in a sustainable manner. The general market slowdown, stemming from the economic downturn, will enable Dubai's infrastructure to catch up with the pace of development.

A solid infrastructure is the foundation for stable and strong growth in the future. Across the Middle East we are seeing major infrastructure projects taking shape. Dubai has an advantage in building its infrastructure over developing cities because things happen so fast here.The Dubai Metro is the world's largest transport infrastructure project, and will transform the way people travel in the emirate. It will reduce congestion and support Dubai's drive to become more sustainable.

Atkins is lead designer for the red and green lines and has mobilised around 600 staff from across the globe in just six weeks to form a multi-disciplinary design and programme management team.

At peak, we had 1,000 staff from around the world working on services including design, programme management and coordination; station planning; track alignment; architecture; fire life safety; structural steelwork and concrete design and mechanical and electrical engineering.

We also had people working on tunnel design; twin and single-track viaducts; geotechnical engineering; highways planning; utilities (diversions and protection, and connections) and foundation and earthworks design.

Who are your main clients?

Much of our work is on capital projects. As the largest multi-disciplinary consultancy in Europe and the world's eighth largest international design firm, Atkins has the breadth and depth of skills to deliver the most ambitious solutions across numerous infrastructure and building projects, including the Bahrain World Trade Center, Dubai Metro and Durrat Al Bahrain islands.

Many clients have already embraced sustainability, such as Nakheel's Trump International Hotel & Tower (The Palm Jumeirah) and Iris Bay, but it's the nearly complete Bahrain World Trade Center that is currently attracting significant interest worldwide. It's an extraordinarily groundbreaking project, which showcases a particular renewable technology that will become an important component of sustainable design in the future.

The Barr Al Jissah (Shangri-La) Resort in Oman is another excellent example of passive design, with high-level shading and other sustainable technologies resulting in a low energy footprint.

Atkins also had a large environmental role here, going to great lengths to develop an environmentally sensitive solution that enabled us to protect archaeology and keep turtles nesting on the beach at night.

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