December 14, 2018

The big interview: Ahmed Bukhash

ahmed

Archidentity’s chief architect and founder talks to Pro Landscaper Gulf about landscaping trends in the region, sustainability, and what the future may hold in store for the industry.

How long ago did the business start?

We established the company five years ago. It was based on carrying out high-end residential housing work. We are not only limited to that but we wanted to build a strong foundation. Now we have many projects around Dubai and we’ve also been invited to tender for a couple of projects in Qatar.

When you design architecture for a villa, do you also design gardens as part of the project?

At this stage we are only focusing on our core background, which is architecture, but we recently started developing concept designs for interior and landscaping. However, it is purely on a conceptual level and we then approach the market to get professionals to submit their design and build scope.

Is that a practice many are doing in Dubai?

It depends on the company’s philosophy. There are those that only work on a couple of projects a year. Their fees are much higher and they take full turnkey solutions, from landscaping to interior design and architecture. That is one methodology to take. The other is where the majority of the market is based on everybody having their own specialisation. So basically we start with the architecture and approach the specialised people in the landscaping field in terms of design and build. The common practice is for people to break down into specialities but there are a few companies which do the full scope because sometimes people get discouraged by the large bulk of fees up front.

How do you select your landscapers when it comes that situation?

Most of the time the interior design is outsourced and, under that umbrella, they already offer a landscaping package, although they are two separate specialisations. It seems the market has developed in a way that means interior designers are also asked to do landscaping.

How many people do you employ?

We have seven staff – we are considered a boutique office. We work on high-end residential properties and focus heavily on the details. Most of the time we also focus on a developer mentality because my own background is from a developer history. I worked as a developer for seven years so we understand that our clients want high quality in the shortest time as well as an all-round design solution. Developers prefer not to go to separate parties and through the awarding work process – it takes a lot of time and they are always under time constraints. We have developed a strong network of people who we connect with and we plan to provide those services in-house – but that’s in the long-run.

In terms of managing the budgets and costs for all that, once a landscaper is given the work do you manage the processes?

Yes. Again, if you go with the theory of doing everything as per a company’s own specialisation, each sub-contractor has their own budget to work with. Some clients are very flexible, they tell us they want the best design and take it step by step. Some people are wealthy but still say there is a certain budget they should not pass. As architects, we check and double check those in a general way, but the final responsibility lies with the people who are in that field itself, for example the landscaper.

What is the trend in Dubai at the moment? Villas with gardens? Rooftop gardens?

There are lots of trends which I don’t expect to be long-lasting. Then there is a trend of rather than having a building and landscaping around it, bringing that landscaping within the building instead. Clients are very particular about the quality of space outdoors so they are ready to spend additionally on that. However, from our experience landscaping at this stage is mostly an afterthought. The priority is always for clients to complete the building then think about how to carry out the landscaping. We are different in the respect that we deliver it all together. Even in our first villas we took into consideration the difference in ground levels as this makes a big difference. I think the general trend is that the residential market is catching up with the commercial projects. A lot of companies now focus on urban design too.

ahmed

How much does sustainability influence what you do?

The authorities are enforcing the fact that we have to go with the green roof systems and, if we install irrigation systems, that the water is recycled. I think the government is heading into a tough direction in terms of enforcing those. As consultants, we are getting regular comments prior to approval of a scheme in terms of accommodating those systems. I think it’s very important to incorporate those things but, at the same time, it’s important to ensure it is not just superficial.

Often, people install green roofs but they are more plastic than real. We also have to make sure the contractors are up to the level where they can provide adequate spaces and prevent any water leakage, for example. Sometimes the speed of construction overtakes the quality and sometimes, when it rains only twice a year, we get a lot of problems with leaks and rain coming through the ceiling.

How do you go about specifying products?

Mostly through site visits. The well-executed projects become very popular and then we ask who the consultants and contractors are and try to get that same formula into our projects. Another way is to attend events such as the Outdoor Design and Build Show, where you get to know companies from all over the world which are new to the market.

You also have composite decking samples?

Yes, because we always look to replace natural materials with artificial ones because they are known to last longer. For example, the plastic composite decking looks and feels exactly like wood. We try to create all this detailing as best we can. We wouldn’t go for pure marble, for example, because after a while it cracks. We always look for substitutes with a natural look.

What about products such as artificial grass?

Depending on the quality, we definitely use artificial grass. Some of them look like plastic but others are high end.

Is design, architecture and landscaping seen as a good career in the UAE?

It is seen as a good career but also very challenging because there is a surplus of such companies in the market. To create a good reputation, you need to have a strong background in terms of executed projects. For us, we mostly award projects on simple site visits, looking at signboards and so forth. It is not really what is in the brochures and websites, it’s about what you have done on site. That’s where your brand is created.

Are things in place to maintain projects that have been completed?

They say the cash cow is for the people who maintain the schemes, although some projects aren’t easy to maintain. I think people recognise that and there are many companies involved in regular maintenance. I think that’s a strong market and your reputation and brand is built on quality of service.

When you are designing and building a project, do you think about the maintenance costs?

The design and build approach is a risky one. Sometimes architects over-depend on the contractor and so they omit a lot of details. Basically, you can say they are taking the headache away from themselves and dumping it on other people. That reflects negatively on the project later on if it’s not dealt with or controlled properly.

Are most of your clients Emirati?

We have Indian nationals, Emiratis and that’s basically it.

What do you think will happen to the market in the next two or three years?

I think it’s positive. I think most of the local concern is over the political situation going on around us. Other than that, in terms of the UAE perception it’s only going up towards 2020 and, from then on, I’m sure there will be a new strategy from the government in terms of how to maintain such speed of construction and the reputation of those companies involved. That will also come in government initiatives and future development strategies.

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