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Awarded the milestone ISO 9001:2015 certification in Architectural and Engineering Design, Supervision and Consultancy Services earlier this year, Arab Architects has taken one more step forward in the vision of establishing exclusive high-rise buildings and expanding within the GCC region and beyond in collaboration with leading developers and international firms.
Established and built over four decades of experience, architects Mazen Araiqat and Mohammed Araiqat who head the company, have consistently shown the importance of design as one of the most powerful strategic tools in their arsenal. With a portfolio that in growing in geographical locations, and in diversity of projects, Arab Architects is ready for new challenges. Mohammed Araiqat updates Reena Abraham about his company’s direction and strategy for the next years.
Congratulations on your ISO certification! It has been some time since we last spoke. Can you update us on some of the new projects that you are currently working on?
We have just completed the design of a five residential building project in Reef island. The design is complete and we will be starting construction very soon. Each building has 10 storeys with a total build up area of around 120,000 square meters, so it’s going to be a pretty huge project for us.
Another one that we are working on is a new concept design for a BD 20 million mixed-use development with residential and service apartment projects in the Seef area. We are still at the concept design stage working closely with the client.
Other than that, we are doing an international school, which will be announced very soon. We also have a nice stand-alone mall coming up. It is in the preliminary stages in the Juffair area. The client wanted to do a stand-alone because there is only one other such mall coming up there in Juffair area, so ours will be the second one. This one will be facing the sea- a stand-alone sea view strip mall with just 2 storeys.
We also have one project coming up outside Bahrain, in Jordan – because we are slowly expanding. This also is still in the design stage but will be announced very soon.
It seems that many of your projects are developed around retail. Would you say that retail and shopping mall projects are your primary focus?
For the past 5 or 6 years, we have been focusing on residential and commercial projects. I don’t like to say we rejected any projects, but we focused on this area. Now we have diversified and are shifting focus to a number of other areas like healthcare, education, and hospitality. We are looking at various sectors and we are slowly expanding here and there.
Since you won the International Arabian Property Awards for the best architectural design professionals in 2017, have there been any new awards that have come your way and can you tell us about the winning projects?
Since then, we also won the Al Tijaria award, which was last year. We did not participate this year, because we were focusing on other thing such as a Joint Venture with a couple of international consultants from different sectors. But we are participating in a couple of projects for 2019 awards.
This year we were awarded the ISO 9001:2015 certification in Architectural and Engineering Design, Supervision and Consultancy Services, a milestone for us. We take pride in the fact that we always ensure that we follow all industry standards and best practices.
Which is your most high profile project right now?
Layan at Water Bay – one of our biggest and most prestigious projects, is still going on, but at the moment our focus has all been on the City Centre Towers. The structure is almost completed but it’s going to be one of the highest quality residential projects in Bahrain. It has been a very focused and work-intensive project for us.
Of course as I mentioned earlier, there is also Al Tijaria Tower, for which we won the award for best architectural design by Arabian Properties. It is again one of the tallest residential projects in Bahrain.
When you take up a project, what is the scope or the aspects that you handle as a company?
We handle the entire thing from the design stage up to the handover of the project. I interfere in every stage! For the design, it is actually a collaborative effort that involves my father – Mazen Araiqat, and I along with the design team. It is a team effort, where everybody’s ideas find a place.
Sometimes we do it as a challenge within the team here. For the same project, we take a couple of team members, and ask them each to do a conceptual design. Each one works on their own, and then we collaborate for the final. We thus have a pool of ideas and concepts, which we can work with. We often also do a couple of workshops and come up with a nice idea. This is what happens with most of our big projects.
So we are in effect tapping into different creative brains and getting the best out in that process. In the past, we have focused on one style, but now it is all about collaborating to get more creative ideas. I think this work approach makes us special and a bit different.
Bahrain is known for its stand-out architectural designs and buildings; but the modernity of line and concept are in many ways a sharp contrast to the older heritage buildings. Can you explain the changes in thought, and execution of design from an architectural viewpoint?
My father did his Masters in Bahraini architecture in 1996 and some of our clients still do like to use aspects and concepts from traditional Bahraini architecture. But unfortunately, nowadays most people are passing on heritage, and going for more contemporary and modern architecture. So the Bahraini elements are only found in certain areas, maybe in some houses and for cultural areas. The Ministry of Culture is focusing and doing a tremendous job in this.
Though we are not part of this, we are trying to in our own way to maintain Bahraini architecture in some of the elements of our work. We get an opportunity especially in the areas of education and charity and society projects that we do. In these projects we try to incorporate some traditional aspects.
Bahrain has a long history with water. Trade, fishing, and pearling were main leading factors in the nourishment of the island. We use those elements at times in our buildings. Sometimes, we also find beauty in merging the traditional ornamentations in contemporary buildings to add strong touches of Bahraini heritage. Islamic ornamentation, calligraphy in design, and patterns are themes we use often.
What are some of the changes in the expectations of clients today? Would you say there is greater awareness of global trends?
I will tell you how it was before and after. Just 6 or 7 years ago, the client brings you the project and tells you what they want and that’s it. You take the project from stage 1 up to the execution. However, now with global education and the Internet, the clients know exactly what they want. They are there with us and at the site from stage 1 till the end of the project. They are trying to incorporate new technology and sustainability into the project, and consequently we too are introducing all this into our projects. For example, green buildings, sustainability, ways to reduce pollution, smart homes technology, and so on.
Clients today are more educated about the market and about global trends; their mentality has changed. Of course sometimes it is difficult for us, because we have more meetings with them and have to incorporate their ideas and spend time explaining at times why it is impractical. At the end of the project however, we all benefit. Because they interfere more, the result of the project will develop in a better way, and the end product is closer to what they want. The involvement and the input into decisions help us.
We are training team members to get the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. We are looking to be certified LEED consultants. It is one of the key points of our vision for 2019.
Seeing that it is a part of the conversation, how are Arab Architects responding to the need for sustainability in buildings and to the demands of a changing climate and other environmental challenges that affect buildings as well as lifestyles?
Sustainability, energy conservation, and use of renewable energy are important factors that we consider while planning our projects. In Bahrain, which is an island, the maximum amount of heat reducing techniques is required to lessen the need of air-conditioning facilities to save energy. We are training the team members to get the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. This certification program is focused primarily on new, commercial building projects and based upon a points system. We are looking to be certified LEED consultants. It is one of the key points of our vision for 2019.
We want to incorporate environment consciousness and sustainability into all our projects, but there is a cost implication in this and we have to convince our clients to go for it. As the years pass, the cost of electricity, water etc. are also rising and in a way, because of these rising costs, clients are being forced to consider green buildings, sustainable technologies and power reduction technologies like solar energy. The problem is the prohibitive cost that all these technologies involve. Hopefully in a few years, the costs will go down and we will be able to incorporate it more and more.
Here in Bahrain, we don’t yet do many buildings like that in general, but nowadays, people are definitely more aware and interested. We are hoping that by 2020, we should be in a position to have more of such projects in Bahrain that are able to compete with Europe and other countries. Actually, the UAE has implemented many of these technologies and they are doing a very good job. It had a very good impact there in saving electricity using thermal insulation and so on.
Is solar energy something Bahrain is looking at?
Yes, we are. The government announced a project of 400 Kilowatts in Bahrain. This is Stage 1, and we, for example, are trying to incorporate and implement this in a lot of our projects.
What has been the effect of AI and smart technologies on design strategies, methods and construction?
It is the future and we do have to do it. We are trying our best and we have specified this and recommended it in a lot of our projects. The problem again is the cost. We are trying to inform and educate our clients about all of this. Even if expensive we will have to implement it or we will be left behind.
What would you consider your biggest challenges in this current economy that is more focused on non-oil industries? Does it affect you at all or is it business as usual?
It is a very tough market and the competition is very high. What we are trying to do is be different, be special. We are trying to have joint ventures with international consultants, to sustain our market ranking and we are using our local and international expertise as leverage. For example, we just signed a week ago, with a marine consultant. So now we have a marine specialist on board with us, an urban planning consultant who does urban planning and master development. We have a Joint Venture with education and health care specialists. We believe that by doing all of these joint ventures, we are trying to maintain our ranking and trying to compete with international consultants, which some of our clients in Bahrain and the GCC use. That title, “International consultants” is something they love to use, so we are trying to use these joint ventures to add that international feel to compete with them.