Entering Dubai: Great Challenges, Greater Opportunity

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Dubai is one of the world's fastest-growing cities, and many U.S.;ndash;based architecture firms are responding to the demand for design services. Working in Dubai presents many challenges but offers great opportunity for firms and individuals who are willing to go the distance.

With 25% of the world’s tower cranes currently blanketing its skyline and several of the world’s most innovative and ambitious design projects underway, many U.S. architecture firms have established offices and are transferring U.S.-based employees to Dubai, UAE. The region’s large, flourishing market, ambitious industrial vision, and growing reputation as a top international destination appeal greatly to design professionals on an individual level as well, offering the chance to work on far more aggressive, imaginative projects than are available in other parts of the world.

The Jebel Ali Free Trade Zone was created in 1985 to encourage foreign companies to invest in Dubai, thus opening the door to architecture firms. Many firms have taken the approach of maintaining small marketing centers in Dubai and farming the work back to home offices; however, the firms seeing the greatest success in this region are those who truly commit to the community and establish full-service operations in Dubai. Being on the ground not only enables a firm’s clients to understand the work they do and the size of their commitment but also enhances credibility.

One of the greatest benefits is having the ability to be hands-on with clients and to develop strong relationships. Firms with a permanent and continual presence in the region are also able to ensure prompter payment, provide better service, and maintain greater control over the quality of the built product.

Dubai’s recent architectural explosion and the pace of demand in the UAE are exciting but have also posed major challenges for U.S. architecture firms in determining the best way to approach this market. Architectural concepts develop into reality very fast in Dubai, and maintaining quality control and a high level of design integrity can be difficult. Firms are also faced with the ongoing challenge of integrating modern design with traditional cultural elements and must find a balance between the two.

Professional Development

Both young and seasoned architects who have the opportunity to work internationally are at a professional advantage because of the potential to broaden their scope of work. Projects in the UAE and other developing countries such as India allow architects to explore different trends and styles that many are never exposed to in the U.S.

Firms also need to take care of their employees, as many of the most successful can attribute that success to their architects’ ''can do'' attitudes. The firms that emphasize human resources and provide relocation incentives, such as visa assistance and family care, will ultimately be rewarded with solid, established teams that really understand the clients and the unique demands of this market.

Opening an office in a foreign land may seem intimidating, but it is attainable and has many long-term positive effects if done right. Building a successful business in Dubai takes lots of hard work and patience, and it is the firms that fully commit to integration that truly thrive in this fast-growing city. Firms that are nimble enough to adapt yet have strong foundations at home will ultimately see the best results. Dubai has also become an entryway into many other areas, such as Abu Dhabi and Qatar, and learning how to use Dubai as a hub to branch out into other Middle East territories is the next step toward succeeding in this new world where the sky is often the limit.

About the Author

J. Rossi is chief marketing officer of Burt Hill, a 900-person integrated architecture and engineering firm with offices in the U.S., the UAE, and India. J. can be reached at j.rossi@burthill.com. For more information, visit www.burthill.com.
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