aug 11  | The Big Project

The Big Players

They are the companies and projects rebuilding the region's construction industry; from world-class stadia, to record breaking architecture and infrastructure built for the next generation. The Big Project speaks exclusively to the industry's big players.

The developments that have risen from the sands over the last 50 years have not only transformed the region for tis people, but have also placed it on the world stage as a beacon of innovation in the disciplines of both engineering and design, while breaking records on the way.

There were many defining moments, as the visions of the region’s leaders developed into the landscape we see today.

Some of these moments were triggered by regional social and political issues; some moments were put on hold as a worldwide economic crisis threw the industry into turmoil and threatened the very future of what had been achieved. Some moments are yet to be experienced.

From the big budget record breakers to the life changing basic infrastructure projects, The Big Project has tracked down the big players in construction to hear these stories; past, present and future.

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Adrian Smith, senior design partner at Smith + Gill

It was during his work with previous company Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) that  Adrian Smith designed Dubai’s record-holding supertall Burj Khalifa, but today it is his new firm Smith + Gill driving the world’s fastest growing trend.

Founded in 2006 by Smith and partners Gordon Gill and Robert Forest, AS+GG’s founding principle is “global environmental contextualism  – a  design approach which incorporates building orientation, day-lighting, generation of windpower, solar absorption, and a site’s individual geothermal properties.”

It’s an approach AS+GG says represents a “fundamental change in the design process in which form facilitates performance.”

Recently confirmed winners of the design competition for the first of China’s planned supertalls is Wuhan Greenland Centre. Other current projects include 1 Dubai and work at Masdar City.

Earlier this year, Smith was presented with a lifetime achievement award by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitats (CTBUH).

Yet there is one project since Burj Khalifa that has truly caught the world’s imagination.

While Smith has publically revealed that he has designed an “experimental” building theoretically capable of reaching a full mile into the sky, a rumored new record-holder to be built in Saudi Arabia is still shrouded in mystery.

Two months ago the firm was unofficially named architect for the bold plan to exceed Burj Khalifa by around 200 meters, yet officially Smith maintains it is a topic he “cannot really comment on.”

Saudi Arabia is far from new territory for the firm; SOM has ongoing projects at King Abdullah Economic City, which follows Smith’s auteur’s habit for designing landmark record breakers surrounded by their own cities.

“Saudi Arabia will continue to be a strong place to work,” Smith reports, refereeing to AS+GG’s own activities. I think that they recognize the need to construct an environment that will elevate the lifestyles of the citizens, and create work and places of work for them.

“I think that the progression of building is one of the ways in which they can create this,” he adds, elaborating that it is the creative challenges of projects that cause him to keep coming back to the region.

“In our competitions for projects in the Middle East there is a certain amount of freedom, but they really are asking you to do your best in a series of circumstances and you either get it done or you don’t.”

Today, globally recognized for his work, Smith warns that too much creative freedom can leave cities resembling chess boards with little connection to their local culture. He continues to reassure architects that aligning creativity with culture is the key to creating icons.

“I think one of the things about working in the Middle East is that the aspiration for quality is very high regionally. They are very interested in quality architecture and making a cultural statement architecturally,” he observes.

Continuing to predict architects’ eyes will soon be drawn to China, Smith also says there is huge potential in India, proving budget standards and architecture as a discipline are paid due attention.