Building in the Middle East and North Africa

tangramGulf is an award-winning, multi-disciplinary, architectural and engineering design, management and site supervision practice with studios in Abu Dhabi, Algiers, Doha, Dubai, Hong Kong and London. Following their success in receiving the UAE Business of the Year 2017 award, we interviewed the firm’s design director, Sandra Woodall to gain an insight into the firm’s award-winning work.

tangramGulf are close to completing their third decade of operation in the MENA region and are highly familiar with the technical, environmental and cultural challenges of building in the Middle East and North Africa. The firm’s design director, Sandra Woodall explains to us more about the firm’s respected work and how they approach each client and project.

‘Our Dubai design studio tangramGulf, from where we operate across the GCC, the wider Middle East and North Africa is one of only a hand full of non – UK based practices to be accredited Chartered Practice status by the Royal Institute of British Architects and is led by the only RIBA Fellow to be based in the GCC.

‘We offer a holistic approach to the integration of fully engineered design solutions that respond to specific site and client needs for each project. Our work is acknowledged: ‘for continuing to push boundaries with fresh and exciting ideas across the region, which have sustainability at their core’ (Middle East Architect Awards, 2014, where tangramGulf were the highlycommended runner’s up for the ‘Large Architectural Firm of the Year’).

‘Within the company there is a strong tradition of the delivery of social infrastructure projects that are recognised for the quality of design, with tangramGulf receiving over 30 design awards and recognitions over the last seven years. Our project experience includes: regional development plans, community master plans, residential and mixed-use developments, healthcare, education and research facilities, sports facilities, hotels, offices, public and cultural buildings, amongst many other project types.’

The firm has specialist medical planners and educational designers, dedicated landscape and interior design team members. They offer a full range of design, project supervision and contract management services, Sandra tell us. She expands on this point and adds her thoughts
on the firm’s philosophy behind client service.

‘We are often retained to conduct feasibility studies, establish project standards and design guidelines or frameworks and undertake peer review on a variety of complex developments. Working with government departments, developers and private clients alike.

‘At tangramGulf we have a strong track record of applying local and traditional sustainable design principles and reinterpreting these to support contemporary lifestyles, business and environmental needs.

‘We delivered the first government building in Dubai to incorporate green roof design, which led to policy change for all future Dubai Government building standards, across the Emirate. We demonstrated how the incorporation of natural qanat cooling, heat sinks and passive shading could be utilised to inform the technical guidelines for FIFA 2022 Qatar World Cup stadium designs, for which we were awarded the £2013 Middle East Sustainable Design of the Year’, at the Middle East Architect Awards. We developed these studies further by proposing tidal cooling of offshore stadia designs for which we were finalists at the Construction Week ‘GCC Sustainable Project of the Year 2014’.

‘Our designs for the region’s first nuclear benchmarking, testing and research centre was curated by the UK’s Architect’s Journal and exhibited as ‘architecture tomorrow’ at MIPIM UK, whilst the works once completed, were awarded the £2015 Sustainable Design of the Year’, at the Middle East Architect’s Awards. With tangramGulf being praised by MEAA for their ‘simple, yet innovative, fresh and welcoming design, in a project which is of huge importance for the UAE as a nation’.

‘The scheme was a culmination of decades of practice, research and reinterpretation of local and traditional design and building techniques and practices, that emphasise and promote a built environment that sits within and works with its surrounding natural environment. Designs that create spaces that respond to traditional and cultural requirements along with local customs and beliefs, whilst offering sustainable solutions to the growing complexity of contemporary enduser needs.’

The firm is constantly looking to promote cutting edge architecture that minimises environmental impact, whilst improving end-user and client built environment, Sandra tells us.

‘At tangramGulf, we actively seek to continue to apply lessons learned from the past and push beyond existing constraints in testing new materials, systems and ways of delivering a contemporary and meaningful built environment.

‘These are values that set us apart and which many clients are looking to add, as we move forwards with much more understanding of the damaging effects that global development has had in general and in particular the volume and speed of development that has been undertaken in the UAE over the last couple of decades.’

Sandra then highlights the key advantages to being based in UAE and what makes the firm unique.

‘The variety of project type coupled with the variety of culture and experience within the workforce offers great advantages for both business growth and creativity within the industry. There is a very open minded view from most clients who do not look for traditional or rigid design concepts, but we seek out original and first of a kind solutions.

‘There is no fear of standing out and being different, but a culture of embracing innovation. This combined with the geographic pull that draws in clients from East and West along with exemplifying all that is possible in a regional context, draws in clients with work in the wider region and more locally based clients who undertake work much further afield.

‘As a multi-disciplinary organisation, we can offer fully integrated and collaborative services that allows the clients to put their trust into experienced and well qualified staff, who are
selected to best suit the skills required for each unique project. Staff who are open minded and creative with experiences from different cultures that we combine into one amalgamated whole, that will test conventions and will innovate.’

When working in an industry that is constantly changing, what measures do firms such as take to ensure that they are at the forefront of any emerging developments? Sandra is keen to provide us with the answer.

‘We keep updated through our wider collaboration with local and regional practice, through speaking at conferences, working with the RIBA Gulf Chapter, identifying new technology and ideas that can support the work that we do as well as the work that we want to do. We take much information from regional publications such as MEA and professional journals that are found in the industry.

‘Our multi-cultural staff, are all enthusiastic and many are leaders in their fields. It is through their enthusiasm, expertise and need for professional growth that brings fresh and new ideas that allows us to evolve.’

In closing, Sandra underlines the most prevalent trends in your industry over the past year and hoe these have impacted the business. She also offers her reflections on the firm’s future plans, into 2017 and beyond. ‘For us the most striking adaption has been the growth in the North Africa market, which has led to the opening of our newest studio in Algiers, to support the expansion of our client and project base there.

‘This has been possible through our managing director, Mr. Hamdi Mahmoud’s persistence and personal determination to tackle every problem or challenge head on, which has proved
instrumental in overcoming the difficulties that are faced in entering new and little tested markets.

‘Currently we are involved in developing ‘zero-energy’ designs for facilities that aim to achieve ‘grid-neutral targets’ by incorporating best practice passive sustainable design, site contained renewable resource harvesting and energy production, coupled with a more sustainable energy demand and usage, to improve both design and end-user practices.’


Company: tangramGulf

Name: Sandra Woodall

Email: [email protected]

Web Address: www.tangramgulf.com

Address: 2701 Latifa Tower Sheikh Zayed Rd Dubai, P.O. Box 88124 UAE

Telephone: +971 (0) 503 400 372

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