Bluehaus Group on the success of establishing an architecture division
A “total design philosophy” has been adopted by Ben Corrigan CEO and founder of Dubai-based Bluehaus Group, who has extended his design business from focusing on interiors to taking on board architecture.
Throughout the boom, the global financial crisis, the post-crisis recovery and the recent oil price slump, Corrigan’s company has grown steadily from three to 60 people, and is celebrating its 15th birthday this month.
Born in Tehran and raised in Singapore, he moved with his parents to England to complete school. While still at Bournemouth University, he established his first business, called Hybrid Concepts, doing freelance work to pay his way; mostly in nightclubs, bars and cafés along the south coast. Interestingly, his final major project at university was a nightclub called Soundhaus.
“I was very much influenced by the Bauhaus art movement and school in Germany in the early 1900s, which I studied at university, and this then influenced the naming of Bluehaus Group when I conceived this business,” recalls Corrigan.
After moving to the Middle East in early 1998 to work for the Copenhagen Group, an established architectural and interior design practice, he says he immediately enjoyed the “can-do” culture of Dubai. And in the early 2000s he felt there was an opportunity to establish his own business.
Corrigan breaks down the company’s growth into both positive and, in some cases, challenging milestones.
He specifies: “[These are] during the early days of 2003 winning our first blue-chip client, to moving into our third head-office in 2012, to strategically diversifying into new sectors or establishing a new division or capability within the organisation. There have been challenges along the way as well. The global financial crisis was challenging, but when I look back it was the best thing that could have happened to Bluehaus Group – and our industry for that matter.
“We were forced to make some tough decisions and truly define the business; what we do, who we do it for and how we do it. Rather than down-size, which is what many firms were doing, we invested. I hired an external business coaching team to come in and help us and that was one of the best decisions I ever made. We still use them to this day.”
Bluehaus Group established an architectural division in 2014 after what Corrigan calls “a new passion and drive for diversification, growth and in particular for built-form architecture and design” became part of its ethos.
Corrigan says: “Initially, it was a consolidation of experience within the organisation, an allocation of resources and the creation of a unique proposition where we formed our ‘total design’ approach with the use of BIM across the multi-disciplines of architecture, interior design and MEP, something the Middle-East market had not yet experienced.
“Then, approaching trusted client partners and partnerships with a view to testing the approach, Bluehaus Group secured a beach-located food and beverage architectural project, two private villas for senior executives and a large automotive showroom. All of these were successfully completed by end 2014.
“But even at this juncture Bluehaus Group had not yet announced architecture to the wider market; our intention was to first deliver on our promises and projects.”
The combined approach paid off when Bluehaus was asked to work on Ski Dubai. The firm had already been working with [client] Majid Al Futtaim, on interior design and MEP engineering projects for some time.
Corrigan says: “The opportunity for Ski Dubai materialised through a long-time consulting partner, Arup. Initially seen as an interior design project for the refurbishment of the public-facing areas of the entertainment facility, the scope grew to include façade design and architectural detailing to be coordinated with Arup’s team.
“And instead of going to market, it was agreed to increase Bluehaus Group’s scope to include these additional architectural design elements.”
A second Dubai project was the refurbishment of the Intercontinental Hotel in Festival City. Corrigan explains that the brief for the project was to re-structure the ground floor and external façade of the existing building, to create a relationship between its front, the main entrance and lobby along with the promenade, and waterway to the rear of the building which was lacking.
In Saudi Arabia an existing relationship with Emaar led to a collaboration with a private developer on a gallery in Jeddah. Corrigan adds: “A true testament to performance are client referrals.”
The company also puts forward ideas for developing unused land, according to Corrigan: “This is an area we are very excited about. We take a greenfield site and – along with investment partners – develop best-use commercial property models as well as interesting and eye-catching developments.
“Our passion for architecture is not delusional, we don’t have the luxury of a large global name such as a Zaha Hadid or Foster + Partners.
“However, respecting the inspiration of the larger firms, we firmly ground ourselves within planning guidelines and stakeholder and partner expectations. The sites we have been fortunate to be given a free hand to develop have guidelines within planning and financial modelling.
“Working in conjunction with real-estate experts, we have been able to provide fully-holistic development solutions to owners and investors and the response has been very positive.”