Interview: RSP speaks about the Middle East as an expansion base

RSP one of Asia’s largest architectural practices celebrates 60 years of continuous growth and a decade in the Middle East.

The Palm Jumeirah is one of the most recognisable man-made marine landscapes in the world and home to some of the most vibrant residential and hospitality offerings in Dubai.

In the next couple of years Dubai’s residents and visitors alike will be given the chance to aerially view and experience the fronds and the trunk as it links to the shoreline, from a new observatory deck.

This project – part of a mall and tower which will integrate the existing monorail system – has been bought to fruition by RSP, a company celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.

Managing director Michael Magill said: “This is one of the most significant architectural statements underway in Dubai – a new heart for the entire city.

Lai Huen Poh managing director, based in Singapore.

“The two landmark projects currently under construction on Palm Jumeirah, are part of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s vision to create more attractions for the citizens of Dubai, the UAE and visitors.

“The integration of the monorail into the retail mall will create a fascinating and unique experience. A viewing platform on top of the tower will allow visitors to experience and visualise the scale of the Palm Jumeirah for the first time. RSP is very proud and excited to be part of this world-class project.”

The development is just the latest in the track record of the RSP – a record which stretches back to 1956, when Raglan Squire and his partners set up in Singapore a branch of his English practice, Raglan Squire & Partners.

The company has flourished over the decades and now has 15 offices in six countries, in key cities across Asia, employing more than 1,400 professionals.

The large auditorium at Khalifa University.

RSP began making inroads into the UAE the 1980s, resulting in its first commission by the Al Habtoor Group to design a 250-key hotel in Dubai.

The success of the project led to numerous new commissions and keeping pace with the region’s dramatic growth, the firm set up RSP Middle East in 2004. It was awarded projects by the country’s two major developers.

Director Ralf Steinhauer said: “The practice continued to thrive, delivering Rihan Heights, Abu Dhabi in 2009 which offers smart technology for efficient energy usage, along with high end living standards. That same year, RSP Middle East secured the design of the new Al Rajhi Bank Headquarters Tower in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.”

“The 3,200-employee corporate office will be the new headquarters of the world’s largest Islamic bank.”

The univerity has a purpose-built foodcourt.

Emaar also appointed RSP to design a number of large-scale master plans across the UAE and North Africa, including the King Abdullah Economic City in Saudi Arabia.

The RSP team has seen Dubai coming of age after the global economic downturn in 2009 and because of its experience in the more mature market of Singapore it was able to quickly adapt to the changing marketplace.

Magill said: “Our clients had already realised we were here for the long term. It wasn’t a case of finishing two or three projects and then getting out. After the global downturn developers started to change their perspectives to emphasise sustainability and efficiency. RSP therefore strengthened and grew its local presence.”

And RSP is continuing to draw on its Singapore home base for experience and ideas.

Khalifa University viewed from the air.

Director Prabhanjan Kambadur explained that the Singapore office is at the forefront of using BIM throughout all aspects of the design and construction process. In collaboration with the clients and the contractors, it uses the technology from the project set-up to hand-over after completion. In Dubai the office has been fully BIM compliant since 2011 and the firm is now just waiting for more consultants and contractors to implement it as well.

“Pre-fabrication will be a big change to construction processes in the MENA region as time and money will be saved utilising these construction methods” said Kambadur.

“So far most clients have utilised conventional technologies in designing and building a project but in the next 10 years we will see a shift towards optimized solutions,” he said.

Singapore-based Managing Director, Lai Huen Poh charts the strategic directions and business performance of the firm. He also leads the engineering division. With more than four decades of experience, he has been steering the firm’s expansion to other global markets including the Middle East.

University atrium Curving designs and open space greet students and staff at the higher education establishment.

He said: “Work processes and best practices have been perfected in the past 60 years by RSP. This vast amount of experience and knowledge is shared with every office globally to ensure smooth and efficient processes leading to successful outcomes.”

The company has identified Africa as its next target growth area. It is an emerging market with huge demand for mixed-use, retail, hospitality and educational developments.

The Dubai team Michael Magill (centre) with Ralf Steinhauer (right) and Prabhanjan Kambadur. The office is now looking to African to expand its operations.

Steinhauer said: “Geographically, RSP Dubai serves as the ideal facilitator and gateway to Africa for our clients in China, Singapore and the Asia Pacific region, who are looking for the right-fit consultants for their projects on the African continent.

“Currently we are working on projects in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania and Mauritius.”