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MEA Talks: Janus Rostock and Steven Velegrinis discuss moving to Aecom

Two of Dubai’s well-known architects have joined Aecom’s Middle East office to grow its urban design and masterplanning division, focusing on high profile projects across the Gulf and pushing thought leadership within the architectural industry in the region.

While Janus Rostock has recently joined the company as head of design, planning and economics, Steven Velegrinis has signed on to head Aecom’s masterplanning division as well as work alongside Rostock as the director of operations for design, planning and economics. Both architects have worked in the Middle East for over 10 years in the fields of architecture, urban design, masterplanning and landscape design.

Rostock was previously with Atkins for 12 years – in the Middle East and Europe – and in his latest role, he was head of masterplanning, urban design and architecture. He has worked on high profile projects across the region, most notably the Dubai Opera building.

Confidential waterfront project. Image courtesy of Aecom.Confidential waterfront project. Image courtesy of Aecom.

Similarly, Velegrinis was an associate principal at global architecture and design firm Perkins+Will, managing a division called Cities & Sites, where he worked on the intersection of urban design, masterplanning and landscape architecture.

Both architects made the move to Aecom around the same time, following equally extensive careers in their previous companies.

“I have been at the same company for 12 years and therefore I thought it was time to disrupt myself a little bit and try something different. I have been fortunate enough to have had roles that were changing almost every three years so it was very good timing for me to be approached by Aecom,” Rostock said.

He added, “Aecom is very large if I compare it to my previous company. Up until a year ago it had 18,000 employees and we have now joined a company of almost 87,000 people, so it is five times as large, and therefore the excitement of trying something new and going into a different type of organisation intrigued me.”

For Velegrinis, working at a firm that has urban design and master planning as its core business when his previous experience centred on architecture with an urban design department is something that he finds rewarding – especially when there is the additional value of contributing to its growth.

“A lot of the time when you are working in an architecture firm that does other things, you always struggle to really get the kind of diversity that you want and that is what a company of 87,000 people really offers,” he said. “In our group we have environmental planners, urban planners, landscape architects, urban designers, architects – it is genuinely a multi-disciplinary group. And the story is one of very ambitious growth.

“There are a lot of people in the industry, especially last year, who were not thinking about growth, they were thinking ‘it’s going to be a bad year’, so there is a real optimism. And being approached at the same time, realising that there is a serious commitment to a real growth story has been quite exciting.”

Both architects explained how simultaneously bringing them on board is “a broader strategy of elevating Aecomin the Middle East”, with an intention to push thought leadership within the industry and make the company’s story more public, which the architects agree is difficult to accomplish with such a large company.

Velegrinis, however, added that “a lot of people see Aecom as this enormous organisation”, when in fact, their team consists of 85 people.

“What we are supported with is this entire ecosystem around us, which is the exciting part. It is all the things you wish you had the support of in the past – in my case,” he said.

AecomSteven Valgrinis (left) and Janus Rostock (right). Photography (including main image) by Aasiya Jagadeesh/ITP Images.

Although having joined a company that is, in many ways, different from their previous firms, both architects agree that there is a direct continuation of the work they had done in the past.

Rostock compared their roles at Aecom to a race car driver “with even more horse power”, where they are now given the opportunity to drive forward larger-scale projects from concept to completion with the help of a support network.

Velegrinis agreed: “In the roles that I’ve had in the past I’ve been somewhat limited by the fact that we could do the front-end of projects, but the delivery was a bigger challenge.

Delivering big projects when you are talking about masterplanning projects requires a lot of horsepower – that race car needs to be very powerful. What’s exciting is doing that same work and then doing the rest of it because, especially in masterplanning, you don’t get to realise a lot [of projects].

“I think one of the most exciting projects that I had was working on the Dubai Design District masterplan and seeing the first phase. Actually, that’s one of the first masterplanning projects [in] over 20 years that I was able to see the realisation of. A company like Aecom can take these great ideas and the initial masterplans through to conception and realisation.”

Confidential waterfront project. Image courtesy of Aecom.Confidential waterfront project. Image courtesy of Aecom.

The architects are currently working on various projects in Saudi Arabia, one of which include Saudi Rail.

“This is where I’m seeing that the digital innovation within Aecom is out there in terms of really good work in GIS (geographic information system), where we have looked at more than 700 sites for Saudi Rail and looked at how those sites could be assessed and how we can create opportunities for them to be built. We went from 700 to 35 to seven sites within six months and all of these are backed by data,” said Rostock.

Both architects also added that projects they have been working on in the past are coming back at a larger scale at Aecom, such as the Dubai Opera District, with Rostock now working on the landscape detail design.

“I have had the same experience with three of the projects that I have worked on in the last year are now with Aecom from detail master planning to realisation, so it’s coming full circle,” said Velegrinis.