Harry Bertoia

Crunch time

It’s a popular refrain for developers since the crash, that while there may not be a lack of developments in Dubai, there is a lack of quality. It is a good way of admitting that the industry is struggling, while avoiding taking a negative slant on their own projects.

But in many ways it is true. Last month, property consultancy Jones Lang La Salle spoke out on the subject, warning that tenants and buyers were no longer willing to compromise on quality as they were during the boom.

Later in the month I spoke to a developer in Business Bay who said the same. In the heyday people just built, he said, with no thought to what they were building.

It was as if luxury apartments were like the latest gadget, churn them out and people will snap them up. He would say that, of course, developers always think that their projects are different.

But for all my comments in these pages about the futility of building luxury flats in Dubai since the recession, as a resident of one of Dubai Marina’s notoriously badly-built towers I can only agree.

Everybody I know has their gripes; broken AC, faulty wiring, badly fitted bathrooms, no facilities – the list is endless, and plenty have it worse than I do.

It’s not just Dubai Marina, either. A few months ago I stayed at one of the UAE’s well-known desert hotels which, although spectacular from the outside, displayed some serious flaws at closer examination.

I couldn’t help but notice the bad paintwork, the ill-fitting tiles, the leaking bath tub, the building rubble only half concealed.

These observations illustrate a broader point: cutting corners is not the exception to the rule in the UAE, it is endemic. Quality has been forgotten in the rush to develop, and the financial crisis has done little to change this.

Developers are just as keen to finish their buildings now as they were, except now it is to cut their losses rather than cash in.

I thought about all this as I toured the O14 development in Dubai’s Business Bay, which opened last month and adorns the cover of this issue of Middle East Architect.

At this project, like the Burj Khalifa (featured in March) there was an emphasis on not cutting corners, on retaining the architects throughout the specification, construction and fit out – and it shows.

Indeed, the developers of both buildings, Emaar and newcomers H&H, should be commended for not just talking about a new emphasis on quality, but actually producing it.

That’s not to say either building will find it easy to find tenants, but they will certainly find them more quickly than some of their competitors.

Dubai may have 45,000 units under construction, but it’s a fair bet that plenty will fail to meet the standards that we now expect. With this in mind, let’s hope that projects like O14 can set an example.