Priest says projects such as The Beach set new standards in urban design Image Credit: Benoy

Benoy, which started as a small design and planning studio in the 1940s in Nottinghamshire, over the years developed into one of the world’s most acknowledged international groups of architects, master planners, interior architects and graphic designers with studios in the UK, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Mumbai, Kuala Lumpur, Melbourne, Abu Dhabi, Manama and now also Dubai.

Chances are that our readers know a number of Benoy’s projects, namely the Yas Island concept master plan, including Yas Mall, the F1 racing circuit and Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, The Galleria on Al Maryah Island, as well as The Beach at Jumeirah Beach Residences and City Walk in Dubai.

Internationally, Benoy is involved in other remarkable projects such as Battersea Power Station in London, Gala Avenue Westside in Shanghai, Supernova in Noida, India, KM45 in Cairo, the Mall of Scandinavia in Stockholm, city master plans for Cali, Colombia, Hanoi, Vietnam and Subang Jaya, Malaysia, to name just a few.

PW talks to Paul Priest, director and head of Middle East and North Africa (Mena) Studios at Benoy, about current developments and expansion plans in the UAE and the region.

What’s keeping you busy in the UAE and the wider Gulf region?

Our projects range from new city master plans to bespoke interior design projects across a full range of sectors. We recently delivered and are currently designing new aviation, place-making and mixed-use projects such as Bahrain International Airport and City Walk in Dubai. The consistent theme to all of our projects is that they have strong commercial frameworks with an emphasis on people and community.

How large is Benoy’s Mena team and how many countries are covered?

We cover the Mena countries and at present have projects in all Gulf states.

We have design studios in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Manama to serve our growing portfolio and client base across the region. Benoy’s unique “One Benoy” structure gives us the platform to openly collaborate across our global team. It is not uncommon for our project teams to be made up of designers from different studios, selected for the project depending on their skills and expertise. This structure allows us to remain agile and focused, constantly bringing new international ideas to each design.

What was the reason for opening a Dubai office?

Dubai is a global hub and a very convenient location for our clients in the region. For Benoy, we have a record number of projects currently on the drawing board and continue to increase our presence in the region, which is incredibly exciting for our teams.

Some of the best examples of work, which showcase our ability as designers from inception to completion, are also in Dubai, such as The Beach, which sets new standards.

We pride ourselves on delivering for our clients on time, on budget and on brief and it’s great to be based in a city where we can show these examples in their built form.

Why did you choose Dubai Design District?

Dubai Design District is an exciting new creative hub for the Middle East and a natural home for Benoy. Many of our consultants are based here, which means communication and coordination across the design and delivery disciplines are much easier to facilitate. The development is full of creativity, from fashion designers to artists and independent coffee shops; you can’t help but feel inspired on a daily basis.

Just in November our chairman, Graham Cartledge, officially opened our new studio, reaffirming Benoy’s commitment to the region in the lead-up to next year’s 10th anniversary of our being based here in the UAE.

What are the further expansion plans in the Gulf, and the Middle East?

Benoy has recently been appointed to a number of major new projects and we will continue to expand our focus and team for the Gulf and Middle East region. Benoy is selective of the projects we take on, choosing those that we feel will be both unique and challenge convention; much of this, of course, is as a result of our visionary clients and their collaborative approach to design.

Our business model is very much about growing organically, establishing studios in locations where we have significant work; and this will continue.

Any glimpse into specific future projects and master plans in Mena?

Some of our biggest and most ambitious projects are currently on the drawing board within Mena. We are honoured to be involved in concepts that will have a positive impact on the lives of the residents and visitors and will improve the architectural environment for this generation and the next.

Which completed or ongoing Benoy project in the region would you consider being the most exciting, spectacular or satisfactory in terms of design and implementation?

We find it hard to pick favourites as each project has its own unique qualities and achievements. To summarise, however, Ferrari World Abu Dhabi is an icon and we are extremely proud of its sculptural form and architecture. The Beach in Dubai has had a tremendous impact on the city for its outdoor environment and energy. City Walk in Dubai, which followed, allowed us to explore master planning and the urban realm in the city further. Shaikha Fatima Bint Mubarak Park in Abu Dhabi is a future project and one that brings a new strategy for spatial and community focus. Bahrain Marina and Bahrain International Airport are incredibly significant and will become national landmarks once complete.

Which building or structure in the UAE – other than yours – do you admire the most and why?

Santiago Calatrava’s Observation Tower at Dubai Creek will be an incredible new icon for the city and a landmark for this new development. Towers by their nature are the iconography of wider developments and, as such, generators of investment and catalysts for change. The observation deck in itself is a dualism; in its ambition to see, it becomes seen. Calatrava’s neofuturistic designs consistently achieve feats of dynamic architectural expression executed through advanced engineering.

To what extent do you factor in Dubai’s ambition to become a smart city in your projects? What are the challenges when creating smart or future cities and how does this apply to the region?

The term ‘smart city’ can mean many things, from master planning to the digital experience on the ground, and everything in between. Dubai is in a great position of moving forward as it is an incredibly ambitious country led by visionaries. We embrace this environment and strive to ensure all of our developments are positioned in line with these aspirations.

Technology is an ever-evolving consideration that requires a deep understanding in order to stay relevant. How we ensure the future-proofing of our projects to engage with this generation and the next is definitely a major factor in planning for the future.

How the region is focusing on connecting cities through public realm is also incredibly exciting for us.

Would you consider collaborations on projects with other design studios such as Zaha Hadid, Foster, Calatrava, and the like, or do you see them more as competitors?

The space that other architectural practices occupy is different to that which we inhabit. However, because of the type of work we do, we regularly interface and collaborate with other design studios and enjoy this working environment. We are always open to understanding different thought processes and approaches to architecture and learn from these conversations.