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Interviews

Setting the Pace

Tarek Shuaib has led Pace to its position today as a leading architecturally led multi-disciplinary practice, serving Kuwait, the wider Middle East and Africa with a mix of creative and innovative vision and practical delivery.

Managing Partner since 2005, Tarek has been involved in the delivery of a host of high profile, successful projects, the most recent of which include the Jahra Road Development Project, Jamal Abdul Nasser Highway, Arraya Centre, The Avenues Mall, Kuwait Business Town, Central Bank of Kuwait, College of Basic Education, Kuwait International Tennis Complex, and Subiya Road.

With a commitment to functional design and for producing results that last, he has left a lasting impression on Kuwait’s built environment. Jason O’Connell writes.

Pace was founded by your father. Tell us about the early years of the company.

My father Hamid Shuaib and his partners founded Pace in 1968 when Kuwait was blossoming in terms of architecture, culture and economy. They recognised that the country’s newly discovered oil wealth and a strong national desire to see progress and development opened up limitless opportunities.

The original firm – called at that time Pan Arab Consulting Engineers – was born as a direct consequence of my father identifying a unique opportunity for local architects and engineers to be a part of this ongoing quantum leap. He wanted to leave his mark on the country’s modern history. His ambition was to give Kuwait the best architecture with the highest international standards. Simply put, to give Kuwait the architecture it deserved.

How has Pace evolved over time?

Tarek Shuaib

Tarek Shuaib

Even today one can see companies in all sectors suffer from their over ambition. They become stretched across too many sectors or regions, resulting in failure. Pace has always taken a more cautious, pragmatic and realistic approach to growth. And we also always wanted to maintain the almost ‘family business’ environment that my father and his team instilled. So I would say that we have evolved with sound financial and business practices in place, working with strong and visionary clients who recognised the quality of services. After all, it is only by delivering our customers’ vision, consistently well, that any growth is possible. We have been doing that since 1968 and we still do that now.

The success of our strategy of focusing on quality and service rather than just number of projects is evidenced by the fact that Pace is now a market-leading architecturally-led multi-disciplinary design practice, in Kuwait and beyond. Our portfolio of work totals more than 1,300 commercial, governmental, residential, recreational and educational projects, not only in Kuwait, but worldwide. Landmark projects such as Central Bank of Kuwait Headquarters, Arraya Tower and Kuwait Business Town are now recognised elements of Kuwait’s skyline. Some of our projects have even been featured on postage stamps and the Kuwaiti currency. High praise, indeed, of which I am immensely proud!

Now of course we have a fully-fledged international division with multiple regional offices and branches in several markets, including Bahrain, Iraq, Djibouti and Tunisia. Saudi Arabia has now become a major focus for us, and we are currently working on several large projects to keep up with the immense developments taking place there.

Which project is the company most proud of and why?

Each and every one of our projects makes me proud, of both the result and of my team delivering that result. And each and every one is unique, so it is impossible for me to compare one with another. If you want highlights, then I guess that the Arraya Tower was a landmark building for both us at Pace and for Kuwait as whole. Kuwait’s – and our – first skyscraper at that time, designed and supervised by us in 2009, the Arraya is now a landmark iconic building, and will always stick in my memory.

Our design of the Arab Organizations Headquarters Building represented a memorable blend of modern architectural techniques with traditional Arabic artisan crafts, whilst at the same time presenting unique technical and engineering challenges. So that too is special.

I am proud to say that we have for some time demonstrated excellence in engineering and infrastructure projects in addition to building design. Significant and vital infrastructure projects such as the Jahra Road and Jamal Abdul Nasser Street provide us the opportunity to help improve the country as a whole, as do our healthcare projects such as the new Maternity Hospital at Sabah. I’m proud to be delivering such important improvements to Kuwait.

I have to mention the Riyadh Metro Line 3 work – a project any engineering and infrastructure business would be proud to be involved with. And finally, I am proud – very proud – of my team, our people and the collaborative means by which they bring their considerable skills to bear on each and every project, whatever the size, whatever the industry, whatever the location.

Which was your first project outside Kuwait?

Bahrain, 1982…Beit al Quran, I think, was preceded just by a residential scheme in that country, but that was our first major project beyond Kuwait borders. I have always been confident that we could succeed in other territories as long as we deliver on our brand promise. Whether in the KSA, Bahrain or Africa, if we deliver on the large infrastructure, the engineering and health and buildings we will succeed.

What are the main changes you’ve seen in how business is done in this region over the years?

Clearly there are two parts to this: one, business as a whole, and then the architectural sector itself. From an architectural and design and infrastructure viewpoint, we have seen seismic change over the last decade. The contrast between the cultural forces of globalisation and localisation have been instrumental in shaping today’s architecture; i.e. the modern versus the traditional, the Islamic versus the Western, and the local perspective versus the global. And I see more change to come, as recognition grows of the importance of environmental factors, sustainable and ‘green’ buildings and construction methodologies.

From a purely business outlook, the exposure to and the opportunity to collaborate with acclaimed global consultants has been notable. I believe we may have been in the vanguard of partnering with many world-renowned consultancies such as SOM, Gensler, HOK, Fentress, Zaha Hadid, Arup, Buro Happold, and TRO.

What’s been the secret of your success as a company?

Well, good business in my view is no secret. Pace has evolved into a leading multi-disciplinary practice in Kuwait by delivering the right professional expertise to a wide range of public and private sector clients. Through integrating our services in one office – architecture, urban design, engineering, interior design, construction supervision as well as project management – we made sure that we were always able to meet or exceed clients’ expectations.

We’ve also managed to stay successful by focusing on our vision and adhering to our values and beliefs. Adaptability, commercial awareness, seeking solutions to the toughest of problems in a consistently innovative manner…. Those are our secrets. Key to all this is the Pace philosophy: to always deliver outstanding designs, whether it is a building or an engineering solution. It’s that simple.

What is unique about your offering as a company?

I am extremely proud to say that I have with me at Pace a hugely talented group of professionals. Bringing together such a diverse team of highly experienced and skilled experts sets us apart from our competitors and gives us, I believe, an upper hand. As an organization, we offer remarkable cohesion to our customers. Having a complete multidisciplinary offering housed in one building brings significant advantages to our clients, with inter-departmental communication taking place from the very beginning. Moreover, our commitment to the latest construction and software technologies helps us to maintain a competitive edge in the market and to uphold our position as innovators and industry leaders. Finally, our unique design approach and our willingness, where appropriate, to challenge the brief is different to our competitors in the region. It is of the utmost importance for us to maintain the highest calibre in our designs with an innovative twist.

How challenging is the market in Kuwait at the moment?

Right now the economy and market in Kuwait is feeling the effects of the oil price fluctuations, and the investment decisions that it has influenced. Consequently there is uncertainty over the timing of key government investment projects in which Pace would hope to play a part. But this is not unique to Kuwait, nor is Kuwait shielded from the other disruptive and unsettling events worldwide, so it is my responsibility, along with my senior colleagues, to navigate a secure path through these challenging times.

What is the key to successfully navigating the company through tough times?

Working with the right people, and staying ahead of the game. We diligently maintain our firm’s status as market leaders through constantly ensuring we incorporate the latest developments in technology into our practices, adhering to the highest of quality standards regardless of resources, and increasing the scope and location of our projects on an international scale. We focus too on understanding and building strong, durable relationships with our clients; we have always been known for our partnership approach with clients. We try to be selective with our clients and the projects we accept, and we maintain close financial control over the lifetime of each project.

What kind of opportunities are arising in Kuwait at the moment?

Kuwait’s Development Plan 2020 is naturally the driver to where the city and the market are going. The government sector is still moving strongly forward with huge investments in many large scale development projects, of which, infrastructure, transportation and healthcare feature prominently.
On the commercial side of the market, Kuwait is still an attractive proposition for many businesses for relocation, and remains an attractive destination in its own right, providing fertile ground for continued retail and leisure and hospitality projects and investment.

What’s next for Pace? How do you plan to stay ahead of the competition?

I am immensely proud, personally, of what pace has achieved before and what it is achieving now. As a business we look forward to a bright but challenging future, confident that we have the strategy and the expertise in place to overcome any unforeseen issues. We continue to focus on design quality by reengineering our processes and refining our systems. We will always seek to recruit the most talented of architectural, design and engineering experts locally and internationally, and our unrivalled mix of new and seasoned professionals continues to keep us at the forefront of our industry. Our plans for future expansion are well researched, measured and achievable. We face the future in Kuwait and beyond with anticipation, relish and excitement.

Four major projects Pace has in the pipeline

The Avenues – Phase 4 – This last phase will complete the Avenues, which has become one of the largest retail destinations in the GCC. The mall offers a distinctive blend of high-quality retail ‘districts’, each with its own character and each with unsurpassed attention to detail. With two new hotels, the Avenues 4 will add some 130,000 sq. m retail space to the existing mall, with a development cost of over KWD 250mn (approximately $900mn).

Jamal Abdul Nasser Street and Jahra Road Projects – We are working with the Ministry of Public Works of Kuwait to deliver these two vitally important projects in joint venture with Louis Berger, which will significantly enhance the existing infrastructure and transportation network.

Kuwait National Museum – A large-scale collaboration with the National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters aiming to restore this iconic heritage building. Our work will deliver a total rehabilitation of the museum to offer a cultural centre Kuwait can be truly proud of. On completion, the museum will house one of the greatest collections of Islamic Art in the World, which has been composed with the guidance of HH Sheikh Hussah Sabah al-Salem al-Sabah, Princess of Kuwait.

New Jahra Hospital – One of the largest healthcare development projects in the region, let alone Kuwait. With the massive increase in patient flow rate, the Amiri Diwan commissioned Pace to undertake the design of a new hospital, which is worth in excess of KWD 350mn (approx. $1.2bn). The new 1171-bed hospital will include a full range of state of the art services and will function as a trauma center for the Jahra district.

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