It took quite a while for SSH to get around to establishing a presence in Dubai but the multidisciplinary design and engineering firm is now making up for lost time. The Kuwait-based company has been active in the Gulf for 55 years but only last year opened its first office in the emirate. Such has been the response that SSH is already taking on more floor space and increasing the head count at its base in Dubai Design District.
When we came to Dubai we had a five year plan, we didnt expect it to move so quickly, but the key thing weve noticed is that the bigger Dubai clients like the offer that we have, explains Michael Byron, resident director UAE, who is responsible for winning and delivering work. The response weve had from our client base here is phenomenal. We came to Dubai as a regionally based company but with an international design team. We spoke to the bigger clients here such as Meraas and Emaar and they were very excited about our offering.
SSH is working with Meraas as lead consultant on phase 1 developments north and south of the new Dubai Water Canal. The project is still in the design phase so exact details have not been announced but Byron reveals the development will include hotels, serviced apartments, houses and retail. The company has been appointed by Emaar on Harbour Views, a two-tower residential project at Dubai Creek Harbour, and is also about to begin working with Wasl properties in Dubai.
Byron explains the advantages that SSH, as a locally based company can offer over some of its larger competitors. The company has a studio of about 80 designers in Dubai which service clients directly. They include front end designers, visualisers, mechanical engineers and structural engineers.
Were competing with the big international companies but all of our team is based here and we have a team all around the Gulf so we can draw on those resources, he says. We dont fly in and out, our team is here. All of our top engineers and architects are based here in Dubai. We can go and see the clients directly, sometimes at even an hours notice.
The Dubai push is just the most recent example of the quick fire expansion that has seen SSH grow organically from 350 to 1,100 employees across the region in the space of just four years. The company also opened a Riyadh office last year to add to GCC branches in Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Abu Dhabi and its home base of Kuwait. Byron says further expansion to around 1,500 employees is on the cards in the next few years.
SSH offers the full scope of services from master planning through to construction supervision. The firms core five disciplines are architecture, interior design, structural engineering, MEP engineering and landscape architecture. Healthcare, hospitality and residential projects make up around 90 percent of our work at the moment.
Its where the opportunities are and its where we believe we can deliver the best value, says Byron. Healthcare is not an easy sector but we have a very good dedicated healthcare team and we have a number of projects in Kuwait. With the company being 55 years in Kuwait we have very strong relationships there.
Byron says the most exciting work undertaken by the company recently are major cultural projects in Kuwait such as The Jaber Al Ahmad Cultural Centre, a national theatre, opera, music, archive and conference centre. SSH has taken the project through as lead consultant from design to overseeing contractor Al Hani which is close to finishing construction. It has also worked on a museum in Kuwait for the same client, the Amiri Diwan, in collaboration with contractor Al Ghanem. The exterior is finished and fit out is underway.
SSH is very active in Oman where it recently oversaw the Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre (OCEC) in Muscat, a project it inherited from another consultant a few years ago. It took the project through to construction supervision and the client has re-appointed it for the third phase.
Surprisingly, one country where SSH has less of a presence is Qatar. We are active in Qatar although were a little bit more conservative, Byron says. Were focused on healthcare and on some private clients. Weve been appointed on a large hospital which is now on hold but were hoping to remobilise sometime soon. And were in the design phase of a mid-size shopping mall. Qatar is a market where its extremely important to manage risk and to have a strong client relationship.
Byron believes SSH has successfully navigated itself through the worst of any oil price induced downturn in the region.
Weve had to respond to pressure in the market, it hasnt been plain sailing, there was definitely a reaction towards the end of last year and early this year, he admits. Weve responded by becoming more flexible and reducing our cost base.
Many of our competitors have had to do the same. We can see more stability moving forward. That correction has taken place and there has been consolidation in the market overall. We can see a strong trend moving forward. The peaks and troughs wont be as significant.
Overall, Byron is bullish on the prospects for SSH in the region, especially in its home market of Kuwait and in Dubai. More surprising, perhaps, is how upbeat he is on another of its new markets.
We expect to see continued growth in Kuwait, he says. The government is committed to rolling out projects which we have a good chance of participating in. We see our Oman business continuing to be strong, we see growth areas here in the UAE, its very robust. We have a good business in Bahrain as well with a good platform of work. But the big growth market for us in the next five years will be Saudi.