Engineering design firm wants to ‘bring Dubai to Africa’

Two years ago the once booming real estate sector in Dubai was hit by the global financial crisis, which saw numerous multi-million projects shelved. However, at the time, Eng. Adnan Saffarini Office (EAS), a leading architectural and engineering design consultancy in United Arab Emirates (UAE), which has designed some of the world’s tallest buildings, set base in Africa to explore new opportunities on the continent. The firm’s regional director for Africa, Mahad Mohamud Karani, told How we made it in Africa’s Dinfin Mulupi about the firm’s mission to ‘bring Dubai to Africa’.

Mahad Mohamud Karani, EAS's regional director for Africa

Tell us a bit more about EAS

Eng. Adnan Saffarini Office was founded in 1968 and has years of experience from back when Dubai was a desert to the beautiful global city and business hub that it is today. We are a one-stop shop offering a wide array of services ranging from concept design interior and landscape design, tendering, project management and supervision. We have designed numerous landmark buildings including the 414 metre high Princess Tower, which is the world’s tallest residential building located in the Marina district of Dubai.

What inspired the entry into Africa?

In the last few years we were working on a project called the Falconcity of Wonders, which would replicate the Seven Wonders of the World such as the Egyptian Pyramid, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Eiffel Tower, Great Wall of China and the leaning Tower of Pisa, among others. However, after the global economic crisis in 2008 we stopped the project. Dubai is already a landmark and we thought, why not bring such a concept to Africa? We opened our offices in Kenya, which we believe is the heart of Africa. We are currently working on some projects in Rwanda, including a luxury city in Kigali. We are also designing a hotel in South Sudan. In Kenya we are working on a US$7m five-star hotel, a 62,000 m2 shopping mall which will be the region’s largest, and a $5m mosque in Nairobi. We have some work in the pipeline in Somalia as well [and are] waiting for the country’s situation to stabilise.

What do you seek to achieve in Africa?

We want to change concepts. Our goal is to bring Dubai to Africa. We want to bring Dubai malls and other landmark projects here. As the growing population and urbanisation puts pressure on land, we want to add value by designing tall buildings and skyscrapers set on very small pieces of land. For instance, the mosque we are designing in Nairobi will be built on a half an acre and host up to 5,000 worshippers and will also have other amenities like schools, shops and clinics. This creates more value for land. In Africa, we are thinking about the future. We want to design projects like Falconcity, bringing all the continent’s landmarks to one location. There is a lot of demand for housing in Africa, which creates a big opportunity for us.

Describe some of the challenges you have faced in Africa?

Our profile in designing big projects has been a disadvantage. People have the impression that we do not do small-scale projects. We have had to reassure local investors that we do small projects of very high quality and unique designs.

How are you coping with competition from local firms?

We cannot compete with them when they are doing poor quality [work]. We have seen buildings in Nairobi collapse at just five floors. Coming to Africa to design 100 floors is not a big deal to us, we have done taller buildings. We also ensure that our end project looks more beautiful than the 3D designs.

Is there a market for your kind of designs in Africa?

We believe both local and foreign investors are able and willing to buy and invest in big landmark projects. Africa has favourable weather conditions, a lot of foreign companies are moving here and the image of Africa is changing. So, yes, there is a market for large shopping malls, hotels and landmark cities. In the UAE we are recognised and therefore our entry into Africa is a value-add for the continent. We expect foreign investors from Dubai and the entire UAE to follow us and invest in our concepts here in Africa.