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Dubai: Setting up a practice

What you need to know if you're considering setting up a practice in Dubai

Do I need a local office?

With the construction slowdown, setting up a speculative local office before winning a project is unwise. Working remotely is another possibility: Glenn Howells Architects works in Dubai from its Birmingham office and uses a local executive architect to take projects to detailed design stage. If you do set up an office, those run by foreign nationals must be 51 per cent owned by an Emirati partner, but Daniel Hajjar of HOK says: ‘If you can prove your office is a branch of an international company these rules do not apply, although you cannot work on “unique structures”.’ Personal relationships are key in Dubai and can take years to build; the downturn may be a good time to liaise with future clients.

Who employs the architect?

Dav Bansal of Glenn Howells Architects says: ‘Our experience is that clients usually employ a project manager, who will then put the design and construction team together and be the single point of contact. It is possible for us never to meet the client.’ This is especially common for non-Dubai-based clients. However, Hajjar says: ‘Some clients do not use managers – architects do it or clients self-manage.’ Bansal adds: ‘It seems to be the norm for the client to demand a few design options – we just explain that this is not how we work. Also, because we only go up to design stage and a local executive practice takes responsibility for the detailing, we transfer copyright to the client after our fees have been paid in full.’


Bansal says: ‘Planning is very strict, with guidelines on height, massing and setbacks.’ The planning approval process is much quicker and has two stages. The first is the equivalent of stage C and takes a couple of days; the second is equivalent to stage D and takes four to six weeks.

What is the most standard contract used?

The most standard contract is based on the FIDIC (International Federation of Consulting Engineers) Client-Consultant Model Services Agreement.

How involved is the government?
Government approval is needed for all projects. Each free zone has its own authority and its own rules.

Six recruitment agencies

Adrem and Cereba

Alan and Partners

Clarendon Parker

Hays UAE

Hill McGlynn

Monster Gulf

Major developers in Dubai

Bonyan Emirates

Damac Properties

Diamond Investments

Dubai Properties

Emaar Properties

ETA Star




Saba Properties JLT

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