Paul Priest, Director and Head of MENA Studios, Benoy

Architecture, masterplanning, interior and graphic design firm Benoy has opened its new studio in Dubai’s D3 design district.

Award-winning international architecture, masterplanning, interior and graphic design firm Benoy has opened a new studio in D3. As one of twelve studios globally, Benoy’s move to Dubai’s design district comes nearly ten years after they delivered their first project in the U.A.E., the iconic Ferrari World Abu Dhabi. Selections sat down with the director of MENA studios, Paul Priest.

What’s your favourite building in the world?

The Centre Pompidou, in the Beaubourg area of Paris. Half of the site has been given over to public space. As a space, I also love the Southbank of London. Placemaking lies at the very heart of architectural design – it’s the ability to bring people together. We don’t design buildings purely on the merit of their form and façades; it’s also about the spaces in between.

The Yas Island Masterplan must have been a dream commission to kick start your presence in this part of the world. How much creative freedom did you have on the project?
We had a lot, actually. The brief was to put Abu Dhabi on the map and create a lasting landmark for the city. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime projects and I feel privileged to have been part of it.

Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, UAE, © Benoy
Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, UAE, © Benoy

A decade on, have priorities shifted?
The market completely changed in 2009. Since then, we have focused on delivering ‘Destinations’; evolving from iconism to create projects which capture community interest and are genuine places for people.
Two major schemes that you have completed recently in Dubai are The Beach and City Walk.
Both these projects have opened many doors for us in Dubai. We are known for our retail and mixed-use designs around the world, and there is a lot of competition in this field in Dubai. With these two projects, we took the risk to step away from the enclosed box model and create something completely new for the city – a community-focused, open-air model. For eight months of the year, the weather here is perfectly pleasant – we are bringing new life to the outdoors by unlocking the full value of these sites and improving community integration. Our point of difference is to think differently and challenge convention.
It sounds sustainable too. We have to embrace our environment and context and not work against it: that is the key to sustainability.

How do you find working in Dubai?
Dubai is one of those places that you can’t help but feel inspired by. It strives to be on the leading edge – look at how it is preparing strategically for Expo 2020, for example. The speed of execution is vital in the financial feasibility of a project here. We have to be very agile in the way we approach things and in our studio this ideology at its core.

Does that mindset have an effect on Benoy globally?
In Dubai, clients are incredibly well travelled and they expect the best of every city they have visited, so that’s what we do: find the latest trends and re-contextualise. Our ethos is to draw on our global knowledge but deliver locally, with a strong local presence and understanding.

The Beach, Dubai, UAE, © Benoy
The Beach, Dubai, UAE, © Benoy

Why D3?
It is the creative hub of Dubai, where you can have your finger on the pulse of the city.
D3’s buzzwords are inspiration and innovation. Do they deliver?
Absolutely. Our young, creative team is inspired daily by the interactions they have with the community here. I think innovation comes from being challenged and forced to think of alternative solutions through necessity. Despite the variety of disciplines and mediums, we all face the same challenges on a daily basis: how to solve problems, how to get from a brief to a proposal, and how to fulfil our own personal and professional ambitions.

Where’s the future?
There is a huge amount of growth in the MENA region. We have never been busier. One of our next flagship projects is Bahrain Marina, as well as the new Bahrain International Airport Terminal in Manama. From Benoy’s perspective, there’s a lot happening all around the world for us. We are keeping an eye on exciting projects across Asia, as well as in more mature markets such as Australia and the Americas which are looking heavily at repositioning developments.

What’s the future?
Discovery and experience are becoming increasingly relevant to all types of building. The future lies in creating destinations for people to learn about themselves, be engaged in spaces and explore.

By Laura Egerton



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