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Report: Live Blog - Cityscape Real Estate Summit 2020 Dubai

White-paper-Report: Live Blog - Cityscape Real Estate Summit 2020 Dubai

Report: Live Blog - Cityscape Real Estate Summit 2020 Dubai




Under the theme: Future of investment in a post-pandemic world; Cityscape’s Real Estate Summit will empower industry professionals operating in the residential, industrial, hospitality, retail, and commercial sectors with detailed market intelligence through:

  • 100-plus hours of live and digital industry-specific insights, 
  • market analysis,  
  • keynotes, and tactical talks across two stages

If you are interested in finding the answers to your real estate challenges: Join us live at Cityscape’s Real Estate Summit, 16 & 17 November at DWTC by registering here.

Alternatively, keep an eye on this page as we will be sharing live updates and key insights throughout the event. 



The spokespeople at McKinsey, RIBA, Chalhoub, and Heriot-Watt university provide an overview of their sessions and presentations at Cityscape's Real Estate Summit 2020.


I am participating in a panel discussion among architects and the topic is centred on ‘Redefining the Concept of Smart Cities Post-Pandemic’. The immediate impact of COVID-19 on our cities’ infrastructure and resources has exposed vulnerabilities that in turn has forced us to rethink how we design, build and run our future cities. As part of the discussion, I will also be sharing my thoughts on the need to rethink our smart city approach to incorporate health crisis preparedness and wellbeing of residents. 
–    Dr. Harpreet Seth, Head of Architecture at Heriot-Watt University


'The evolution of real estate as an investment class'. The recession has severely affected real estate, exposing many challenges yet also expanding new opportunities. While market actors wrestle with the short-term threats, it is critical to take a step back and take a fresh look at real estate as an investment class. Has its risk/return profile changed? How is it expected to evolve, in the mid- and long-term? How should investors best position themselves against it? 
-    Pierfrancesco Rocca, Partner at McKinsey & Company, MENA


I will be looking back at 2020 and exploring how the architectural profession has been affected by the public health, as well as the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. I will cover the work the RIBA has done in supporting the economic viability of the profession, maintaining the health and wellbeing of architects and those who build and occupy buildings, and working towards a green economic recovery through the RIBA Recovery Roadmap programme. 
– Allan Vallance, CEO of RIBA



•    Covid-19 has changed the consumer behavior forever
•    Landlords need to rethink their business model
•    Retailers must focus on a hybrid customer journey
•    Building expertise in supply chain and in data is paramount to enhance the customer experience
•    The war on talent starts with creating a strong company culture, an environment fostering collaboration and a mindset nurturing an entrepreneurial spirit
•    To remain agile and adapt to the change 
•    How we should focus on the people, partners and customers during a crisis, and make sure their experiences remain intact, no matter the circumstances

-    Mansour Hajjar, Country Manager for the UAE & India Chalhoub Group

Day 1

Cityscape is open for business, insights, and knowledge

The 2020 edition of the Cityscape's Real Estate Summit has officially kicked off with attendees being welcomed by Chris Speller, Cityscape Group Director. This year’s theme is the “Future of investment in a post-pandemic world”


Chris Speller, Cityscape Group Director highlights how 2020 has been a year of change, in terms of the places we live, work and socialise: “ Our homes have become our schools, our places of exercise are now obviously also our offices. 2020 has been a year of adjusting and reviewing the use of our existing real estate assets.”

Sustainability is set to be one of the hottest topics in real estate over the coming months and years, explains Chris Speller, Cityscape Group Director: “Over the last year, we have been focusing on sustainable infrastructure in line with UAE Vision 2021.”


Noting the challenges posed by COVID-19, Chris Speller, Cityscape Group Director expresses confidence to attendees about the rigorous checks in place for the two-day event: “This year's event takes place under all the recommended official guidelines and has been designed to embrace the recommendations by the UAE Government and the Dubai Health Authority, while working hand-in-hand with the Dubai World Trade Centre.”

10.05    Dubai Land Department Welcome Address: 
HE Sultan Butti bin Mejren, Director General of Dubai Land Department (DLD)

Appearing via video link, HE Sultan Butti bin Mejren, Director General of Dubai Land Department (DLD), appears optimistic about the future, stating: “Our return [to events season] via Cityscape 2020 marks a new beginning. The establishment of this year’s exhibition is thanks to the great efforts of our wise leadership and everyone involved. It is one that will represent important economical benefits, the most important of which is to the real estate sector – a crucial contributor to our national economy.”

HE Sultan Butti bin Mejren, Director General of Dubai Land Department (DLD), continues: “[I am confident that Cityscape Summit 2020] will result in developing solutions and recommendations that will contribute to enhancing the growth of the real estate market in Dubai – confirming its position globally at the beginning of the new year.”

HE Sultan Butti bin Mejren concludes by sharing his outlook on the future of real estate in Dubai, stating that he believes that the real estate market in Dubai is one that has matured and cemented its position – even during the pandemic: “This is a factor that enabled it to continue activity – whether in terms of construction or development, as well as the completion of projects on time, and the continuation of sales. The latest statistics are testament to the strength and durability of the real estate market.”

In case you have been wondering how we are running today’s event, here are the details. We are implementing a number of precautions in order to ensure the strictest of hygiene and safety measures. In addition to enhanced cleaning of all equipment, sanitisation stations are located throughout the event’s premises. All attendees – who are no doubt used to physical distancing by now – are reminded to maintain a two-metre distance between them and colleagues. Seats at the conference and talk areas have also been placed two metres apart. And of course, attendees are required to keep their face coverings on throughout. If you are following us here, then welcome! You can also stay tuned via our official social media accounts, @CityscapeMENA on LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter.

10.50 The Tourism Perspective: What’s next for Dubai’s tourism sector? 
HE Helal Saeed Al Marri, Director General of Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing expresses optimism for the year ahead, and praises Dubai’s reaction to COVID-19. 
“My thanks goes out to the leadership here in the UAE and to the frontline workers here and around the world for keeping us safe. We learned that a quick reaction [to COVID-19] was what was needed to keep the tourism industry strong and get it to come back even stronger”
“The pandemic is obviously not over, we have had to have a very dynamic approach, to react very quickly to market changes.” 

HE Helal Saeed Al Marri, Director General of Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing explains that we are now in “phase two” of COVID-19: 
“People are looking to go back to normal behaviour. During phase one, people had a very different attitude. As people have learned to live in this new normal – what we call phase two – people have learned to live with it, to travel with it. Implementing all the measures that we are doing, is enabling the tourism sector to get back to work.”


Discussing the change in travel behaviours, HE Helal Saeed Al Marri, Director General of Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing says: “Tourists are looking for safety and healthcare, these things used to be secondary, but now they are on people’s minds. The way the UAE has handled COVID-19 has been watched from around the world. And the reaction to it has been very very positive.”

11.35    Keynote Address: HE Major General Mohammed Ahmed Al Marri, Director General, GDRFA Dubai

HE Major General Mohammed Ahmed Al Marri, Director General of GDRFA Dubai opens his keynote by reminding the audience about the UAE Centennial 2071.
In case you are not aware, the UAE Centennial Plan 2071 – launched by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai – is a long-term, full-vision plan that extends for five decades after 2021. It forms a clear map for the long-term government work, to fortify the country's reputation and its soft power.
The Plan aims at investing in future generations, by preparing them with the skills and knowledge needed to face rapid changes and to make the UAE the best country in the world by the next centennial in 2071.

HE Major General Mohammed Ahmed Al Marri continues: “At the beginning of 2020, the real estate market was strong, but of course [things have changed due to the pandemic]. However, as travel slowly returns, we’re already witnessing a more [positive outlook] compared to that of Q1 2020."

One of the perks of owning property in the UAE is long-term residency, HE Major General Mohammed Ahmed Al Marri explains, revealing that so far, an estimated 7,000 “golden” visas have been issued since launch.

The 10-year golden residency visa is subject to certain criteria. Those in real estate may obtain one by investing AED 10 million or above in the country.

Meanwhile, those investing in property of a gross value of not less than AED 5 million are entitled to apply for a five-year UAE residence visa

11.40  In Conversation With: Ahmed Al Khatib, Chief Development and Delivery Officer, Expo Smart cities & Rapid Innovation in the Construction Industry 
Ahmed Al Khatib, Chief Development and Delivery Officer, Expo Smart Cities & Rapid Innovation in the Construction Industry announces new Expo developments. 
The business leader says that Expo 2021 will now switch to focusing on local and GCC visitors for the event.  
“We are still hoping we will attract 25 million visitors, locally and worldwide, but of course there are so many variables. Dubai has a proven record of pulling through crises and providing remarkable results.” 
“Our focus is changing more towards GCC and local visitors [for the event].” 

smart city.jpg

Ahmed Al Khatib, Chief Development and Delivery Officer, Expo Smart Cities & Rapid Innovation in the Construction Industry says one of the important legacies from Expo 2021 will be the site’s smart housing that will remain after the event:
“Being sustainable is a way of living, it’s respect for future generations. It’s healthier and it’s becoming essential. Eighty percent of the Expo Smart housing will remain, called District 2020. The District will also be a hub for SMEs, new businesses and technology.” 

The Dubai Expo next year is set to become the most "digitised" Expo of all-time, with various smart offerings, 5G-enabled features, and buildings connected via IoT.

12.00 Economy, Tourism, Investment: Spotlight on Sharjah

HE Marwan Jassim Al Sarkal, Executive Chairman of Sharjah Investment and Development Authority Shurooq discusses how although international travel has slowed, those living in the emirates have been busy exploring the UAE.
“People in Sharjah have learned more about the emirate than ever before during 2020.”
“Because of the limitations that have been in place on people travelling abroad, it has allowed people to discover brilliant locations within the UAE.”


Occupancy at hotels in Sharjah has remained high in 2020:
“In Sharjah we have opened the eco-friendly nature Kingfisher Retreat. We also have many desert resorts, and occupancy has been at 90 to 100 percent. Because of the Pandemic, people have learned more about our landscape in the UAE, and been able to enjoy what we have on offer,” explains HE Marwan Jassim Al Sarkal, Executive Chairman of Sharjah Investment and Development Authority Shurooq.

12.15 Transparency, digitisation, decarbonization

Thierry Delvaux, CEO of MENA, JLL voices optimism about the real estate market in the region: 
“There are reasons to be optimistic. The current situation is forcing change, and forcing markets in the region to become more transparent.” 
“We’ve also seen Governments across the region introduce a series of measures over the past two years to become increasingly transparent."
With an eye to the future, Thierry Delvaux, CEO of MENA, JLL adds: 
“There has also been an increased interest in building more sustainable cities and decarbonised economies.”

Delvaux’s colleague Dana Salbak, Head of MENA Research at JLL adds:
“Transparency, new technologies, a focus on sustainability are all key. [And] Governments and businesses are capturing opportunities that become available, even in the midst of troubled times.” 


Dubai and Abu Dhabi both show improvement according to the 2020 JLL Transparency Index.

Dubai has risen three places from 2018 to 2020, now holding the 36th spot in JLL’s Transparency Index. 
Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi is “among the top global improvers on the back of sustainability and open data initiatives,” according to Dana Salbak, Head of MENA Research at JLL.

Dubai is first in the Middle East for Proptech, according to JLL.
Dubai ranks 1st in the Middle East, and 30th in the world in Proptech, revealing a high level of adoption in the emirate’s real estate market.
The achievement reveals a key development in the digitisation of the emirate’s property market.  

12.40 The future of development & investment in a post-pandemic world
“There are uncertainties in the market, but the right real estate can thrive”,
is the key message from Taimur Khan, Associate Partner, Strategic Consulting and Head of Research at Knight Frank. 

COVID-19 has accelerated changes that were already taking place in the real estate market.

“Predictions we previously expected to take place over 5-7 years across office, retail and industrial spaces we now expect to happen a lot quicker, because of COVID-19,” says Taimur Khan, Associate Partner, Strategic Consulting and Head of Research at Knight Frank. 

“We believe the office is not dead, but its form and function will change, ” 

says Taimur Khan, Associate Partner, Strategic Consulting and Head of Research at Knight Frank.

Data from Knight Frank shows that “6 out of 10 developers are making modifications to their plans” to adapt to the changing demands of a more remote workforce.

“Conventional and flexible office spaces will need to be available… The office will just be one [of many] workspaces. Landlords will have to put strategies in place so that going into the office makes a lot of sense, rather than just a place to go and use a desk,” explains Taimur Khan, Associate Partner, Strategic Consulting and Head of Research at Knight Frank.


Although COVID-19 caused a 70% decline in international tourism in August 2020, corporate tourism is likely to be more affected than leisure tourism in the long term, according to Taimur Khan, Associate Partner, Strategic Consulting and Head of Research at Knight Frank.

The message is that hotels of the future will be less focused on corporate travel, due to a decline in demand.  

Knight Frank data shows that 54% of corporate tourists say they expect less international travel (as virtual meetings become the norm), while 51% of leisure tourists say they have travelled or will do so in the next three months. 

14.18 The evolution of real estate as an investment class

McKinsey & Company kicks off the afternoon session looking at the changing nature of the workplace caused by COVID-19.

“Approximately two-thirds (67%) of employers say WFH (work from home) is here for the long term,” says Pierfrancesco Rocca, Associate Partner at McKinsey & Company, MENA.


It is difficult to predict the exact impact COVID-19 could have on the real estate market in the long term, explains Pierfrancesco Rocca, Associate Partner at McKinsey & Company, MENA:
“The economy bounced back much quicker than the real estate market following the 2008 financial crisis, however with the SARS crisis it only took a few months for the real estate market to bounce back.”

14.40 Fireside chat with Khatija Haque, Chief Economist and Head of Research at Emirates NBD

Katie Jensen, MC and Dubai One Presenter welcomes Khatja Haque over live video link and asks: 
“GDP is predicted to shrink more than 5%, the last time this happened was in 2009. What does this mean for the real estate market in Dubai?”
Khatija Haque, Chief Economist and Head of Research at Emirates NBD responds: 
“It will take a couple of years to get back to a pre-COVID economic outlook.”
Haque continues, “we’re not going to simply switch COVID-19 off next year, just because a vaccine is available. It will take a global roll out, where most people have immunity.”

Despite the setbacks caused by COVID-19, aviation and tourism must continue to be pursued as diversification from oil in the long term, argues Khatija Haque, Chief Economist and Head of Research at Emirates NBD:
“I think the diversification story has to continue, as we know, budgets in the region are still heavily reliant on oil.”

Discussing a time frame for GDP recovery from COVID-19, the financial expert suggested that Dubai should see improvement in 2021, while looking at “a full recovery in terms of the GDP by 2025.”

15.00 Panel Discussion: Resurgence of the real estate market post Covid-19: A look at the impact in the region

Three of the country’s leading real estate experts have joined together on the Arena stage to discuss the future of the industry in the region.

Alexander Davies, Chief Commercial Officer Dubai Properties makes an interesting point about the evolving nature of the Dubai real estate market based on recent visa changes: 

"There is demand there, and there is unfulfilled demand,” he says. “We need to be asking questions like: ‘Where are we with student accommodation? How as developers are we discussing retirement facilities that will be in demand because of the new visa changes?”
He continues, stressing the importance that developers feel a “duty of care” to previous (and not just future) customers:
“We need to make sure there is capital appreciation for the long term. We need to look after our customers, and create community within development and look after our prior investors – not just our future customers. We have a duty of care.”

Francis Alfred - Managing Director and CEO - Sobha Realty, highlights some of the key factors which are unique to buying in the regional market:  
“It’s not just about buying an apartment or a villa, but long term factors like maintaining the property. It’s a big factor for many customers – many do not realise they will have this additional cost. [In terms of attracting customers] it is important to have a limit to these costs.” 

Dubai is currently the 4th most attractive destination in the world.
“I have been in touch with a lot of the big hospitality players here, and the ones I have been speaking to have really started to see a recovery. Dubai is listed as the fourth most attractive place to visit in the world at the moment,” says Sajid Siddique - Sr. Director - Real Estate Structuring & Advisory - Mashreq. 

Ending the panel discussion on a positive note, Sajid Siddique - Sr. Director - Real Estate Structuring & Advisory - Mashreq suggests Dubai is in a good place to bounce back from the pandemic. 
“I've been in this market for 13 years, and Dubai is a phenomenally strong market when it comes to recovery. Whether it's the 2008 Financial Crisis or COVID-19... We are certainly on a path to recovery. I am not suggesting it's going to be booming by 2021 but I am saying we are on the road to recovery. And not just saying I hope that, I am saying it's in the data."

15.30 Panel: Is the retail sector losing its luster for investors?
Change in retail was inevitable, but COVID-19 has accelerated the shift towards a digitised market. 

“The sheer speed we had to move to a digital-only experience was difficult,” explains Naim Maadad, CEO and founder of Gates Hospitality.

“The actual experience of retail is very difficult online, 80 percent of retail is still in-person experiences. However, we had to innovate as a brand, instead we had a lot of stories, innovations and experiences online.”

The experiential economy is going to become key to in-store experiences, says Dounia Fadi, Chief Operating Officer, Berkshire Hathaway.

“Hyper-personalisation will be key to the future of the luxury market. Our customers will be recognised online and offline in exactly the same way,” adds Mansour Jean Hajjar, Head of UAE and India, Chalhoub Group. 

15.55 The role of technology in the road to recovery

The real estate industry in the region needs to do more in terms of digitisation and Proptech: 

“As an industry we need to do more, we have been too slow to adapt. But we also need the utilities and telecoms to innovate too to support those changes,” says Carl Allsopp, COO at Allsopp & Allsopp. 

Richard Waind, Group MD at Betterhomes adds:

“Why has real estate not embraced technology as much as others? One is cost, but real estate brokering is somewhat of a cottage industry here, compared to the US and UK.”

The “Uberising” of Real Estate has not worked.

“We want technology that enhances the experiences for both the customer and the broker. But we don't want to disenfranchise ourselves. The “Uberising” of our industry hasn't worked – because our industry is still dependent on great people,” says Richard Waind, Group MD at Betterhomes.

Abdullah Alajaji, Founder at Driven Properties expresses a desire to be part of the “Proptech disruption”. 
“The entire journey of our consumers is measured by technology. We have also created a few initiatives that empowers Proptech, we have invested in startups and we want to be part of that disruption if and when it happens,” he says. 
John Lyons, MD at Espace, agrees by adding: “At our company, we have a full time programmer in the building who has been with us for 10 years. We constantly have conversations with him, saying 'this takes 20 minutes, how can we get it to take 10 minutes.' To buy back time for our brokers. More often than not the answer is technology led.” 

Aptly concluding the day’s talks,  Carl Allsopp, COO at Allsopp & Allsopp addresses the audience directly: 
“We expect that we can go home this evening and order something on an app, from the shop or from a pizza delivery service and for it to arrive quickly - why shouldn't we demand the same of our Real Estate industry?”

DAY 2 

Welcome back to day two of Cityscape's Real Estate Summit, 2020. 

We start the second day with Majid Al Marri, CEO – Real Estate Registration and Services sector, DLD, taking to the stage to discuss digital transformation and the challenges posed by COVID-19. 

digital initiatives.jpeg

Many Dubai Land Department services are now available through an easy-to-use app called Dubai REST, Majid Al Marri, CEO – Real Estate Registration and Services sector, DLD, tells attendees. 

Dubai REST enables both property owners and tenants to manage leases (registration, renewal, and cancellation of the lease), submit rental dispute cases, and follow them up, along with many other real estate demands, remotely through their smartphone.  

Valuations using “accurate AI technology” are now available quickly and easily through Dubai Land Department, Majid Al Marri, CEO – Real Estate Registration and Services sector, DLD tells the audience.

“It will help and support the ejari index,” he continues. 

The aim is for the new system to be available from Q1 2021. 

10.58 Dubai College: The long-term strategy of the developing design over the last 40 years and into the future

Jason Burnside, a partner at Godwin Austen Johnson (GAJ) architecture firm takes to the stage to discuss school design. 

“[it’s important to see] the built environment and the learning environment as entwined. In terms of sustainability and impact on health. At [GAJ] we believe in a holistic approach to learning environments.”

“Learning environments are critical to the next generation, and to an extent – keeping families in Dubai.”

Jason Burnside discusses the impact of education and design on Dubai’s international reputation: 

“Dubai College was one of the first schools in the region - before that many families sent their children to the UK to be educated… Last year Dubai College was selected as one of the top 100 schools globally, reinforcing Dubai as a centre for excellence.”

Currently, a “10-year plan” is in place for GAJ to refurbish, renovate and replace buildings on the Dubai College campus, due for completion in 2026.

With the new designs and renovations at Dubai College, GAJ is focusing on factors such as “reducing the school’s carbon footprint, improving natural daylight in learning spaces… and developing interactive spaces,” the architect explains. 

11.25 Redefining the concept of smart cities post-pandemic

The first panel discussion of the day is centred on the role and future of smart cities.

archi pannel.jpg

“Smart cities are ultimately about the wellbeing of people," says Dr Harpreeth Seth, architecture professor and Head of Architecture at Herriot-Watt University.

“The boundaries between work, play and life have become blurred in a post-COVID-19 world,” she continues.
“Covid has pushed us to think outside the box, but smart cities are beyond that," adds Joe Tabet, Partner at JT+Partners.
“We need to start thinking wider. We need to think about ‘smart countries’ rather than just ‘smart cities,” says Kerem Cengiz, Managing Director LWK+PARTNERS. 

“Ultimately smart cities come down to local administration and principalities… There are a lot of layers to achieve a ‘smart world,’” says Joe Tabet, Partner at JT+Partners.
“Smart cities would mean that we can adapt quicker and faster in the future [to situations such as COVID-19],” he continues.

Dubai’s COVID-19 response has been assisted by smart tech: 
“The smart infrastructure in the city has allowed Dubai to bounce back a lot quicker than other places”, says Kerem Cengiz, Managing Director LWK+PARTNERS. 

11.45 Overview of 2020 and how that has impacted the RIBA and the broader architectural community 

Alan Vallance, the CEO of the UK’s Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) joins on a live video link from London.

His talk focuses on the impact of this year’s pandemic on the RIBA and the wider architectural community.

“It’s currently estimated that it will take two years for the UK’s GDP to recover from the previous 8 months of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Vallance says.

The RIBA CEO explains, however, that much of the current data available is based on the first COVID-19 wave, but that the UK, like much of Europe, is currently suffering from a second COVID-19 wave. 

Vallance explains how the RIBA kept going and kept supporting the architectural community during lockdown:
“We went completely digital in four days at RIBA, during the first COVID-19 wave. Almost overnight, we were using Teams and Zoom… we [also] held a series of digital events, networks and seminars throughout lockdown.”

The design leader tells attendees about RIBA’s new 2030 Climate Challenge.
“RIBA has developed the 2030 Climate Challenge to help architects meet net-zero (or better) whole life carbon for new and retrofitted buildings by 2030,” says Vallance. 
The challenge focuses on factors such as reduced operational energy, reduced carbon, reduced potable water use and focuses on health and wellbeing targets. 
(more details can be found at
“We would love to develop a Gulf version of RIBA’s 2030 Climate Challenge in the future,” he says.

“I am confident that as an architectural community, we will bounce back from the current challenges”, he concludes.

12.10 Presentation: The tourism factor: How building resilient, healthy, and ecological cities will revive the tourism industry
“We have a call to arms of what we need to do in our everyday activity [to help the environment and sustainability]”, says Steven Velegrinis, Head of Master Planning at AECOM.

One of the key issues facing sustainability and the tourism industry:
“How do we create tourism spaces, that also benefit the environment in which they are built?” says Velegrinis.
And we don’t have much time to make these decisions:
“We have 10 years left to take drastic action - we are on the precipice of that point in time, where there will be no turning back in terms of climate change,” he continues.   

By 2100 there could be a potential 5.4-degree increase in temperature in the region, which would be inhospitable during the summer months.
It is also predicted under the same scenario, that two-thirds of Dubai will be underwater if the sea level increase projections in the Gulf continue. 

“Resilient, healthy and ecological cities are the ones which will be able to deal with the chronic stresses, and encourage tourism in the future,” says Velegrinis.

At AECOM, Steven Velegrinis has worked on several plans allowing economic and environmental symbiosis in the development of tourist developments. 

Within the UAE, Velegrinis discusses the example of the company’s “Hatta Tourism Masterplan”, which has allowed compelling tourist attractions within Hatta, which also support the ecological viability and sustainability of the area. 

12.29  Is the office dead? What architects must consider as they design post-pandemic workplaces

Now on the stage is Richard Fenne, Principal and Regional Executive Chair at Woods Bagot, discussing post-pandemic workspaces. 

Fenne is a big supporter of in-office working environments. “The short answer to ‘is the office dead?’ is ‘no’," he says.

“Being in an office matter, it is about being part of a community. Working in an office also shows better performance,” he says. 

He lists multiple reasons why being in an office is important, including his belief that “creativity and collaboration are easier in a shared space, the idea that 70% of communication is non-verbal and the learning opportunities being in the office offer.”

However, Fenne argues that offices of the future do not have to look like offices of the past. 

He says that elements that people have enjoyed about remote work (such as increased natural daylight) can all be improved in offices of the future, along with factors such as flexible office and remote work time.  

Fenne discusses Woods Bagot’s recent workplace campus project in the UAE:
“We were working on it when COVID-19 hit, so we looked at how we could improve the design to help resilience to pandemic factors… these included touchless journeys, more fresh air, and outdoor spaces.”  

“Sustainability, wellness, and human beings are at the core of the workplaces of the future,” concludes Fenne. 

12.48   Reshaping Cities: 2020’s twin crisis pandemics & climate crisis
Raj Patel - Senior Associate, Architecture Design Director, Middle East, Gensler -  joins Cityscape 2020 on a live video link from the US, to discuss the dual issues facing real estate and the wider world: the COVID-19 pandemic, and the climate crisis. 

Millennials and Gen Z are more likely than previous generations to want to move out of city areas. 
“People are craving less dense environments,” says Patel.

“We also need to rethink the 20-minute neighbourhoods.” COVID-19 caused people to rethink what they expected to access within their immediate neighbourhoods, argues Patel.

Working from home and a cleaner environment has changed peoples’ expectations of their work life and cities:

“Rather than ‘how much more area we can get?’, we need to ask ‘are we getting what we need from our area?’” he continues. 

With Raj Patel’s talk concluding, the speakers will now take a break for lunch, with the next talk kicking off at 14.00. 

14.10 Why BIM is no longer a novelty for the construction industry but a necessity

Known as “the godfather of BIM” architect Andrew Milburn kicks off the afternoon session at Cityscape 2020. 


For those that might not know… 

Building Information Modelling (BIM) is the label for “a whole ecoculture of technologies. At its core, BIM is technology which helps collaboration, and it enables problem-solving and decision-making,” explains Milburn. 

BIM is an intelligent 3D model-based process that gives architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) professionals the insight and tools to more efficiently plan, design, construct, and manage buildings and infrastructure.

Designers should be driving the BIM process, rather than company advisers that are detached from the internal processes. 

“Software is easy, culture change is hard,” Milburn continues. 

There needs to be a change in the way digital decisions are made in AEC company management: 

“We need to stop using a top-down system when it comes to digital processes such as BIM. Successful digital innovation is always bottom-up. It relies on the end-users. They might not be writing the software, but the data they are putting in drives its success,” says Milburn.

Milburn calls on attendees to educate themselves in BIM, to work more effectively: 

“Instead of waiting for someone to send you a package to introduce you to BIM, start thinking innovatively - how you can work better through appliances like BIM,” Milburn continues. 

14.35 In Conversation With architect Sumaya Dabbagh, ranked one of MENA’s most influential architects and founder of Dabbagh Architects.

Award-winning architect Sumaya Dabbagh takes to the stage to be interviewed by Cityscape host Katie Jensen on the issue of the underrepresentation of women in the architecture industry. 

Diversity leads to better designs: 
“It’s not just about gender diversity, it’s about diversity as a whole. We can design better spaces if our teams are as diverse as the end-users,” explains Dabbagh.


Dabbagh discusses the rocky start she had in her degree in Architecture:
“I lost my scholarship in Architecture in Saudi Arabia, because it was not seen as a career a woman could pursue. Luckily my family supported [and paid for] my education after I lost my scholarship… I’m pleased to say that change is happening quite rapidly in recent years in Saudi Arabia.”

“There’s a need for a change in attitude at the core of the issues around gender. What people need to understand is that if you’re employing women, you’re really adding value to your company,” explains Dabbagh.

“In cities at the moment, there are a lot of towers, which I think are symbolic. If cities were designed 50 percent by women, I think there would be a lot more community spaces,”  the architect adds. 

Discussing female architects of the future she says: 
“I hope I can be a role model for young women in the region, by demonstrating that this career is possible. I hope that will influence them in a positive way. On a personal level, I hope I can provide mentorship, and encourage young women."
Asked what advice she would give to her younger self, the award-winning architect says: 
“Persevere - success is not an easy thing. Don’t be put off by setbacks and keep pursuing your dreams.”

On the current pandemic she adds: 
“I hope COVID-19 will accelerate the ability to be flexible and therefore encourage more women in this profession.” 

14.56 How innovative architecture will shape the design industry 

Industry expert Bart Leclercq joins now on a live video link from the Netherlands, to discuss the power of 3D technology, and the future of design.

Discussing the benefits of 3D printing, Leclercq says: 
“3D printing simplifies a lot of construction processes. Rather than going through more than ten design and construction stages, 3D printing simplifies the process into just three stages.”

15.10 Why developers need to adapt to technology to stay relevant in 2021?

For our final Cityscape panel discussion, our on-stage experts look ahead to why technology is essential to staying ahead in real estate in 2021. 

Discussing how to kick-start digital innovation, David Agha - the Head of Commercial at eiight - says:

“You have to start from the bottom up, and then start to integrate more and more processes. Digital transformation has to be executed properly.”

“I think we’ve started to see a trend of virtual show halls, which we were forced into, but it's something that will continue to be a trend in 2021. Currently, however, there are not many opportunities to purchase somewhere from your living room. You have to go somewhere to sign, to issue cheques. I think that will change,” he continues. 

Digital innovation is now the only way to survive in real estate in the region: 

“Being ahead in terms of digital in the region is now not just a case of thriving, it’s about surviving. Before, you could just get a billboard. That's not the case anymore, you need to be fluent in digital innovation,” says Sean McCauley, CEO, Devmark.

Luxury means personalisation, according to Richard Aybar, CEO at ThinkLab Middle East.

“When you order a Ferrari or a Porsche you can customise it in terms of its rims, its accessories. That’s something we need to consider in the real estate field now. The technology is available and people want and expect personalisation in this region”. 

15.31 The tech and AI revolution in real estate

For our final Arena discussion at Cityscape 2020, Pradeep Viswanathan, a Global Systems Architect at Schneider Electric joins us on a live video link to discuss the AI revolution. 

“The future of smart buildings means using an ‘all electric’ system (to eliminate fossil fuel consumption), and also an ‘all digital’ system (in terms of IoT, digitisation and security)”, says Viswanathan.

Viswanathan puts his money on the future of green, AI technology. 

“Smart, connected and green buildings have achieved a considerable 37% increase in terms of rent.” 

Put simply: “being smart and green increases the profitability of the building,” he continues. 


On the flip side, the development of AI tools will help to improve real estate broker services, and understanding customer preferences, says Viswanathan:

“AI is important in terms of descriptive, diagnostic, predictive and prescriptive data in the real estate industry,” 


Thank you for joining us on the live blog over the past two days at our Cityscape 2020 Summit. 

We hope you’ve found it useful, and enjoyed the past two days as much as we have.

We look forward to welcoming you back again in 2021!