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In conversation with: Daniel Hajjar, Managing Principal at HOK

Article-In conversation with: Daniel Hajjar, Managing Principal at HOK

Lucy Whittaker sits down with Daniel Hajjar, Managing Principal at HOK to gain an expert insight into the processes behind some of the region's most impressive architecture projects including the EXPO 2020 Dubai Masterplan, the Ethihad Arena in Yas Island and ADNOC's HQ in Abu Dhabi.

HOK is a global design, architecture, engineering and planning firm with studios across the world, including one in Dubai. What key trends are driving the global architecture industry today?

One common experience that has linked many people around the world over the past two years is a lack of social connectivity. As a result, there has been a push for events that bring people to together, such as sports, to enhance the social fabric. Many people also realise that they can no longer take that opportunity for granted, and hence there has been a rebound in “getting together”.

At the same time, people and governments now also have a heightened realisation of how important healthcare, life sciences and technology are to our overall ecosystem. Particularly infrastructure that supports research and development.

Sustainability has risen significantly up the agenda and consumers are now asking questions about the impact on the environment and on supply chains. We’re seeing more people questioning the sourcing of materials and structures, while scrutinizing sustainability credentials.

Some of HOK’s most notable projects include the Etihad Arena in Yas Island, ADNOC’s HQ in Abu Dhabi, and of course, EXPO 2020 Dubai. Can you tell us a bit more about HOK’s megaprojects in the Middle East?

HOK as a practice has always risen to the challenge of delivering ambitious projects - that is where we bring value. The Middle East is a region where we have been delivering megaprojects for 40 years. Growing alongside the region, we learnt how to change the way we deliver our work as more challenging projects were presented before us.

We often combine different disciplines from across HOK to bring the very best to our clients. For instance, for EXPO 2020 we brought together our Masterplanning, Sport & Entertainment and Architecture teams.

This was similar to the Etihad Arena, where the brief was for a new cultural landmark that would anchor a fresh waterfront and entertainment district. We designed it to be flexible and fit for multiple uses simultaneously. It was built to be adaptable for both 500-person events, and 18,000-person sporting contests. Sustainability was a critical component, and the venue was awarded ‘Sustainable Building of the Year’ by Emirates Green Building Council.

One of Abu Dhabi’s most prominent urban sites, ADNOC’s HQ is a timeless structure and new national landmark for one of the world’s most influential companies. Our Masterplanning, Architecture and Interior Design teams worked together to create something that would express stability, strength and purpose. The design maximized views of the Arabian Gulf through careful massing of the tower and placement of the surrounding plazas and landscape. The north side of the tower is fully glazed to offer Gulf views and take advantage of limited direct sunlight. While the south side, where sunlight is stronger, incorporates fritted glass and sunshades to reduce the need for higher cooling loads.

Delivering the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology required collaboration between nine HOK studios from across the world and included the Masterplanning, Architecture, Interiors, Landscaping, Science + Technology and Engineering teams. Using technology to work seamlessly across our studios allowed us to deliver the project in only 18-months.


The Etihad Arena in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi. 

The Middle East is home to some of the world’s most ambitious and iconic buildings, such as Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. How are the ambitions of governments in the region influencing the architecture and design industries?

Historically, most masterplans and buildings in the region are (and have always been) primarily utilitarian. With more people residing for extended periods of time, they are demanding better offerings within their communities. Iconic buildings and developments have often played an integral role within this this ecosystem, creating a place which resonates with the indigenous and expatriate communities.

Many cities in the region were formed around a tight grid and hence enjoyed a tight social fabric as well. This original and natural design has started to influence the physical form of modern-day communities we today, where the collective whole is the most significant factor in placemaking. If you look at cities today, people are outdoors and are engaging with the public realm more holistically than they did 20 years ago.

EXPO 2020 spans an area of over 1,000 acres and features 192 country pavilions. What process did HOK undertake to create the EXPO 2020 masterplan?

Our work on the EXPO masterplan was crucial because we knew it would be central to how people would experience the event and its sub-themes. We established a framework for the success of the pavilions and created a public realm which generated a vitality to the overall event experience.

This was also one of the first ever EXPOs to have an evening component, allowing Dubai to take advantage of the climate, leverage longer visitor times, and allow more families to visit. Integrating public spaces was a primary focus, along with constantly thinking about creating a lasting image and legacy. From start to finish, it was really something special.


The EXPO 2020 Dubai Masterplan. 

What exciting and unique features does the EXPO 2020 masterplan include?

The most important thing we delivered was the concept behind the Al Wasl Plaza, which reinforced EXPO 2020’s core sub-themes of sustainability, mobility, and opportunity.

Al Wasl translates to 'connection' and, as the central gathering and connection point of the EXPO, is representative of Dubai which has traditionally brought people from across the world together.

These opportunities are rare - we were proud to be part of making the aspirations come to fruition.

Planning EXPO 2020 will be hard to top! What’s next for HOK? Do you have any interesting projects in the pipeline?

It is difficult to pick one project because we are involved across a whole spectrum of developments! Regardless of what it is, we want to design responsibly and sustainably to improve the human condition and how people experience the public realm.

We’re always looking for projects that challenge us, and we want to make a difference and contribute to the betterment of the region through developments of all sizes, across all sectors.

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