Published: 10 February 2016
Above: Mohamad (seated, centre) with his survey team.
Mohamad Al-Dah has been a member of the Institution since 2001, and a Chartered member since 2008. He is currently Director of Technical Affairs for the Dubai Land Department, where he is leading a survey of Dubai’s buildings. He is also the Institution’s regional representative in the Emirate. Here he talks about his career, his work in Dubai and the exciting prospects for engineers in the city.
My design days started with Atkins in Dubai. There I met one of the most inspirational figures in my career, Allel Hadri FIStructE, who headed the office at the time and told me all about the Institution’s famously tough seven hour Chartered Membership Exam - which I passed six years later.
I went on to join Arup in the UK, where I worked on a number of projects, including exciting retrofit projects on historical buildings in London. My first job involved designing several concrete transfer beams within inches of the Circle and District Lines (which we weren't allowed to touch), and an interesting project at the St Regis Hotel in Cairo, where we helped the local engineers design a piled raft – the Egyptian authorities weren’t sure about the scheme, so my Arabic language skills came in handy to get it approved.
Currently I am heading up a survey of buildings in Dubai, to verify data against rental contracts and classify buildings in terms of quality – the intention being to create a fairer system of rent prices and service charges. We have also set up a safety "red flag" system which can be triggered by the engineer if he or she notices a dangerous building, which is reported to the relevant government department or owner as needed.
Two things have become clear from the survey: first, Dubai’s buildings have become more complicated in the way they are built in almost every respect, from design to materials to methodology. It's so different from just 30 years ago.
Second, we are still not maintaining our buildings as well as we could - we still favour knocking a building down and rebuilding it, even for structures as little as 15 years old. I find this fundamentally wrong for many reasons (cost, sustainability, architectural fibre, etc.) and would like to see more conservation and better maintenance across our building stock. As it is buildings in Dubai are an average of twenty years old – the oldest is the fort, which dates from 1899.
Of course there is a huge amount of construction taking place in Dubai, with some amazing structures planned - proposed skyscrapers like Dubai One and Burj 2020 receiving a lot of attention around the world.
Structural engineers will be at the heart of such projects, working alongside architects and contractors to design safe and sound buildings which will be there for generations to come. As the guardians of public safety we are there to employ the best methods (not necessarily the most expensive or modern) to suit the job – recognising that sometimes the simplest solution is the best.
It really is an exciting time to be a structural engineer in Dubai, and it’s an honour to represent the Institution, which links a community of highly skilled engineers doing amazing work around the world.