American Institute of Architects Opens Middle East Chapter to Bring 'Pure Professionalism'

» Featured Columnists | By Alma Kadragic | November 4, 2010 9:04 AM ET

(ABU DHABI,UAE) -- The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has been around for more than 150 years. Founded in 1857 by 13 architects who decided "to promote the scientific and practical perfection" of members and "elevate the standing of the profession," AIA opened its first chapter in the Middle East, the fifth outside the US. On September 21, in Dubai during Cityscape Global, Steven W. Miller was named Director AIA Middle East.

The obvious question is why start AIA Middle East now. Miller said it was a no brainer. "As a Director of the AIA Continental Europe and a past President, I have known for years that the Middle East was too far from most of Europe and large enough to have its own chapter," he explained.

However, setting up an international chapter isn't easy. "AIA is a professional organization that needs direction from its headquarters in Washington, DC, and all members must be registered in the US by a particular state. You can't just be an architect from any country," said Miller.

The President of the Middle East chapter is Thierry Paret; Richard Krent is Vice President; Sherif Anis is Treasurer; and Adam Kushabi is Secretary. All are AIA members in the US who have worked for a long time in the Middle East.

The time was right for starting the chapter Miller believes because there are more American architectural firms in the Middle East than European or Asian firms. "I know of over 25 firms.  Also we represent more architects than all of these firms as our firms tend to be larger," he added.

What will AIA bring to the Middle East market for architecture? Miller has no doubts. "Pure professionalism, responsibility, documentation, and ethics," he said. "My Directorship is for the Fellowship awards of the AIA.  That means I am working with the chapter to develop the next Fellows of the AIA from the region," said Miller,  "which represents about 3.5 percent of all AIA members or 2.5 percent of the world's architects."

Miller is very familiar with the Middle East. He has been working in the region from the US and Europe since 1974. For the past six years he has been based in Dubai; recently, he joined Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF) as regional director, working out of their office in Abu Dhabi.

Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates (KPF) is an international practice headquartered in New York, with offices in London, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Seoul, and Abu Dhabi. It provides architectural, interior and urban design as well as programming and master planning services for clients in public and private sectors.  With more than 500 staff members representing 43 countries and speaking 30 languages, KPF is active in  35 countries. One of KPF's buildings is the Mori Tower at the World Financial Center in Shanghai, China.

As regional director, Miller is involved in all KPF projects here. In the UAE, KPF has completed the Burjuman Center in Dubai and the striking ADIA headquarters building on the Corniche in Abu Dhabi. It is involved in the construction of the new midfield terminal at Abu Dhabi International Airport and the future campus for the Abu Dhabi Media Center.

Miller said planning projects in the UAE and Egypt for developers Meraas and Limitless have been completed. The firm is responsible for designing several projects in Doha, Qatar, including the headquarters building for IBQ Bank, the Kamal mixed-use center, the Aero Space Center, a major airport, and an education-related facility.  Another design project is a hotel in Mumbai, India.

Many finished buildings in the UAE have been criticized for being too showy or unfunctional as well as depending on huge amounts of energy to cool glass facades and run high speed elevators more than 50 floors and beyond. Miller acknowledges the problem. "Yes, it is happening at this time, due to the past history of the region causing financial problems and infrastructure."

He looks to a better future as a result of the problems becoming evident and more professionalism. "I believe in the Urban Planning Council in Abu Dhabi at this time.  I think this will support much better planning and architectural controls," said Miller. He's hoping that the new AIA chapter in the Middle East will provide a positive influence and help lead to better designs and more sustainable structures.

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