EXCLUSIVE: The group MD talks about Expo 2020 projects, presence in Saudi Arabia, smart building tech, retrofitting

by Ranju Warrier12 Nov 2020

In the latest episode of the Expert Interviews series, Construction Week’s digital editor, Ranju Warrier, converses with Peyman Mohajer, the group managing director of WME, an independent multi-disciplinary consultancy, with operations across the UAE, Singapore, India, and the UK, who talks about the shift to smart building technology and retrofitting in the time of COVID-19, working on Expo 2020 Dubai projects, as well as its presence in Saudi Arabia.

With the outbreak of the pandemic, the need for social distancing and virus-free ventilation systems has increased now more than ever, and Mohajer says that the clean air ventilation systems in the buildings, need to be looked at again, with additional filtration to make sure that unwanted flow of air is managed for integrated indoor ventilation.

He says: “Then hybrid spaces including workspaces, living spaces will be combined, which uses smart building technology that will be a lot more prominent now. To reduce the human contact the use of sensor installations has become the new norm.”

“In the future, we won’t see so many light switches in the buildings. There will be revolution and the power of BIM technology and retrofitting existing buildings to rethink energy efficiency. The other thing is high rise buildings. We design a lot of high-rise buildings, but we realised now that perhaps we need to make sure that opportunities for transferring that virus is reduced by again, introducing more sensors in the service touchless operation and creating more open floors so it’s not all confined spaces.”

“There will be retrofit of filtration systems in the buildings so as to make sure that the air filtration system is such that does not contribute to the infection of the of the occupants of the building.”

Sustainable building designs

Mohajer stresses that the approach towards designs, and towards the environment needs to be changed.

“Sustainability has definitely taken the centre point in our design, everything we do revolves around it. We make sure that the solutions that we offer are environmentally friendly, and they will not have a negative impact on the environment. And we are, we openly discuss these things with our clients in a proactive way, rather than a reactive way.

“We try to educate our clients about the sustainable options, even though they may have to contribute a little bit more initially, but we sort of explain to them that the running costs and the operational costs eventually will be beneficial to more sustainable system,” adds Mohajer.

Net Zero Carbon company

Mohajer confirms exclusively that WME has decided that by 2030 it wishes to be a Net Zero Carbon organisation.

“We have adopted this strategy. It is empowering all our employees, and everyone is very committed towards it. We are going to do something to reduce the impact our designs might have on the climate,” adds Mohajer.

In order to achieve its Net Zero Carbon goals the company is minimising the use of cement in making concrete and has been replacing cement with other material like ground granulated blast-furnace slag (GGBS) and pulverised fuel ash (PFA), which are waste products of a power station. These materials are ideal cement substitute.

In terms of MEP, the company is minimising energy consumption, by improving the insulation. “This way we have less carbon being emitted into the atmosphere through cooling, which is one of the main contributor of carbon emissions.”

“We have also been educating our staff about this subject. The implications of the not being aware of the impact is huge. Hence, we have reduced the amount of travels, and with the improvement in technology, we ask ourselves, whether we need to travel often. In fact, we have also tried to turn around the meetings into virtual meetings.”

The company is adhering to the guidelines directed by the UN Sustainable Development Board.

Expo 2020 Dubai projects

WME has been providing building services, AV/IT engineering support, including sustainable design, and it has also been acting as the architect and engineer of record.

Work on the UAE Pavilion, according to Mohajer, has been “very challenging”. “It is something that we are very proud of, because it has been extremely complicated; and to be able to deliver so much detail, so much complexity in such a confined space.

WME used BIM technology that helped it to deliver the pavilion, one of the first pavilions that it started working on.

“We also have worked with Luxembourg Pavilion and Austria Pavilion, which we designed, and Emirates pavilion, Operation pavilions. We are not only engineering but also providing architect of record submission to authorities and following up, and at the same time supervising the projects on the site to make sure that what we have designed is delivered correctly.”

Presence in Saudi Arabia

WME has a strong presence in Saudi Arabia thanks to the licence it possesses in the kingdom through WME KSA.

The company has been involved within the entertainment retail, and tourism sectors. According to Mohajer, the company worked with Vox Cinemas when the cinemas started rolling in Saudi Arabia.

“We were one of the first consultants who were asked to design cinemas and entertainment centres around the cinemas in Saudi Arabia. So, we have been quite busy in that sector.

“At the same time, because we have been involved with water parks, and theme parks in Dubai, we are asked to contribute to the design of such projects in the kingdom.”

Watch the full interview on our YouTube channel under the Expert Interviews series, or click on the link