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Building the new Arabia

Cover story - Life in the Gulf

What is it really like to work in the construction capital of the world?

Bernadette Redfern asked the people there.

Bart Leclercq,35

Associate director WSP

Middle East

Dubai, UAE

I have been working in Dubai for almost two years and intend to be here for many more. It is such an exciting place to be.

Nowhere in the world is there such a huge building boom. It is every structural engineer's dream to work on the mega projects that are coming out of the ground. The tallest skyscrapers, the biggest shopping malls, dinosaur theme parks, the Palm Islands, The World project.

There is no end to the list of exciting projects that will be built here in the next few years. The good thing is that the building fever is spreading in the region, fuelled by increased income due to the high oil prices. Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Oman are looking at Dubai and want a piece of the action.

There will be a lot of work for engineers. If you like the action and don't mind working hard, this is the place to be. Salaries are tax-free so working in the Middle East can be very rewarding.

I am working with a team of about 22 excellent structural engineers and draftsmen on the design of the City of Arabia.

This $2bn (£1.1bn) project will become the new heart of Dubailand, the Middle East equivalent to Disneyworld. I am the lead structural engineer on this exciting project and the design is almost completed.

The benets of working here are obvious, sunshine 360 days a year, no income tax and a great social scene. As a young and enthusiastic engineer you get the chance to get involved with world-renowned mega projects. You will learn fast and be able to take a lot of responsibility.

The drawbacks are that you miss friends and family back home. Email and Skype are great tools to stay in touch but sometimes that is not enough.

Going back every once in a while is something you really do look forward to. I also miss the seasons. Falling leaves in autumn, snow in winter and fruit trees full of blossom in spring.

The situation in Lebanon is bad for all involved nations, especially the ordinary people who just want to get on with their normal lives. Unrest in the region is bad for the building industry as investors become more careful. Therefore let's hope the conict gets resolved quickly and peacefully.

Mike Barron, 39

Senior project manager,

Mott MacDonald

Dubai, UAE

I have always enjoyed working overseas and the challenge of working with different cultures.

So far I have been in Dubai for one month and a few days, and anticipate staying for a couple of years - maybe more.

Dubai is a real melting pot and a bit of a hybrid so it's an interesting place to live and work. However, inflation is an issue. House prices are as high and in some cases exceed those in London. The heat means that you have to change your lifestyle.

I used to cycle to work in the UK, but it's too hot to do that here.

Alan Cartwright, 56

Director of major projects,

Hyder, Dubai, UAE

I chose to work in the Middle East because the children had grown up and it was time to get overseas again and enjoy a change in surroundings. I have been here for two years and plan to stay another 10.

I am based on the Burj Dubai site where Hyder has over 100 staff. We are responsible not only for the design and supervision of the main tower, but also the infrastructure for the whole 100ha development.

Working out here is great because of the low crime rate, good climate and excellent travel opportunities. The culture of the UAE helps to get things done.

The drawback is the distance from family and the vulnerability of depending on a visa to earn a living.

As for the situation in Lebanon, Beirut is over 2,000km from the UAE, which is further than Tripoli, Moscow or Algiers is from London so there's no feeling we are in a war zone.

Syb van Breda, 43

Director of Architecture,

Royal Haskoning,

Dubai, UAE

I came to work in the Gulf because my company asked me to - and I didn't object!

I started working here in April and I expect to settle permanently in August. I'll stay at least three years.

My task is to build up a third architectural practice in the company, alongside our hubs in the Netherlands and Thailand.

I am also here to change the project office in Dubai into a fully edged branch office.

Dubai is a truly multicultural society, the Arabia of the 21st century. It is a very exciting business environment. The drawbacks are the impossible summers and the social inequalities.

The Lebanon situation is as indifferent to me as it would be in Europe: it is far away.

Matthew Squire, 33

Project manager, Atkins,


The Middle East market is booming at the moment, and there are fantastic opportunities to work on exciting and diverse projects. The experience that can be gained in the Middle East is very good and, on the whole, career advancement can be quicker.

I am also enjoying exploring a new culture and way of life.

I have worked in Qatar for two years and expect to continue for a few more.

Over the past two years I have worked as project manager for a variety of exciting and major projects. These include a new villa compound; the new National Taxi Depot; expansion of the National Alcohol Warehouse; a 50 storey residential tower; six building projects for various banks; a 300 room, fourstar hotel and a gas turbine compressor maintenance facility.

Most people would say that the main advantage of working in the Middle East is the financial rewards, but I think that the experience that can be gained is equally important.

Where else would you be exposed to such a diverse range of unusual and exciting projects?

The region is one of the few in the world where, as an engineer or architect, you could be involved in all of the projects that I've been in just two years.

The drawbacks? Well, sometimes the pace can be demanding. As a project manager, it's important to manage a client's expectations by setting realistic time scales.

The climate is also challenging with temperatures in summer reaching close to 50degreesC and humidity approaching 10%.

It's a hectic place to work - people say when you come to Qatar you will work hard and play hard. While I'm enjoying life out here, I'm still trying to find time to 'play' - hard or soft!

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