Building Design, Buildings and Places, People Spotlight, Retail, United Arab Emirates

Our People Spotlight series gives you an inside look at our technical experts around the world. This week, we are highlighting our operations – building services director from our Buildings + Places business in the United Arab Emirates and providing an insight into their inspiration and work.

Tell us about what inspired you to join the industry

My dad is my inspiration. In my early years, he encouraged me to continue my education and work in a field that I would love to build a career in, and that would enable me to harness my strengths and develop skills that are most in demand by the employers and their clients.

“Get good at something you love and find people who will support you in doing it,” my dad told me. “You’ll naturally gravitate toward that career path — and don’t let anyone sway you otherwise.”

I followed this advice spending 10 years working while studying part time, and with the support of Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) gaining my chartered status in 2008. I had several inspirational mentors along the path, some of which I still regularly connect with after a 30-year career to date. Building design is my passion, and I am immensely proud to be leading the building services design and overall design direction of the world’s leading projects. I’ve now worked for 15 years in the UAE, and my journey here is set to continue.

The CIBSE has been a critical part of making this journey possible. Today, I proudly lead the UAE CIBSE Committee as Chair, and I am still actively involved and focused on supporting members gaining their chartered engineer paths and status.

What is your favorite AECOM project that you’ve worked on and why?

I have worked on many prestigious projects over the past years, so it’s hard to choose a favorite. One project I’m quite fond of was our work on the Mall of Saudi for our client MAF. As the building services lead, growing and mentoring the building services design team and individuals within has been a real pleasure, and the positive feedback and continued relationship building with the client team is equally rewarding.

Destined to become the Kingdom’s flagship destination for retail, leisure and entertainment, Mall of Saudi will feature an exclusive mix of Saudi Arabia’s most prestigious regional and international brands, alongside an exceptional food and beverage and leisure offering, consists of 296,000 square meters of mall gross leasable area, over 600 stores, 10,0000 parking spaces, 33,200 dedicated dining space, 5-star luxury hotel with over 275 rooms, and a 40,000-square-meter indoor snow park and ski slope. Our building services team were scoped to design all the above.

The team has achieved mighty things since the start of the concept design, working in a 3D environment culminating in a world-class coordinated building services design meeting the client’s current and future needs. Leading the team from my perspective focused on setting out the basis of design and design strategies across all systems and then empowering members of the team to take the lead and as importantly, ownership of their design elements. The collaborative ‘One Team Approach’ mantra was not only spoken about frequently but demonstrated each day as the project progressed.

Tell us a story of how your work positively impacted the community.

My goal is to positively impact those around me each day of my working life. From a work perspective, it’s all about our people, support and mentoring, as well as inspiring the new generation to grow, lead and be the best gets me out of bed early each morning.

At project level, a good example positively impacting the community is Diriyah Square. An iconic project in the making, situated 15 minutes northwest of Riyadh’s city center, the Diriyah Square district will be reflective of the kingdom’s culture and heritage. An important part of the district, the car park has been approaching 1 million square meters in floor area.

Working with our client DGDA, the buildings team delivered a world-class design for this landmark project. The project focused on the community’s need for hospitality as an important cultural value in Saudi Arabia creating a major retail and, food and beverage hub as well as outstanding spaces important for social interaction and building a sense of community.

Share a piece of career advice

Venture outside of your comfort zone.

When you try new things, you prepare yourself for your next role. Consider taking on new and difficult tasks that you aren’t comfortable with to expand your skill set. Every day is a school day.

One piece of career advice for venturing outside of your comfort zone is to start small. I applied this principle in the early years of my career. This can help build confidence and momentum as you take on bigger challenges. For example, if you are normally a quiet and reserved person, you could start by speaking up more in meetings or presenting in front of a small group.

As you become more comfortable with this, you can gradually take on larger speaking roles or tackle bigger projects that require you to step out of your comfort zone. Another tip is to find a supportive mentor or coach who can help you identify opportunities to grow and provide guidance as you take on new challenges. I have much to thank my past mentors most of which were not aware they were mentoring me.

Reid Donovan

Originally published Jan 25, 2023

Author: Reid Donovan

Reid is an operations - building services director from AECOM's Buildings + Places business in the United Arab Emirates.