Design practices creating lighting schemes for buildings in the Middle East need a local presence to ensure that the specified equipment doesn’t get substituted for inferior products.
That’s increasingly the view of the lighting community in the region, who point to an ingrained culture of spec breaking and rising price pressure on projects in the light of falling oil prices.
‘It’s not enough to send your spec over from London or wherever and hope that it holds,’ says Umar Khan, general manager at Dubai-based lighting supplier AW Rostamami Lumina. ‘Design practices need people on the ground to protect the specification. We’ve just seen a major project worth AED 15 million cut to just AED 6 million. This is a crying shame as it’s now full of poor-quality Chinese downlights so you’ll start to see colour shift and other problems.’
Substitution of Chinese for specified European light fittings is endemic in the region, despite the growing acceptance among clients of the presence of independent lighting designers on the design team.
‘To protect the spec you have to understand the brief and what the client is trying to achieve right from the start,’ says Mark Vowles, who has just set up the first overseas office, in Dubai, of the London-based independent lighting design practice, Nulty+. ‘You also need to be here. When we talk to clients they want to see us being a team, with boots on the ground. They want all subcontractors including the designers to be in the meeting every week. They want you to be present and that’s cost-prohibitive if you’re not based here.’
Independent lighting designer Regina Santos has been more successful than most in protecting her specifications for upmarket developments and hotels. She believes the key to protecting the specification is getting buy-in from the full construction team from the client to the contractor. If a contractor puts forward a luminaire as an ‘equal or approved’ product, she won’t hesitate in challenging it and pushing for a client decision if need be. On certain projects, Dubai-based Santos also teams up with the interior designer to hold design workshops for the contractors. In these, they go from area to area and explain to the construction team what fixtures they are using, what they are trying to achieve with the design concept, and the contractors’ role in delivering the vision.
“The most effective method in my experience is to bring people on board, especially the client and the contractor,’ says Santos. ‘Holding design workshops, having them involved, showing them the fixtures, these are key. I show them what we’re using and why we’re using it. The contractor will mostly want to offer the client alternatives such as more inexpensive fixtures, and usually the clients accepts because they wonder ‘why should I pay so much for a fixture when I can use another?’. This is the point at which you can involve the client and show them your fixture and explain ‘these are the points why we have selected this product’. In a comparison they will understand, and then usually for them it’s a no-brainer.
‘In a recent project I managed to keep the full spec using this technique and it was very gratifying. It’s very important to know why you are specifying something and be able to have this discussion with the full design team. Sometimes you can even accept the alternative because you can never know all the fixtures on the market.’
Lighting professionals in the region believe recent incidents – such as the New Year’s Eve fire at The Address in Dubai, currently being blamed on the lighting installation – will strengthen specifications, but with the culture of product substitution so strong, it may be a short-lived effect.
- Regina Santos is holding a special workshop entitled ‘How to protect the spec’ at 12.40pm on Thursday 14 April at the LuxLive Middle East 2016 exhibition and conference at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre. View the full programme and register for free at www.luxlive.ae.