Local lighting designers are few and far between in KSA, where international consultancies dominate. Design Tech Services’ Abdulaziz Al-Azem tells Andy Brister why it pays to think local.
Lighting is in Abdulaziz Al-Azem’s blood. The founder and principal lighting designer of Saudi consultancy Design Tech Services grew up with lighting as a constant - his father set up KSA lighting supplier Technolight back in 1980. “Lighting has always been there, and you get enthusiastic about it. I’ve always had a passion for light.” Following a first degree in interior architecture, Al-Azem followed his passion and moved to Germany to work with lighting design house Kardorff Ingeniure, working on projects across the Gulf, before completing a Masters in architectural lighting from Wismar University. He is one of the few Saudis to have done so.
Back in Riyadh, Al-Azem took the plunge and set up his own lighting consultancy – Design Tech Services was born in 2010. “I was able to draw on the connections we have at Technolight and make a good start. Some of my early schemes were interesting, iconic projects, so we’ve been able to get up and running in a short period of time.” Schemes such as Riyadh’s KAFD Grand Mosque, Al Jaleel Mosque in Jeddah and Jazan Airport have given him a name, along with high-end restaurants, retail projects and residential schemes.
We understand the culture of the country and the way that projects are run. I think it can be a problem for the international market – they don’t understand the client. "
DTS has expanded to employ six full-time designers as business has grown. “When we started out, a lighting designer was only appointed on major projects. Now, it’s much more common, even in the residential sector. Clients are more convinced about integrating lighting design with the architecture and there is much more engagement with sustainability and carbon saving.”
Al-Azem feels that being local gives him an advantage over international design consultancies. “We understand the culture of the country and the way that projects are run. I think it can be a problem for the international market – they don’t understand the client. We are available on the ground, so can visit every day if needs be.”
Of course, there are challenges. “The low knowledge base of clients is a big issue in Saudi. There is very little knowledge of lighting. And the budgets are minimal. Fees for lighting designers are low, so it can be a very difficult career.”
Saudi has experienced a difficult year, with a downturn meaning frozen or delayed projects and budget cuts. Rather than cutting back, DTS is looking to the wider Middle East, particularly Dubai. “I haven’t approached markets outside Saudi strongly up till now, but I will look to promote DTS in Dubai in 2016, creating a local office there.” Just in time to gear up for the Dubai World Expo 2020.