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Building for Future - Interview with Chris Johnson, Gensler UAE by Design Middle East

Chris Johnson, regional principal, Gensler UAE, talks about his current projects, challenges, and future of architecture in this region.

Who, where, and what inspires you?
I am inspired by the solution of the puzzle and the beauty of nature. I’m intrigued about finding unique solutions to complex problems and issues, whether they are emotional or physical. Added to that the beauty of creation in nature in all its magnificent forms and on how nature has also solved many of the issues we attempt to resolve today, it’s called biomimicry, looking to nature for inspiration.

Photo Source: Four Seasons Kuwait project by Gensler

What are you currently working on?
Many, many projects. I love the variety of clients and projects I am blessed to work on. The range of projects goes from retail to hospitality, masterplans to exterior skin. We have just completed the new Four Seasons Hotel in Kuwait and the latest phase of the Avenues in Kuwait, both projects I have been deeply involved in for many years and pushed the boundaries of experience and the impact design can have on our everyday lives.

What is your favourite project to date from the region?
My personal favourite is the Gate Building at DIFC in Dubai, as it was the first project I worked in the region.

What do you feel about the architecture here?
There is such a rush sometimes to build the craft and care is not taken to allow the projects to reach their full potential. While one can understand the reasons, architecture and the built environment has such a major impact on our planet and resources. Everyone involved in the process should take on that responsibility to the highest degree as we are building the future for our children and sometimes one must step back, look at the finished work and say, was that worth it? This is not new or unique to the region, it’s been going on for many centuries around the world, the difference now is the quantity and speed of construction and the impact that has on our environment and quality of life.

Photo Source: Four Seasons

What will be the most important factors influencing the future of architecture?
Natural resources for sure. Architecture is emotive, it’s about inspiration, it’s about exploration, it’s about living, and to me, it’s about saving the planet. We need to get smart, collaborate beyond our borders, and embrace the challenges we all face. We need to work with the best thinkers, engineers, visionaries, and scientists to craft a vision for how we will all live in the next century.

What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the design industry in the next five years in this region?
Talent! Architecture is a fascinating and inspiring profession; unfortunately, it’s not well-rewarded financially and other industries reward the creative mind more than our own profession. In many parts of the world, architecture benefits from patrons who invest beyond the business case in architects to inspire and regenerate places or capture memories and moments. We here need to help the young talent and improve our home-grown talent much faster, with experience, opportunity, and reward; we need to build a core of architectural excellence that is local but global in its outlook.

How is 3D technology a boon for design and architecture?
3D technology is simply part of the evolution. It’s another way of achieving our dreams and aspirations; I don’t believe it’s better or worse its just another tool and will have huge impacts on certain parts of our industry. We have explored the 3D printed communities to help solve emergency housing issues around the world. The project was the inspiration behind our concept for the first 3D-printed office now built in Dubai.

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