In addition to the popular in person Member Spotlight Networking Series, we offer BBG Members the chance to answer questions “Under the Spotlight”
Brian Johnson, Managing Partner at Godwin Austen Johnson
1. What brought you to Dubai?
I began my career in London in 1973 and in 1975 I first came to work in Dubai where I worked for a small firm for a few months before establishing a new practice in Dubai with my previous employer in the UK. I was the managing partner of this new practice from then until 1989 during which time I was responsible for the design of an array of schools, the Emirates Golf Club and all architectural work for the Dubai Police Force from 1977 to 1987. Following my involvement in the design of the Emirates Golf Clubhouse and the subsequent establishment of Godwin Austen Johnson in 1989 I was delighted to win an International Competition for the Dubai Creek Golf Clubhouse and I was extremely proud when the government of the UAE decided to place an image of it on the twenty dirham note.
The Dubai Creek Golf Clubhouse, the Creek Yacht Club and the other two buildings on that project kept us busy for a while and then I was asked to design the Palm Tree Court Extension at the Jebel Ali Resort and after that a number of new commissions came in. Also I had originally designed the Dubai College in 1978 with my old practice and they invited me to take over the work again and this, combined with work with Mirage Mille on the One&Only Royal Mirage and the Bab al Shams Desert Resort, led to the majority of our work in subsequent years being in the hospitality and education industries.
2. Who is your ideal client?
Ideal clients are those who share the same values as we do and who make their overall requirements clear from the outset whilst allowing for creative solutions to their projects. Sometimes these may be high-profile or public buildings and sometimes they may be bespoke hotels or schools. The most important clients to us are repeat clients since that let us both know that our relationship is sound and based upon mutual respect and performance.
In addition to the obvious milestones of successfully completed projects over the past 30 years GAJ has established a number of internal departments all of which actively complement the architectural heart of the practice. The first was the interior design department which has continuously won awards for their high quality and unusual design solutions, followed by the acquisition of a fully functioning MEP team which has evolved over the years to be one of the most highly regarded in the region.
We have been the design firm of choice for many distinguished projects including Emaar (VIDA and The Palace Hotels and Residential projects), Al Seef Dubai (Meraas), an array of University and Cultural projects for HH The Ruler of Sharjah, Dubai College, Dubai Sports City, Arcadia Schools, Shurouq (The Chedi Al Bait) and EOM (Al Wathba Desert Resort & Spa in Abu Dhabi) and an array of other hotel projects throughout the region including the Jebel Ali Palm Tree Court, The One&Only Royal Mirage and the DoubleTree by Hilton & Hilton Garden Inn Riyadh, many of which have resulted in the firm winning an array of design awards.
GAJ have always found the UAE to be a place where architects can feel that they have something to offer to support the country and I am confident that this support will continue far into the future – it is an attitude of mind and the can-do spirit of the UAE will always be an encouragement to us all in the profession.
Our designs reflect architectural values that are a blend of modern architecture and traditional Arabic and Islamic themes and this has been the cornerstone of the design philosophy of the practice from the outset. Today, we are a team of 110 committed colleagues working on diverse projects across the region from contemporary and traditional hotels and residential towers to modern education projects and large master planning projects.
3. What business advice would you give your younger self?
If I were able to relive the past 45 years in the region I would make the time to learn to speak Arabic, and also to make notes, and take more photographs, of all of the amazing experiences that I have had over the years which are in danger of slipping to the back of my memory. From a business perspective I would hope to avoid some of the mistakes I made but at the end of the day we are who we are and I suspect that I would have ended up making many of the same mistakes again as I am a natural optimist and sometimes it might have been better not to have been.
I have been fortunate to have engaged a large number of talented colleagues who have worked with us for many of the past 30 years as well as being in the proud position of seeing colleagues either leave us to set up their own businesses or being head-hunted by other firms to take over senior roles in international organisations; we have an extremely impressive list of Alumni in all consultancy fields across the region and beyond.
4. What do you look to achieve through your BBG Membership?
We have had a long relationship with the BBG and draw much from our membership including exposure to senior decision makers as well as access to its large membership base. As a member of the BBG our primary focus is to develop our contact base and acquire new business leads and referrals for our architectural, MEP and interior design services.
GAJ (Godwin Austen Johnson) is one of the largest and longest-established UK architectural and design practices in the UAE. Throughout its history, which spans more than 30 years, the company has created some of the Emirates most iconic buildings and has helped define the Emirates as we know it today.
An award-winning and multi-disciplinary architecture, interior design, specialist lighting and MEP practice, GAJ has particular expertise in hotel and hospitality, residential and commercial, education, sport and leisure design. Despite its years the company remains young and dynamic employing more than 110 employees from its Dubai headquarters with offices also in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and the UK. The GAJ portfolio of work is extensive with a wide range of built and ongoing projects across the Middle East and North Africa.
For further information please contact:
Elaine Nettleton – Communications and Business Development Manager, Godwin Austen Johnson