Interview with Anwar Al Kahwaji General Manager at Al Ryum Contracting & General Transport Establishment

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Al Ryum Group - By Heba Hashem

Al Ryum Group has executed some of the largest construction, landscaping and irrigation projects in the UAE, earning itself a distinguished place in the market. Over the past 20 years, the group has transformed developments such as the Abu Dhabi Corniche; Yas Island Golf Course; Al Raha Gardens Residential Compounds; Burj Khalifah Residences: Emirates Hills: and Dubai Media City- focusing on both the aesthetic aspects and water conversation.
We speak with Anwar Al Kahwaji, General Manager at Al Ryum Contracting & General Transport Establishment, on how they manage to operate in an arid, water-scarce environment, conserve water while irrigating, and conform to rigid international standards.


Q: When was Al Ryum first established and how have you expanded since then?
A: Al Ryum Contracting was established in 1989, initially focusing on water features, playground equipments, Green Houses and small construction projects. We started with just 150-200 people and we now have over 5,500 people, so you can imagine how much we have expanded.

Q: Are there any changes you would like to see adopted by the regional landscaping industry to become on par with the rest of the world?
A: We are actually ahead with respect to landscaping, compared to the rest of the world. Landscaping is an important element in any project or development here, and the government is spending a lot on landscaping, in the sense that we are challenging a very harsh environment and dealing with water scarcity, so we are already doing something that is beyond other parts of the world. The changes needed would be related to specifications and designs; to adopt native plans that could be implemented here so we could add a regional touch to the landscaping.

Q: Water scarcity is amongst the biggest issues our region is facing today. How does Al Ryum generally fulfil its commitment to water conversation?
A: First of all, we always reveal our designs as part of our contractual obligations since we are a contractor. We also give our technical assessments towards what should be done. We adopt the best methods and new techniques in our irrigation systems and even in plant selections.
When we have the space to do the selection of plants, we select ones with the least water consumption and species that already adapted to the climatic conditions. Moreover, sometimes we change the ratio between the hardscape and landscape, so that we would be adding the touch of the hardscape to reduce the overall consumption of water in a given area.


Q: In your opinion, what are the most cost-effective ways by which designers, architects and planners can reduce water-wasting?
A: Let’s talk firstly about new projects before established ones. In new projects, the selection of plants should be adapted to the weather, so that plants would withstand the weather. It is also important to use new techniques in irrigation systems and new methods with respect to weather station, water sensors, devices with pressure regulation, which are already being implemented. Irrigation should ideally be carried out during the night time, and you should have automated systems most of the time. Those systems should really be automated (not only having automatic systems that have never been run in automatic mode). So it is a design-application issue; an integration between design and application.
Secondly, when it comes to the existing landscaping, we are mostly referring to lawns. In many of the areas, the irrigation networks are very old and there is a lot of leakage. For the efficient use of water - by that I mean irrigating during the night- consider changing the irrigation outlet to a more effective one, as per the new international standards, so that water consumption would be less; and dividing areas into watering zones, based on plant consumption, areas and wind effect- which would make a large difference especially in open spaces. All of these methods would play a great role in reducing overa;ll water consumption.

Q: Do you think that the international standards for the landscaping industry are too rigid and unrealistic or can they easily be applied when executing projects?
A: In regards to the international standards for the landscaping industry, the question is: have these standards been developed for the same climatic zone as ours??!! Are we implementing the correct standard codes? Most of the specifications are set overseas and do not stem from this region. Committees are sending us specifications for their climatic zone, but some of those specifications do not apply over here. This should be revalidated and rechecked through a local agency in order to be in line with our region. Having a standard is something good, as this would enhance the industry and we would be having quality in the end products.


Q: What is the most frustrating aspect of your work? And the most rewarding one?
A: We face a lot of difficulties and this is part of contracting work. This is a challenge which makes you better than the others; by achieving the mission on time and delivering with a quality manner. I am not considering this as a frustration because if it was, then that means we would be out of the industry. We always look at challenges in a very constructive way- and try to find a solution. We deal with things in an engineering manner; engineers always try to find technical and cost-effective solutions.
The most rewarding aspect is always when we complete a job and see the satisfaction of our stockholders, clients and consultants, and when everyone is pleased with the achievement that we did in a particular period of time.

Q: Where do you see the UAE in 10 years from now with respect to developments and landscaping?
A: The UAE is one of leading countries in this region and even worldwide when it comes to developments, and I don’t think that this will stop; it will continue in a different manner. Whatever has been constructed needs to be maintained. New projects are expanding and this will continue. Perhaps there will different ways of thinking about landscape, in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and other emirates- especially with regards to environment-friendly aspects.

Q: What about the real-estate slowdown? Could that affect the future of the landscaping industry?
A: Real estate is connected to landscaping, but don’t forget another thing: the UAE is becoming a tourism destination, especially during the winter season. And to be a tourism destination means to have your own parks, hotels and resorts. So the landscaping will continue- maybe not in the same rate that it was 3 or 4 years ago but the maintenance will continue for whatever has been constructed in addition to the new developed areas and zones.

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