Justin Keane, Technical Services Team, KEO PMI International, Doha
I have been very privileged to have worked on some fantastic one-off projects in Ireland with Homan O’Brien Associates and John Sisk & Son in particular. These include the Agricultural and State Laboratories, the iconic Convention Centre Dublin and Microsoft Date Centre DB5. But now I needed a new challenge.
My wife and I had been talking for some time about leaving Ireland and giving something new a try. Our little family was underway with Sam now two years old and my wife pregnant. We felt it was the perfect time to make the move. I’ve always liked challenging roles and new experiences. The construction industry in Ireland was quite stagnant and the potential for large-scale interesting projects in the short-term future just wasn’t there.
We researched Australia and Canada and although there were interviews and subsequent offers made for both, they were just not right for us as a family in one way or another. An old Sisk colleague and now close friend had already left Ireland for Doha, Qatar to work as a senior QS, and was really enjoying the move. So I researched Qatar and, as it turned out, both my wife and I had some other former colleagues and old friends who had also successfully made the move to Qatar.
The more we spoke with them about living and working conditions, plus the construction boom underway in the country, convinced us it was a good choice. I asked my contacts in Qatar about reputable companies and also conducted my own further detailed research. The name KEO International Consultants popped up over and over again, with positive feedback from my friends on the ground, multiple awards across all its disciplines, and a company that was well established in the Middle East since 1964.
I applied for a position with KEO and within two months I had conducted a number of administration checks, interviews, contract negotiations and was offered a position. I am now part of the Technical Services Team within KEO PMI International Doha. This team consists of a dynamic multi-disciplinary group of five senior professionals (Elec, Mec, Fire, Structure and Arch) with a positive “can do” attitude, led by Shahid Chaudry, Senior Architect and Technical Services Team Leader, Doha. My role within this team is as the electrical lead.
We conduct design and constructability reviews for all projects within the offices at different design stages prior to the projects going to tender. We provide design input, technical research, site inspections and management as and when required.
My experience leading the delivery of the first ever BIM project with John Sisk in Ireland has been invaluable, enabling me to bring this knowledge base to KEO and to take the BIM lead for the Technical Services Team here in Doha.
The diversity and scale of the projects available to work on with KEO is fantastic and in just six months I have worked on an Olympic standard sports hall and a mega zoo with an indoor rain forest. Qatar hosted the 2015 Handball World Cup which was a great success and ended with Qatar losing in the final to France.
I worked on the Lusail multi-purpose Sports Hall, a Qatar Olympic Committee (QOC) project, which held the event. This venue will also house many high-profile basketball and volleyball competitions. This massive 387,123 sq m project comprises a main hall, main arena, two training halls and lots of other facilities for athletes, operators and spectators.
Another project I’m working on is the new Qatar Zoo. This spreads over 75,000 sq m and has themed areas such as Asian Walking Safari, African Walking Safari, Tree House Hotel and Dining with Giraffes. My favorite, and the main attraction, is the Rain Forest enclosure. The profile of the roof is rolling hills and the complete enclosure will utilise ETFE technology for the structure. We need to maintain an ambient design temperature of 29ºC and relative humidity of 80% to replicate the conditions of a South American rainforest, not easy in a dry, subtropical desert climate!
All of these projects bring their own individual challenges right across the project life cycle. What is important for us as the Technical Services Team is to ensure we conduct meaningful and insightful reviews as required. At times, the reviews are conducted at various “percentage design completed” stages, so it is important to ensure that the output of the review isn’t telling the design team what they already know but instead providing insightful, constructive comments that will benefit the project, the team, and take full advantage of early identification of potential issues, delivering better projects for our clients.
What I also find very interesting working on the likes of these projectsis the innovative technology that is being used and considered to ensure that projects comply with the Qatar Sustainability Assessment System (QSAS) and receive satisfactory rating on completion. EFTE technology, rain forest rainwater recycling, utilising the outside air make-up when possible through various control systems, and photovoltaics are some of the technologies incorporated into these designs.
But what of Qatar itself? It is a really good spot and you can enjoy yourself here just as much as you can in Ireland with one big difference – the sun is always shining! I am quite an outdoors person and there are lots of outdoor activities on offer that are all reasonably priced. Day time you can go quad biking on the rolling sand dunes, rent a dhow (a traditional Qatar trading vessel), jet skis and banana boats. At night time dhow trips give amazing views of the Doha skyline with its unique mix of exterior lighting icons. These dhow trips are accompanied by fresh food and friendly service.
Swimming pools, water parks, basketball courts and soccer pitches are all pubic amenities in abundance, while even rugby and GAA pitches can all be found. In the main the Irish enjoy themselves in the traditional way in the likes of Doha Rugby Club, Crossroads, Champions Bar, Radisson Blue, Rose and Thistle … the list goes on and on! Beers and spirits of all kinds are on offer, including pints of the black stuff!
There is also some fantastic sightseeing in Qatar such as a visit to the Museum of Islamic Art and the Souq Waqif, a traditional old market place. I often go to the Souq Waqif to get lost in its little side streets, have a coffee and just chill out. Katara, a cultural village, is also a good spot with many Arabic restaurants and cultural events held all year round.
There are so many different cultures and religions in Qatar with thousands of expats from the UK, Ireland, Australia, Canada, South Africa, China, Pakistan, the Philippines and many more. The Qatari people are very proud of their history and heritage but also very open. They are interesting, pleasant and like the Irish. Arabic is the official language but English is widely spoken. Qataris respond positively if you smile and at least greet them in Arabic. They will then happily continue the conversation in English.
What advice would I give people considering a similar move? Do your research and prepare detailed budgets. It is also vital to get advice from people living and working in your location of choice. HR departments and Public Relations Officers (PRO) will play a major role in ensuring that the move for you and your family runs smoothly.
Choosing the right employer is critical. From the very outset KEO has been fantastic for us, going to great lengths to make sure we settled in both personally and professionally.The change in lifestyle is quite dramatic but they have been very supportive and reassuring throughout the whole process.
We’re now more than half a year into the move and so far it has been a very positive experience. l’m looking forward to the next few years in Qatar as it continues to build on its “National Vision 2030” and also gets ready for this small tournament in 2022!
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