Initially founded by Tamer El-Khorazaty and Said Sorour in the early 1990s, Ökoplan is a leading engineering consultancy firm that has a long history of successful projects inside and outside Egypt. With the aim of digging more into the design and architecture industry in Egypt, Invest-Gate meets up with Ökoplan Associate Partner and Business Development Manager Rowaida Rashed to explore the company’s business journey from Germany to Egypt. Rashed shares her opinions on sustainability, the current business climate post EGP float, and gives an overview about Ökoplan’s latest major projects, including the New Administrative Capital.
You originally founded your company in Germany in 1990 then opened another office in Cairo, what made you take this decision?
We began our operations in Cairo in 1993, at a time when our business started to slow down in Germany. Contrarily, Egypt was seeing a boom in the real estate sector with the establishment of new cities, which offered us multiple business opportunities. Hence, we decided to locate our headquarters and main business in Cairo, while keeping an arm in Stuttgart, Germany.
We started with the Heliopolis Sporting Club project in El-Shorouk City at the very beginning.
How is Egypt’s work environment different from other countries in terms of deals and operations sealed?
We have two types of clients in Egypt: large-scale companies and medium- or small-scale ones. Business deals made with major developers like Emaar Properties or international consultants like Zaha Hadid Architects are not different from that signed with international companies. The deals always comply with international standards, entailing detailed and accurate requests. However, individuals or small- and medium-sized enterprises are not as professional as larger ones, but we know how to handle them, given our long experience in this field.
Working with international companies speeds up project delivery and guarantees its high quality. The availability of resources and sufficient funding also play an important role in completion of the project as scheduled.
In terms of work process, there are a lot of procedures that should be taken before starting the project, like obtaining approvals and licenses from the entities of electricity, water and sewage. This may take some time, but we know how to finalise all these procedures in a short time. We got used to such a work environment in Egypt.
On the other hand, the work environment in Germany is very organized, systematic, and advanced. Although phases of planning, designing and assigning contractors take a lot of time, the mission is done in a very short time once we are onsite.
In Libya, the pace of work at the projects we carried out in cooperation with international consultants was very quick, yet they were never completed due to the political turmoil.
What are the services you provide?
We have a wide range of services; city planning, strategic planning, urban design, landscape design, architectural design, interior design, as well as civil and structural engineering, site supervision, and construction management.
What are the projects you worked on in the New Administrative Capital?
We did city planning for the 190,000-feddan New Administrative Capital as part of 5+ urban development consortium (UDC), which comprises Arch Plan, Cube Consultants, Land Consultants, Concept, and Okoplan. We are also working on a number of projects inside the capital like universities, a residential district, and sovereign high-priority projects, in addition to ministries’ buildings and a conference center with the China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC).
We did the planning of an eight-feddan- central park as part of a number of seven main parks with a total area of 5,000 feddans spanning along 35 kilometers.
We are introducing the concept of a smart city in the new capital, comprising compact zones or clusters with each one having all facilities within reach.
The new capital has a number of distinctive projects like the park and a central business district, which should attract multinational and international companies.
What are your other major projects? What do you have in the pipeline?
We were among the very first companies to conduct urban strategic planning for cities like Al-Shorouk, Badr, and 6th of October.
The company also did urban designing and master planning for projects like Rooya Group’s Telal El-Alamein and Telal El-Sokhna, Stone Park and Stone Residence, and still working on their new extensions.
We worked with Zaha Hadid Architects on the very challenging mixed-use commercial development Stone Towers. We did design development and created construction documents of the project, which is halted but will resume soon.
As for our latest projects, we are working, as part of 5+ UDC, on the 9mn-square-meter Jazan University in Saudi Arabia with international consultant Isozaki, whom we worked with on the development of Egypt Japan University of Science and Technology in Borg El-Arab.
We are the master planner and landscape designers for the residential project Mangroovy Residence in El-Gouna, in collaboration with a Swedish developer.
What is your style and what makes you different from others?
We work with different styles according to client’s’ needs, but we prefer to follow a minimal, simple contemporary modern style. We love to do architecture that is aesthetically beautiful and cheerful, giving optimism.
We try to introduce and initiate the sustainable and eco-friendly trend in the projects we do in Egypt, but it all depends on the developer as it needs a specific budget. However, there are simple practices that can be made to achieve sustainability such as using locally-produced and locally-sourced materials, as well as, durable ones that result in significant savings in terms of reduced-cost maintenance and repairs.
What are the major challenges you faced when you started operating in Egypt and how do you see the business climate now?
There were not much challenges when we started our business in Egypt as the market was very encouraging and full of opportunities.
On the flipside, the business environment has become very professional and competitive now, and the real challenge is how to provide the highest quality and meet clients’ high-standard requests. But generally, this year is better than 2016 and the market looks very promising.
How did the EGP float affect the industry in terms of costs and final prices? Did it have an impact on demand?
We did not increase our fees a lot, especially since not all our clients are big developers. They are mostly small and medium-sized enterprises. Although the EGP floatation led to a significant increase in construction costs, demand surprisingly still remains the same.
The population count is increasing by around 2.5 mn per year, so there will be always construction projects carried out by the government and investors working to meet the growing demand.
Do clients care more about quality or budget? How do you strike a balance between both?
Every client wants to get the best quality with the lowest price. To maintain efficiency and keep the balance between quality and cost, we always work within the budget set for us by the client; this is our ongoing success strategy.
How will the EGP devaluation affect the industry, in your view?
The EGP floatation will encourage local manufacturing. We already motivate our clients to use local materials and systems in our projects. And it is not only us, who are doing so, but there is a trend in the market towards that.
How do you see the future of design and architecture after the EGP float?
We are always very hopeful and this is what has kept us going since the January 2011 revolution. We try to continuously come up with new ideas and think out of the box to adapt to ongoing changes. This year we had a higher number of projects compared to last year.
What advice do you have for young designers and architects, or small offices, today?
Do not care about how much you get paid at the beginning. Everyone has their own special circumstance, but young designers and architects should focus on how to gain experience, prove themselves, and build a name in the market. The really good opportunity will come later. We should all adopt the idea of sharing experiences and ideas because this is what will help us develop and keep up to the pace of local and international changes.