From Melbourne Central, Daimaru development in downtown Melbourne, to Singapore’s landmark development Millenia Singapore; to Hong Kong’s four hectares Cathay Pacific City; to the RAIA Wilkinson Award winner Mondrian Apartments in Sydney, to Yas Island Race Day hotels in Abu Dhabi; blueVisions Middle East CEO, Rowan Dickson talks about his experiences delivering projects internationally.

Why did you choose construction as a career?

I started my degree in Engineering but later switched to Architecture as it was more interesting to be at the centre of the project design and delivery process. I naturally chose to be in construction soon after graduation because this is the project phase where physical buildings get created.

Which countries have you worked in?

Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia

What is the most exciting project you have worked on and why? 

Millenia Singaporein the mid-1990s stands out in my memory as it was the first large scale project I worked on outside of Australia. The project involved the construction of the Ritz Carlton Hotel, Millenia Walk Shopping Mall, Centennial Office Tower, Millenia Office Tower and pedestrian link bridges. It is a landmark project in Marina Bay, seen by anyone entering Singapore’s central business district from the direction of the airport.

I worked for the French contracting company Dragages et Travaux and was involved in everything from piling to the superstructure, enclosure, building services, finishes, and fit-out. It was a great experience to establish my knowledge base in all areas. I remain grateful to the senior management team on that project for providing me with such a fantastic opportunity early on in my career.

Since Millenia, I have been involved in many exciting projects and have held various roles, including design consultant, contractor, project manager, development manager and director for top tier global companies.

What are some of the more interesting experiences you’ve had?

The diversity of the climates in the various geographies is fascinating in itself. For example, constructing buildings in isolated locations to withstand Hong Kong’s monsoon rains and winds compared to the extreme desert heat in the Middle East.

It is also interesting to see how each country has its own construction methods that differ from the others. In Australia, scaffolding systems used in construction are steel unitised systems, while Hong Kong uses bamboo scaffolding!

I recall a conversation with the Chief of the contractor’s construction methods department, trying to work out how to write a method statement for bamboo scaffolding which is the generic method employed locally. I overheard part of the conversation, which went something like this:

 Chief: “So let me get this straight, you wet the lashing straps that hold the bamboo scaffolding together and when it dries, it becomes tight to make the scaffolding rigid.”

Bamboo scaffolder: “Yes.”

Chief: “But it rains a lot here so when it rains the scaffolding becomes loose.”

Bamboo scaffolder: “Yes.”

Chief: “I think I’m missing something.”

Bamboo scaffolder: “Why?”

The Chief went on to develop the method statement with the Bamboo scaffolder’s assistance, which was accepted by the technical consultant and implemented successfully in the construction of the building.

The moral of the story is: if it works, use it. Don’t try to change it, overthink it or complicate it. There are many challenges in the project life cycle, so take on board tried and tested methodologies where appropriate as ‘easy wins’ and focus your efforts, looking ahead and resolving the more complex issues before they become problems.

How is delivering projects different in the countries you have worked?

There is a consistency to the process internationally when you are working on large scale projects. It is broadly the same process, but the emphasis on specific areas of the overall stages may differ depending on the type of project and where it is delivered.

There are internationally accepted methodologies for project delivery that involve establishing the key success criteria for the project and developing the strategy to deliver them in the specific location considering capabilities of available resources and the prevailing economic, social and sometimes even political conditions.

The delivery strategy includes determining the procurement method. Some of the more mature project environments promote alternative procurement methods over the more traditional ones. These include finance arrangements, partnering, risk and reward sharing and ongoing management of the assets. I am an advocate for putting ownership of specific risks with the party best placed to manage those. Alternative procurement models can go further in this direction over more traditional ones. Still, these need to consider all pro’s and con’s weighted and scored against the project success factors.

What were some of the greatest challenges you faced during a project? How did you overcome them?

I find project recoveries challenging yet very interesting. Over the years, I have been asked to provide project recovery strategies for several developments that had stalled or were underperforming for various reasons.

One example was a project where the relationship between the developer and contractor had dissolved – both progress payments and construction had stopped, leaving the project significantly delayed as a result.  The recovery plan involved reestablishing the project teams on both sides and some of the consultant teams. Payment dues were then independently assessed, validated, and settled while the new team members established a new cooperative environment. The project quickly resumed and was completed.

Another example was a large-scale development where an inexperienced developer engaged an equally inexperienced contractor on a Design and Construct contract. As would be expected, things started to go wrong from the early stages.

So my team and I were brought on board to get the project back on track. We provided a detailed status report, including a building survey of what had been constructed and then presented a recovery plan. This included ensuring the building is up to code by increasing the number of fire escape stairways and updating the MEP design to include the detailing of openings that would need to be retrospectively cut into the existing structure. The remaining building elements also needed sufficient development of the design documentation for the construction to progress.

What advice would you give to those starting in your profession?

Get involved in as many areas of the industry and projects as you can. I never set out to be a specialist, and having a broad experience, knowledge and skill set has provided me with incredible opportunities. And the right attitude can overcome the lack of skills in many situations.

What are you most passionate about or inspired by in life, and how do you make this part of your everyday life?

I thrive in environments where I can see my efforts producing tangible results such as property development projects. I also like to work with diverse cultures, people and understand different points of view.

To wake up each day and go about business in a global environment such as the construction industry is truly amazing. It has provided me with travel, experiences, adventures, opportunities and true friendships well beyond what I would have imagined starting out in my homeland, Australia.

I am also fortunate to have a family with me who have adventurous spirits and as a result I feel my children will have the spirit of being global citizens from our international experiences together.

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