Stephen Atherton, design director, Sobha Group, talks about the ambitious Sobha Hartland project

Stephen Atherton

What was the design vision you had in mind for Sobha Hartland?
The design vision was very clear which came from our chairman, PNC Menon. He wanted a city with a city—urban environment, superior lifestyle and leisure-driven, contemporary homes for the modern families. The focus is on the healthy living with lots of outdoor spaces and large landscape areas. We are centrally located and even the proximity to the airport is good.

What were the challenges you came across?
When you’re constructing something on a very scale basis, there are daily challenges that one comes across. We are building a city so there was a lot of integration and obtaining permissions with the local authority was required especially with Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA). There were engineering challenges related to water and site conditions as well. Then one cannot go ahead without ascertaining the market challenges. Real estate is not what it was five or 10 years ago.

What are the standout design features of this project?
In Hartland, in the villa community, instead of the usual standard approach, we challenged the Dubai Municipality with our approach for L-shaped and U-shaped villas that actually push the villas close to each other in order to create an open courtyard. Use of double-height volumes and bringing in lots of natural light into space was an important point of the design.

What is the biggest USP of this project?
Open green space dedicated to park areas and landscaping, the development is ideal for families and community living and this is our USP. Very few developers would take the commercial decision to take 18.5ha of their 74.3ha developable land and throw it back into public space.

How technology plays a role in the success of this project? From our studio apartments to our six-bedroom mansions, we have used great home automation technologies. Like in the five-bedroom villa, we have fully-automated systems like the lighting, curtains, and air conditioning is all controlled and even each individual light in this villa is singularly addressable. So, this is this level of control we are giving to our customers. We use one of the best home automation platforms that are currently available in the market. All the apartments come with lighting and air-conditioning control and people can upgrade their package according to their requirements.

What is your business strategy for this price-oriented market? We have to look at the market, but we set ourselves above the market. It is not about making a quick buck, it’s about our brand and whatever we do we have a level of quality and we cannot go beneath that. In terms of our price, we do benchmark studies; we see what is happening in the market. But we don’t tend to make that focus of our business. The mantra is that the cheapest is never the best. Shading structures and devices such as screens, overhangs and louvres have been integrated harmoniously into building facades and used the best products. We have great consultants, engineers working for us and they won’t compromise with the quality at all. We also have an independent quality and technology team who check each and everything from the foundation, the steelwork, to actual handover, so that’s the level of quality we offer.

What are your expectations from this project?
We are relatively a newcomer here. Once this project is complete, it will set a new benchmark for the quality, design, and concept. It’s not just about making money; it’s about building communities.