A construction company that dares to be different, Affan Innovative Structures has established itself as a figurehead of modernity
Writer: Jonathan Dyble | Project Manager: Ryan Gray
Aluminium has been used in aircraft since 1925, but it didn’t appear on any building site until the 1960s.
“Following the same pattern, carbon fibre, often referred to as the material of the future, was discovered in 1974 and first used in aircraft in 1984, but we’re still yet to see it being used widely in architectural designs.”
In the eyes of Amer Affan, vast swathes of the construction industry have developed a reputation of being somewhat regressive, with sector players consistently relying on traditional techniques, rarely challenging status quos.
Going against this grain, however, was the source of Affan’s motivations in setting up Affan Innovative Structures in 2004 – a Dubai-based business that has positioned itself as one of the market leaders in producing world-class steel and glass structures.
Looking at projects from fresh, creative perspectives, and having cultivated a team that is adept in working with the latest technologies, techniques and materials such as carbon fibre, the company has come to embody forward-thinking architecture in the GCC’s construction industry.
“One particular client of ours, Sidra Hospital in Qatar, was looking for an entrance canopy resembling a thin flying carpet-style look clad in stainless steel back in 2009, a filigree 3D design that was simply not possible to construct in steel,” reveals Affan, calling upon an example of the company’s innovative ethos in action.
“At that time, I was also building my own sailing boat in Dubai and realised the advantages of carbon fibre. The mast had about the same dimensions as the span of the hospital’s proposed canopy (25 metres in length) and so I put two and two together and explored the idea of using this same material.”
Affan’s emphasis on partnerships played a key role in enabling this venture, the company having worked closely with Airbus in developing its own architectural technologies surrounding the use of carbon fibre.
“It doesn’t matter if a project is steel and glass, composite, or anything else – we always try to cooperate with partners if possible,” Affan states. “I’m a person who likes to sleep well and find that four eyes are always better than two.”
On the Sidra Hospital project, this emphasis showed its merits, with Affan Innovative Structures having delivered the lightweight and very slender carbon fibre canopy without any need for backing panels or waterproofing membranes.
“We take on the jobs that no one else is willing to do; that appear impossible at first glance,” the MD adds. “Engineers may view a concept or proposal as being difficult, complex or unfamiliar. And that’s where we excel, owed to our willingness to try new things and dedication to meeting the expectations and requests of our clients.”
Experimental and inventive
It is this forward-thinking ethos that has allowed the organisation to excel in the 15 years since its unconventional inception.
“Back in 2004 I worked on a job for one person, but they could only pay the money into a business account,” Affan answers when asked about the firm’s history. “Affan Innovative Structures was therefore only initially launched so that I could accept this single payment, but soon after we began to take on more jobs and I hired my own team.”
From three staff at the end of year one to seven at the end of year four, the enterprise has expanded exponentially, now employing 250 workers across a diverse multitude of different divisions and specialisms.
Naturally, this growth has been accompanied by an ability to provide turnkey solutions that include an abundant range of adept design, fabrication, installation and building and maintenance system services, and in turn countless contracts and innovative architectural projects.
And for Affan, this portfolio is epitomised by The Lady Bug – a play area for children commissioned by the Dubai Health Authority for the Al Jalila Hospital in Dubai in 2014.
“We’ve delivered everything from 46-metre carbon fibre palm trees at the Palm Jumeirah to a sculpture bus stop for Airbus, but The Lady Bug is particularly fond in my memory,” he states.
“I asked the hospital Director why he didn’t want to spend the finances allocated to this project on extra hospital equipment, and I couldn’t believe his answer. He said a happy child recovers much faster than an unhappy child – brighten their days and you can help to get them home and healthy where they belong.”
Fast-forward to the present day and the company’s attentions are largely being captivated by its most significant undertaking to date in the form of Dubai’s Museum of the Future.
The facility is set to be no less than a flagship for the city, contributing substantially to the UAE’s mission of becoming a global innovation centre with its labs focused on health, education, smart cities, energy and transport technologies.
A key player in helping to deliver this, it is Affan Innovative Structures’ role to provide and fabricate the ‘materials of the future’ making the panels of the exterior cladding of the ‘museum of the future’ – a project that will require almost one million square metres of multiaxial glass and carbon prepreg sheets to create the 17,000 square metre cladding panels.
“In order to complete the Museum on time we’ve doubled our fabrication capacity, and by the time we’ve finished this project, we expect to be one of the most advanced companies in the world when it comes to these specific architectural techniques,” adds Affan.
And understandably so. The torus shaped building will be the latest landmark to mark the Emirate’s skyline and stretch the limits of engineering creativity.
“The UAE is a fantastic market,” Affan continues. “An adventurous and innovative country that is always looking for unique designs like the Museum of the Future, it’s what I’d describe as the dream place for any architect.”
This is not to say that the company’s ambitions are restricted, however. International growth is high on the agenda for Affan moving forward, the MD ready to leverage these expanded capabilities far beyond its consolidated status in the GCC.
“There’s a major construction boom in the UAE at the moment owed to Expo 2020, which is only adding to the potential of this high-value market,” he affirms. “But we’re wary that this won’t last forever and are actively looking for new partners abroad to work with, be it the Far East, Europe, the USA or elsewhere in the world.”
The company is already delivering its expertise and services to international markets on an ad hoc basis, largely in the form of prefabricated structures that includes a luxury resort in the Ivory Coast. Yet its capacity and indeed potential has expanded far beyond this, with Affan looking to profit.
“Right now, our physical footprint is confined to one country,” he summarises. “We execute projects in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, France, Germany and more, however, our production always stems from the UAE.
“We’re looking to change this, and by being at forefront of industry innovation through our involvement in projects such as the Museum of the Future, we’re looking forward to broadening these horizons.
“It’s a commercial decision, but a logical one too. I feel we’re ready to capitalise and tackle many more complex projects around the world.”