DUBAI // For as long as she can remember, Sally Ibrahim Saad has had artistic flare. As the principal landscape architect for Dubai Municipality, the 30-year-old Emirati spends her days dreaming up new green spaces for Dubai.
Two weeks ago, the work of her office was on display when the municipality opened seven parks across the emirate, including in areas such as Al Barsha, Al Muhaisna, Abu Hail and Al Sufouh.
Ms Saad stands out from her siblings: three of them ventured into medicine, and the fourth is a civil engineer. She credits her dress-designing mom for her creative side, but says travelling as a child piqued her interest in how design could shape the character of a city.
During family holidays she travelled throughout Europe, America and the Middle East. "Every city has a distinct style," she said. "I still travel and take photos for inspiration."
After school, Ms Saad enrolled at the American University of Sharjah where she was one of the first students to graduate with a Bacheloer's degree in Architecture.
"University was amazing," said Ms Saad. "We had professional training in the US, where our university has ties with various landscaping companies."
She graduated in 2003 and wasted no time putting her education to good use.
This month marked the fourth opening of a park designed by Ms Saad to the public. She watched proudly as children and adults tried out the sports facilities in a space she spent months designing.
The Abu Hail Multi-Purpose and Sports Community Park covers 11,000 square feet. It features jogging and cycling tracks, a cafeteria and an administration block to ensure the smooth running of the park's activities.
From design to construction, the park took 340 days to complete.
"We are creating community parks which serve everyone," said Ms Saad's boss, the director general of Dubai Municipality Hussain Nasser Lootah. To that end, Ms Saad's team started by considering the needs of the multicultural Abu Hail community: surveys were sent out to residents before pen was put to paper. "That's how we found out people wanted sports activities," said Ms Saad.
Local residents like El-Marie Van Heerden and Rene Van Niekerk, both teachers from South Africa, were found taking time out on one of the park benches soon after the opening.
"It feels like home," said Mrs Niekerk. "The tennis courts are similar to the ones back home and the location is central."
Mrs Van Heerden agreed, adding the best aspect of the park is that it is safe.
"There's something for everyone here, especially children," she said.
Next year, the municipality will open a further five big parks and seven community parks, and Ms Saad and her team are already busy with those designs.
With five other designers in her department, Ms Saad says teamwork is what she counts as her biggest success.
"The relationships you form in your life are very important," she said. "If I didn't have strong relations, I would not have success in my projects - even if I was superwoman."
For inspiration, she draws on the work of her favourite architects Frank Gehry and Frank Lucas. But Ms Saad says her greatest inspiration is someone closer to home: "I admire the personality of our Ruler, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, whose book I've read many times. He encourages us to learn from our mistakes and stay standing."
When Ms Saad is not hard at work at the drawing board in her office, she is designing the family garden and offering design ideas to close friends.
"I feel happy helping them and, hopefully, this will expand to helping other people because I want to start my own firm some day," she said.