x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 13 December 2017

Enterprising plan for not-yet-finished buildings

The half-built complexes offer a variety of opportunities and could be used community services rather than just let the buildings languish under the sun.

It is time for developers to rethink their approach to the unfinished buildings dotting the landscape. Letting these structures lie dormant in the desert sun may not be the best plan.

Enter Doug Langmead, who sees opportunity in the partially built towers that stand as a symbol of the global property market downturn.

Instead of letting the projects languish, Mr Langmead, the managing director of Langmead Associates in Dubai, believes, they could be put to good use. And he thinks developers need to take a more creative approach than simply putting up walls and establishing security patrols.

Maybe an unfinished office building could be used as a community meeting space. Or perhaps the grounds of a stalled apartment complex could be landscaped and used as a playground or public square, he says.

One of his favourite ideas is to turn buildings over to local artists, who would be allowed to use the empty spaces as a palette for their work.

"They would turn the buildings into sculptural objects," says Mr Langmead. "It would give them cultural significance."

Mr Langmead's company is also offering more traditional mothball services to builders, which he call a hibernation service for projects - a way to put them to sleep for a few months until the market revives.

But what he really hopes is that developers will be creative and find ways to repurpose their waning, desolate assets. Even in the short term, buildings can be used for shopping areas or local parking, he says.

His message, which rings true, is that developers have an opportunity to turn still-to-be-completed structures into something the community would appreciate.

"The worst thing they can do is nothing," says Mr Langmead.

With that in mind, it's easy to let the imagination run wild. The half-built complexes offer a variety of opportunities, if developers are willing to think outside the box.

The steel and concrete shells would also make an ideal paintball facility. Teenagers in war garb could battle it out, blasting away without fear of doing damage. Loading bullets with rust-resistant paint would simply be a bonus for the developers, a way to give the building a cheap coat of protectant.

From a more practical perspective, developers could address a real problem by posting gigantic road signs on the buildings to aid local navigation. Drivers would only have to look up to get a 10-storey map of the neighbourhood.

Mr Langmead is not going down those creative paths. His proposals are grounded in a stark reality, the concept that these buildings will simply waste away if the builders do not take some sort of action.

Mr Langmead often attends meetings armed with a video showing the deterioration of a building over time, similar to scenes from the recent History Channel documentary Life After People.

Buildings can be repurposed in an organised way, maybe even using the government funds set aside to aid developers.

Beyond the practical implications, Mr Langmead believes there are psychological and emotional advantages to doing something with the buildings, even if they are used for something as simple as an art space. There is nothing worse than a half-finished building standing empty and exposed, he says.

By using a little creativity, developers could turn them into something positive.

"This is an opportunity for Dubai to lead the way, to find a way out of unexpected adversity," says Mr Langmead.

So far he has found few takers. Two developers in Dubai have shown an interest. But that's it.

Developers are in denial, he says. "There's a head-in-the-sand attitude. They don't want to appear to have problems."

But sooner or later, the developers will have to do something with the buildings.

Developers "haven't realised the consequences of doing nothing", says Mr Langmead.

If nothing else, a creative project will give the developers a chance to display a little pride - and maybe do something good for the community in the process.

kbrass@thenational.ae