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“Architects Use Glass to Add Touch of Class to Structures”

By: Christine Reyes Espinosa-Erlanda, Godwin Austen Johnson

After winning the TFT Architect of the Year award, Christine Reyes Espinosa-Erlanda Associate, Godwin Austen Johnson shares her journey in the field and what are her key success mantras. Here are the excerpts…

What inspired you to become an architect? How has been your journey so far since you started your career?

My creative instincts began with chalk drawings on the wall of our home in Manila, Philippines where I grew up. I studied in a pre-engineering high school and from there I realised how impressive buildings are, how these structures encapsulate time and act as silent witnesses to man’s endless potential. I understood from there on that a building involves far more than its appearance and, as an architect, I wanted to be part of an industry that creates and shapes the present and future cities.

Moving to Dubai was a pivotal moment in my professional career and now I am fortunate to be part of building the future of the Middle East, designing and working for visionaries creating award-winning projects, master plans, and heritage. GAJ has been my family for eleven years now and is still the same family culture that allowed me to challenge myself and test my capabilities, mentor and be mentored while being given tasks that allow me to grow professionally and personally. The equal opportunity the team experiences here is not based on gender but merit based on talent, creativity and professional skill.

You have recently won the “Architect of the Year”. What are the factors behind your success and what design strategies do you follow?

I do not believe my success in winning TFT Architect of the Year has been based on a single achievement but is more a culmination of my efforts. Winning the TFT Architect of the Year Award saw me go through a rigorous and meticulous process, from online submittals, interviews, screenings, deliberation and online questionnaires which were incredibly challenging and yet memorable and worthy. For the TFT Architect of the Year Award, the judges were looking for evidence of the finalists’ leadership and innovation, professional excellence, contribution to the community, values and work ethic.

My active participation in supporting women in construction, in the art community and my community service through helping and reaching out to architecture and design students here in UAE and also in Manila were just some of the key factors highlighted as success factors. The judges were also impressed with the maturity and deftness I have shown on every project I have worked on.

What future opportunities and trends do you see in the architectural segment in the Middle East?

Glass Facade Glass Facade

The Middle East has been a forerunner when it comes to innovation and technological advancement and the highly anticipated Expo 2020 will be a vital business platform for the UAE. Additionally, the opening up of Saudi Arabia and its tourism sector will provide a significant boost to the development of the country providing opportunities within the construction industry. Some of the trends I believe we will see over the next few years include a greater prevalence of smart and automated buildings systems which will continue to get smarter due to tech-savvy clients and endusers.

The building design is going to change. The emergence of shared spaces such as Airbnb, for example, will result in an increasing demand for adaptable open spaces that can transform according to the preference of the end-user. These transformable spaces respond to a clientele who want to create experiences rather than permanence.

Another trend I think we will see is industrialism and minimalism which respond to end-users choosing an authentic experience and less accumulation of stuff / less clutter. On a similar note clients, today are well-travelled and there is a more nomadic style of existence than ever before. This requires a different way of thinking with modular design gaining popularity.

Rehabilitation and reformation or the adaptive reuse of existing buildings to extend their built life and provide a more economical and sustainable solution to building new ones is an area that we will see develop more in the next decade. The UAE already has a number of retrofit projects of old existing buildings which is a positive asset for the country adding to the historic values and providing an educational aspect for the younger generation.

Glass is considered the most aesthetical material to be used in building façades. What is your view about it?

Dubai Sports City
Dubai Sports City

Glass is a stylish material that can be found in some of the world’s most iconic buildings because, apart from transparency, glass has many other properties that can be combined to make it a truly multi-functional material. Architects have always used glass to add that touch of class to structures. In addition, it is a fully closed-loop recyclable material and its versatility is now also being used to replace brick walls, doors and façades.

It is among the preferred materials not only for its aesthetics but also because it is versatile and can help reduce energy consumption through solar-thermal and photovoltaic applications. Large glazed areas provide energy-saving properties at the same time as permitting natural light into buildings to enhance the living and working conditions of occupants. The technological advancement of glass such as algae within glass louvers or nanotechnologies added within this material highlights the aesthetic values of glass as well as its versatility.

Could you please tell us about the latest façade and cladding technologies and materials available in the UAE market and those you used in your project?

Dubai Sports City
Dubai Sports City

Façades are getting smarter and more sustainable through the use of technology and sustainable materials or the use of smart system solutions. For façade wall coverings, UAE regulations specify minimum requirements for combustibility, flame spread ratings, design, installation, and maintenance.

Materials such as aluminium, composite panels, metal composite panels, polycarbonate panels, exterior insulation and finish system (EIFS), external thermal insulation composite system (ETICS), glass reinforced concrete (GRC), glass fibre reinforced concrete (GFRC), glass reinforced polyester (GRP), glazing are available in the UAE. Depending on the design, type, and needs of the proposed building, the façade technologies we specify at GAJ have to respect performance and function. For some of GAJ projects we have specified, EIFC, wood plastic composite cladding, ACPs, GFRCs.

Could you please brief on the technological benefits of the well – managed façades?

Other than aesthetics and the presence of the structure, the façade is an important component of any structure. It acts as the primary barrier against external weather elements that could damage the health of the structure. With the birth of smart façade systems that combine efficiency and creativity, well-managed façades could help reduce risks and achieve improved comfort for inhabitants, reduce maintenance costs and lower energy consumption.

What are your views on the future façade and fenestration technologies as well as materials?

Façades will gain more significance in the future of structures. We are experiencing a shift now as façades become more innovative and sustainable through technological advances such as 3D printing, dynamic façades, nanotechnology, and smarter solutions.

How do you go about choosing the material of façade and cladding?

Selecting the right façade system can improve the life expectancy and nature of the building. Fire safety, performance, function, thermal and weather protection as well as aesthetics are some of the main considerations we evaluate while ensuring compliance with UAE regulations.

What is your advice for young and upcoming architects?

The advice I would give to aspiring architects is to follow your passion. Look for mentors to guide you along the way. Aesthetics, utility, and strength are yesterday’s basics. Economy and sustainability are key now. Our industry thrives on collaboration so work on your communication skills. Be reminded that the profession is for all, gender is not relevant but talent, skill, and creativity is. The profession is challenging but it is through supporting each other and continuously educating ourselves and our clients so that we will be able to elevate our profession. And finally, regardless of how challenging architecture as a profession is, there is nothing more rewarding than seeing your vision become a built reality.

Christine Reyes Espinosa-Erlanda, Godwin Austen Johnson


Christine Reyes Espinosa-Erlanda has spent over a decade at the award-winning practice, Godwin Austen Johnson and was recently promoted to Associate. She is a keen advocate of sustainable design and attained the LEED Green Associate credential, which recognises her as a leader in this field and an active participant in the green building movement. She was shortlisted for a number of awards including Architect of the Year at the Middle East Architects Awards, Women in Construction Awards at The Big 5 and the TFT Architect of the Year, which she won. She is a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects and, Women in Architecture Group.

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