The story behind the guidelines that will shape UAE

Reid Donovan, AECOM Technical Director MEP Middle East, discusses the launch of CIBSE UAE’s Minimum Design Standard Guide.

CIBSE UAE, Reid donovan, Aecom, Building standards, MEP and HVAC

It’s an early Wednesday morning here in Dubai. The early rise was necessary as Reid Donovan had his packed work diary on his mind as tonight, it is the launch of the CIBSE UAE Dubai Minimum Standards for Building Services.

The CIBSE UAE committee was formed back in 2014 and Reid was a part of the original group.


He has held various roles over the years, but for the past two years he has been championing the CIBSE UAE committee, holding the chair position.

CIBSE is a network that includes regions across the globe. The institution is organised on a regional basis with 16 regions in the UK and four overseas in the Republic of Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, Hong Kong and the UAE.

There are also CIBSE members in 94 countries outside of the UK. In addition to this, the UAE region alone has over 400 dedicated members.

Following many years of work by the UAE committee, and with support from staff, in 2018 CIBSE gained a license from the Dubai Association Chamber to operate as an official UAE region.

This was a milestone for the local committee in the UAE and for CIBSE; it was the first new region launched in 29 years.

The committee consists of several threads. The main committee is complemented by the dedicated Technical Committee, Abu Dhabi Chapter, Young Engineers Network (YEN), Women in Building Services Engineering (WiBSE), and the Society of Public Health Engineers (SoPHE)  
CIBSE regions are in place to support the charitable objectives of the institution. Namely, the promotion of the art, science and practice of building services engineering for the benefit of the public in general.

The 2014 formation of the original committee was a key milestone for all those who were invited to join. Donovan remembers the first chair, Richard Smith, director with Atkins at the time, skilfully chairing the initial committee meetings.

He recalls feeling positive about the CIBSE UAE family being formed and that they could continue the journey that began in the UK.

Part of the committee is attentive on its technical focus, which is led by Isaac Coker, WSP MEP Technical Director. In his role of Technical Committee chair, he is supported by a wealth of volunteers.

Donovan recalls that these guides were born through an idea during one of the many workshop discussions.

He said: “These discussions passionately debated the need to raise the Building Services (MEP) engineering profile in the region, whilst also providing technical content to educate and assist other fellow engineers working on projects.”

The original idea was initiated over two years ago, and now the committee can publish the first series of guides.

It’s a proud moment for the committee, all of whom are volunteers, many having been part of the CIBSE family since the start of their careers.

Donovan said: “The guides are important, and we have had to take small steps to understand that the UAE Emirates, as well as wider regions across the Middle East, all have unique nuances with respect to local codes covering mechanical, electrical and plumbing/fire system design.”

Donovan also recalls when back in 2008 many code requirements were not fully prescriptive, and these were determined by gaining and building relationships with the local authority representatives.

He continued: “Understanding the requirements from the utility provides perspective and then applying them to our building designs. Our first step has focused on Dubai, and now the first series DGD01 Mechanical, DGD02 Electrical and DGD03 Public Heath are published, the technical committee will focus on Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia this year.”

Donovan notes how the challenge is the content and getting that right. He said: “These are guidance tools not textbooks, they are in the domain to support and guide, set out the necessary framework to assist designers in understanding those nuances and focus on the code driven requirements that must be firstly understood from a technical standpoint and then followed to ensure compliance.

“Less is more was the mantra in many review meetings. As engineers we love to get into the granular detail of such texts.

READ: 2020 edition of the MEP Middle East Conference breaks new ground

“The challenge was pulling back and ensuring the standards were pitched right, these are written to complement, and in many cases, highlight the wealth of local authority codes and standards, it was never the intension to replicate these or somehow take a view.

“We stuck to the facts and were confident these will complement the fantastic local authority guidance we already use daily.”

The launch of the guides has been a great success; the webinar was well attended and the recorded live session logged over 160 attendees.

Donovan said: “These included a wide spectrum of people from our local industry including clients, developers, contractors, manufacturers, and of course, our building services design community. In the last six years of hosting CPD seminars and industry events, this was by far the largest attendance, except for our inaugural annual dinner in February 2019 that welcomed over 200 attendees.”

The guides are available on the CIBSE website knowledge portal and are free to all. They are downloadable from the members area, but this does require CIBSE yearly subscription membership.

Donovan continued: “There are many subscription options staring at zero cost for student members in full time education, only AED 192 for part-time students and non-student entry level affiliate memberships are available. A whole range of grades are accessible to suit everyone’s needs."

In Donovan’s case this started 26 years ago, when he joined the then CIBSE two-year training scheme, whilst working as a junior building services engineer. Then, after almost eight years of part-time study, this concluded in completing his BEng (Hons) Degree in Building Services Engineering.

He said that with the support of CIBSE, his employers and supportive colleagues at the time, he obtained his full CIBSE membership, MCIBSE, and his Chartered CEng status soon followed.

After his move to the Middle East 12 years ago, he was working on mega projects, but CIBSE was not present in the region. He said: “I was extremely proud when I was asked to join the original committee … the rest is history.”

Donovan joined the AECOM MEP team a year ago after taking up the role of Technical Director MEP Middle East. He continued: “The past 12 years in this region have been an amazing journey career wise.

“From relocating with my family with Arup to work as one of a few design leads on the Raha Beach project, to then moving on to my Technical Directorship with WSP and MEP Regional Director roles at Arcadis, I have had the privilege to lead some of the largest and most prestigious projects and teams in the region... this explains all my grey hair.”

Donovan’s involvement in the CIBSE UAE committee continues, but after two years as the committee’s chair he has decided to pass on the torch to allow another committee member. Farah Naz, Sustainability and Innovation Leader at BuroHappold, has been voted in.

He said: “I wish her all the best. Farah will bring an immense amount of energy to the role and will keep pushing the committee forward for the coming year.”

Donovan notes how the reshuffle this year has been significant as many positions have changed with new members joining the committee. He also states how the committee has a full balance this year with 27 members contributing in a whole range of activities.

Whilst Donovan has stepped down as chair, he has happily taken up the role as membership champion, which is something he is passionate about. The role supports other engineers through the various CIBSE membership routes and ultimately, chartered status.

He concludes: “Many thanks go to all those that have been involved and contributed in the past as well as those who sit on the current committee.

"Further work can now be done to support members and prospective members in the country with technical events and conferences and much more.”

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