Paul Priest

PhD Work

Internationalising the Professional Standards of the Chartered British Architect; Ethical Procurement and the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Code of Professional Conduct in Dubai

We know the world is changing. “By 2050, the world’s urban population is expected to nearly double, making urbanization one of the twenty-first century’s most transformative trends. Populations, economic activities, social and cultural interactions, as well as environmental and humanitarian impacts, are increasingly concentrated in cities, and this poses massive sustainability challenges in terms of housing, infrastructure, basic services, food security, health, education, decent jobs, safety and natural resources, among others[1]”. The role of the architect has never been more critical in delivering quality environments for a global population.

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) encourages its members to become leaders within the architectural profession, driving forward ethics, professionalism and sustainability in an increasingly international context[2]. This research aims to investigate the efficacy of RIBA Code of Professional Conduct[3] securing an ethical and sustainable value chain of labour and materials in urban and architectural projects. Specifically, considering the RIBA's adoption of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal[4] 11 to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable, and in the face of perceived economic pressures of Brexit, the research attends to the dual pressures of internationalising British architects and navigating global ethical practice.

The project will work across disciplinary boundaries to offer a new perspective on traditional design research and to engage with the significant ethical challenges faced by rapidly urbanising cities around the world. It will evaluate the translation of the professional standards deployed in the delivery of construction projects in Dubai by certified British architects and foreground the social dimension of procurement practices and supply-chain structures. It will be positioned at the intersection of research and industry, and across diverse meta and sub-institutions; founded across the arts and social sciences, it will focus academic and professional perspectives to interrogate humanities in architecture. Dubai will be used as an entry point into British professional practices overseas, and reflexive cultural anthropological methods will analyse ethnographic data and conduct qualitative studies.

Criticism has been levelled at the ethics of Dubai’s rapid growth, particularly human rights[5] and sustainability[6], however ethical procurement is also a concern in the UK, with exploitation of the young[7] and a mental health crisis affecting one third of British architects[8]. Whether obscured within complex global supply chains of labour and materials or hidden in plain sight in a culture of unpaid overtime and competition, responsibly sourced building starts with design. This research therefore aims to question whether ethical procurement has the capacity to improve standards along the entire value chain. The business case for such reform is clear, as “demands for cost effectiveness will exist in parallel with demand for environmentally and socially responsible actions, leading to new partnership and operating models[9]”.

The UK has a world-renowned architectural pedigree and is the leading exporter of architecture in Europe. However, recent changes in global trade dynamics, such as Brexit, will inevitably lead to not only a reappraisal of service compatibility[10] within Europe, but professional mobility in markets beyond. The value of UK architecture exports reached £500 million in 2016, with 38% of chartered practice international revenue from projects in the Middle East[11]. In 2018, the RIBA announced its first overseas office in Dubai as “part of an expansion to increase its influence and standard-setting worldwide[12].” For more than 42,000 members worldwide[13], “Honesty, integrity and competency, as well as concern for others and for the environment, are the foundations three principles of professional conduct[14]”.

If measuring the value added by British architecture in Dubai, the statistics are clear[15]; instrumental values such as profit and growth undoubtedly describe success. However, what of the qualitative values of design? Is it possible to verify whether chartered practitioners meet their ethical and environmental standards when working abroad? Some industries have reformed accountability through a process of radical transparency, with formal disclosure processes for traceability and provenance now commonplace (BS 8900:2013[16], ISO 26000:2010[17], BES 6001[18], Equality Act 2010[19], CDM Regulations 2015[20], United Nations Global Compact[21] and the New Urban Agenda[22]). With British architects’ dependence on international trade more critical than ever, might evidencing compliance with exemplar ethical standards set a new standard for global practice?

The primary research stage will provide a snapshot of contemporary practice through the systematic mapping of architectural taxonomy in Dubai; a dataset of buildings procurement method, genealogy of consultants, contractors and suppliers, labour source and material specifications. In visualising this data, from microscale connections of local relationships through to the dynamics of broader global influences, a visual ecology will be generated. This will make visible Dubai's construction industry and facilitate a comparative analysis against architectural best-practice and benchmark against other industries. This new knowledge will then inform the development of propositional tools to be prototyped with practitioners in Dubai. Finally, a reflective phase will unpack this cross-cultural data to demonstrate the value in ethical methods, define the cultural relevance of these principles and their potential to define new standards in ethical development for Dubai and the UK.

[1] United Nations.

[2] RIBA, ‘Sustainable Development Goals in Practice’.

[3] RIBA, ‘RIBA Code of Professional Conduct’.

[4] United Nations, ‘The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’.

[5] Boston and Ma 02115 +1495‑1000, ‘Human Rights and Health Disparities for Migrant Workers in the UAE’.

[6] The Independent, ‘The Dark Side of Dubai’.

[7] Hurst, ‘Wasteful Architect Competitions Come under Fire’.

[8] McAulay, ‘With One in Three Students Suffering, It’s Time the RIBA and Schools Acted on Mental Health’.

[9] World Economic Forum and Boston Consulting Group, ‘Mining & Metals in a Sustainable World 2050’.

[10] European Comission, ‘Recognition of Professional Qualifications in Practice’.

[11] RIBA, ‘Global Talent, Global Reach’, 16.

[12] RIBA, ‘Exclusive: Royal Institute of British Architects Scouts UAE Office in Global Expansion’.

[13] RIBA, ‘RIBA International’.

[14] RIBA, ‘RIBA Code of Professional Conduct’.

[15] RIBA, ‘Global Talent, Global Reach’, 16.

[16] BSI Group, ‘BS 8900-1:2013 Managing Sustainable Development of Organizations. Guide’.

[17] International Organization for Standardization, ‘ISO 26000 Social Responsibility’.

[18] BRE, ‘BRE Group: BRE’s BES 6001 Framework Standard for Responsible Sourcing’.

[19] Participation, ‘Equality Act 2010’.

[20] HSE, ‘Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015’.

[21] United Nations, ‘The United Nations Global Compact’.

[22] United Nations, ‘The New Urban Agenda’.


  • PhD


    School of Architecture


    Architecture, 2018–

  • One decade of architectural practice in the UK followed by another as regional director of the Middle East and North Africa has provided the author of this research a comprehensive understanding of British and international working methods and professional standards, and agency in the field. Responsibility for establishing and directing several architectural design studios, developing business and delivering projects in all GCC member states and North Africa has provided a solid commercial understanding of the site of enquiry and access to industry agents of change. Personal experience of the adaptation of British professional service frameworks and standards to diverse local contexts, as well as participation in the RIBAs international chartered practice pilot scheme has offered a unique perspective of the subject. Proficiency in establishing an early presence in emerging and frontier markets and involvement in trade delegations with the British Government[1] has imparted the importance of policy, relations, mobility and cultural relativism. Author of more than 60 thought leadership articles and interviews on architecture and its values[2] across the GCC, ranked in the top five architects in the Middle East[3], described as a leading voice and winner of awards such as Middle East Principal of the Year[4] verifies a platform for opinion. It is hoped that the combination of the above presents a solid basis for a substantiated autoethnographic and inductive grounded theory approach to this research. More importantly, this experience has bestowed a sincere respect for both diverse alternative practices and a profound desire to make a change from the inside.

    [1] ‘INTERVIEW - Benoy Sees Growing Design Portfolio in MENA’.
    [2] Construction Week Online, ‘Dubai Is Laboratory for New Global Architecture’.
    [3] ‘40.Powerful.Architects.2016-5.Paul Priest’.
    [4] ‘Paul Priest Takes Home Award for Principal of the Year at Middle East Architect Awards’.

  • Degrees

  • Master of Research (MRes) in Architecture, Royal College of Art (RCA); Diploma in Architectural Professional Practice (ARB) RIBA Part III, University of Westminster, 2005 – 2006; Diploma in Architecture (Dip. Arch) RIBA Part II, Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London, 2000 – 2002; Bachelor of Science in Architecture (BSc. Hons) RIBA Part I, University of Bedfordshire, 1996 – 1999
  • Experience

  • Director and Head of Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Studios at Benoy, Abu Dhabi / Dubai / Bahrain, March 2014 - September 2017; Senior Associate Director at Benoy, Abu Dhabi, December 2013 - March 2014; Associate Director at Benoy, Abu Dhabi, March 2012 - December 2013; Senior Architect at SPARK, Abu Dhabi / Singapore, December 2009 - March 2012; Senior Architect at Benoy, London, June 2007 - October 2009; Architect at Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, London, June 2002 - June 2007; Architectural Assistant, Ahrends, Burton and Koralek (ABK), London, July 1999 - October 2000
  • Awards

  • No.8: Middle East Power List 2016, Middle East Architect; No.5: Middle East Power List 2015, Middle East Architect; No.5: Middle East Power List 2014, Middle East Architect; Principal of the Year 2014, Middle East Architect Awards
  • Conferences

  • RIBA Research Matters Conference, University of Sheffield, 18th October 2018; Critical Intentions, Royal College of Art, 16th January 2019
  • Publications

  • Outside Is Now In for Abu Dhabi, Mar 6 2017, Connected Cities; Q&A: Paul Priest On Dubai's Design Landscape, Feb 22 2017, Gulf News; Dubai Design Week: Major architectural players moving to Dubai, Oct 27 2016, The National; Zaha Hadid Architects, Calatrava, Benoy and Foster + Partners to open Dubai offices, Oct 26 2016, Design MENA; Benoy Releases Plans for Large Sustainable Community Park in Abu Dhabi, Sep 11 2016, Arch Daily; DEVELOPMENT: Khalidiyah Community Park to get Amazing Upgrade, Sep 8 2016, Abu Dhabi World; A Brand New Park is Coming to Abu Dhabi! Sep 6 2016, Channel 4 FM; New Abu Dhabi Park to Promote Sustainability, Economic Diversity, Sep 5 2016, The New Arab; RAK Properties Plans $1.3bn Project at Mina Al Arab, Sep 5 2016, ME Construction News; New Visuals reveal futuristic vision for Abu Dhabi's Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak Park, Sep 5 2016, Zawya; New Abu Dhabi Park to Promote Sustainability and Local Culture, Sep 5 2016, The National; Designer hired for $1bn Bahrain Airport interiors, May 3 2016, Arabian Business Publishing Ltd; Benoy lands design work for Bahrain airport terminal, May 2 2016, CPI Media Group; Designer picked for $1bn Bahrain Airport interiors, May 1 2016, ITP Business Publishing Ltd; Designing Destinations, May 1 2016, Middle East Consultant; Q&A With Paul Priest, Apr 23 2016, Cityscape Magazine; Architects Keen on Calatrava-designed Tower at Dubai Creek Project, Feb 7 2016, The National; Power List 2015, Jan 1 2016, Middle East Architect; INTERVIEW - Benoy sees growing design portfolio in MENA, Dec 29 2015, Sona Nambiar - Zawya; Meet The Judges At This Year's Middle East Architect Awards, Oct 8 2015, Middle East Architect; Urban Artificial Beach Is Centerpiece Of Benoy Project, Oct 8 2015, Middle East Architect; A Look At Architectural Innovations That Will Shape Future Cities, Sep 9 2015, Gulf News; Tourism Fuels Retail Sector Growth, Sep 9 2015, Wall Street Journal; The Beach: Where Leisure Meets Retail, Sep 9 2015, Wall Street Journal; Architecture For People, Sep 8 2015, Middle East Architect; Benoy Announces Its Appointment To New Nairobi Showground, Sep 7 2015, Architects Datafile; Benoy’s Designs for Bahrain Marina Development Project Move Forward, Jun 9 2015, Building Construction Design; A New Tourist Hub for Dubai, May 7 2015, Middle East Architect; Benoy’s The Beach in Dubai named National Champion in the MEED Quality Awards, Apr 1 2015, Building Construction Design; Riyadh Park in KSA by Benoy, Mar 21 2015, a as architecture; Benoy Announce Major Saudi Project,Mar 12 2015, DesignMENA; The Art of Benoy, Feb 15 2015, Cityscape Magazine; Benoy Completes Bahrain Marina First Phase Plans, Jan 21 2015, Construction Week Online; No.5: Middle East Power List 2015, Jan 5 2015, Middle East Architect; Paul Priest Takes Home Award for Principal of the Year at Middle East Architect Awards, Nov 20 2014, AEC Online; Paul Priest Of Benoy Outlines His Architectural Inspirations, Nov 11 2014, Construction Week; Benoy Sees Projects Step Up In The Region, Oct 30 2014, Middle East Architect; Developers Widening Briefs, Oct 8 2014, Middle East Architect; Benoy Extols Virtues of Shopping Mall Experience, Oct 2 2014, Construction Week; Dubai is Laboratory for New Global Architecture, Sep 24 2014, Construction Week; Developers Looking for Long-term Commitments from Architects, Sep 24 2014, Arabian Industry; Dubai Show Reveals Health of Property Market, Sep 24 2014, Wall Street Journal; Perspectives - The Galleria, Aug 10 2014, Middle East Architect; Creating Iconic Destinations In The UAE, Jul 25 2014, Gulf News; Creating Desirable Spaces, Jun 29 2014, Property Times; Global Recognition for Benoy-Designed Abu Dhabi Project The Galleria, Jun 17 2014, Emirates Magazine; Construction Week Interview - My Favourite Building, Jun 8 2014, Construction Week; Arabian Industry Interview - My Favourite Building, Jun 8 2014, Arabian Industry; Dubai's beach with a view - The Beach at JBR, May 24 2014, Property Weekly; Debate: Evolving Edge Or Out Of Town Retailing, May 20 2014, Benoy; Project update: The Beach, May 3 2014, Construction Week; Meraas Holding's New Retail and Leisure Scheme Opens JBR to Beachfront, May 3 2014, Arabian Industry; Creativity at Work in New UAE Developments, Apr 14 2014, Gulf News; Developers and Architects Tweak Retail Concepts in UAE, Apr 14 2014, Zawya; The Beach To Change Character Of Dubai, Apr 1 2014, Arabian Industry; The Beach To 'Change Character of Dubai', Apr 1 2014, Construction Week; GREAT Week, Mar 20 2014, UKTI; Editor's Note, Mar 1 2014, Middle East Consultant