“Nature and the built environment, when integrated, create a synergy that prompts places where people want to be,” says Drew Gilbert, Design Manager and Architect at OBM International’s Dubai office and Top 30 Powerlist Sustainability Champion (Highly Commended Young Architect and Rising Star). “One of my favourite strategies to incorporate landscape into a design is where the building meets the ground. By adding a soft, green buffer, the building gracefully ‘grows’ from the soil.”
In addition to being a passionate biophilic designer, Drew describes himself as both an artist and a futurist who is focused on sustainable designs which are profoundly relevant to place and purpose. His work – ranging from bespoke private residences to Masterplans – is well-balanced, with an eye for context and climate. “My design process always begins with an in-depth analysis of the environmental, cultural and social conditions; the conclusion of this criteria drives a more impactful design,” he says. “This holistic focus brings forth built environments which improve quality of life and promote health, wellness and togetherness to enrich human experience.
“I use local materials and resources to uplift the built environment and embody a comprehensive and naturalistic design process which benefits the individual, and supports the evolution of communities with significant contributions to humanity. My objective is to create experiences that go beyond materialism by incorporating natural lighting, natural ventilation, water features and landscape elements which inspire connection and boost the sense of place.”
Barjeel Art Museum, Sharjah, UAE
Variety and creative-problem solving are the aspects of architecture which Drew says he most enjoys. “Every project is different from the last. The process is always evolving and the parameters of the project are never the same.” While each design is close to his heart, he cites a couple of favourites which best showcase his emergent approach and future-focus. The first is The Gardens of Samarra, a UNESCO-selected archaeological landmark in Iraq. “This was one of my favourite projects because it inspires future growth and encourages community engagement, offering a new platform for local craftsmanship. The architecture signifies an emblematic urban streetscape which is integrated and responsive to the diversity of cultures within both the local and wider communities.” The environmental imperative in his work, Drew says, is perhaps best highlighted by the Floating Houses Masterplan in Kiribati. “These Pacific Ocean islands are inundated by rising sea levels. The highest ground elevation is only a few metres above water level and will be fully submerged in the next 30 years. The design of the Masterplan focused on a transition from one of the first sinking island cities in the world into one of the first long-term, self-sustaining, floating cities.”
Growing up in the US, Drew had a limitless imagination and a deep connection to his natural environment. He says his journey to becoming an architect was a natural evolution of his childhood passions. “When I was young, I was always creating new things, modifying existing things and wanting to improve my environment. Inventing, innovating and bringing things to life gave me joy – from building and prototyping projects using physical model kits, to drawing and sketching. I also spent time restoring classic cars and my uncle was a pilot who flew a custom-made plane. After the air shows, I would be inspired to draw the aircraft and design my own.”
Eco House, Oregon, USA
This joy of invention led Drew to architecture, which he describes as his “route to continue creating, while also aiming to identify and develop flexible spaces that reinforce togetherness, and maintain their identity with timeless design. I knew I wanted to utilise my artistic abilities and skill to create positive impact by designing spaces, cities and societies that uplift communities and enhance people’s lives through their built environment.”
With OBMI, Drew says he is able to create visionary spaces that tell a story which is synonymous with space. “OBMI focuses on carefully discovering the innate essence of a destination and translating it into something unique and extraordinary. In my work environment, every day is a surprise. One day you will be developing a floor plan or refining a detail of a façade, the next you’ll be working on developing a Masterplan. The project brief always changes, bringing new challenges and opportunities to explore. The lack of a routine keeps me passionate and eager to try new things to arrive at unexpected solutions and create timeless designs.”
Eco House, Oregon, USA
As Drew looks to the future of the industry, he is eagerly exploring the emerging opportunities presented by the Metaverse. “In this virtual reality application of the internet lives a hypothesised version in which users can engage with each other in a fully connected virtual space that is decentralised and co-created. The Metaverse could transform the way we interact online, how brands communicate and how we experience events like live concerts and sports.” In the architecture and design field, he says, clients are becoming more interested in virtual designs, spatial computing, machine learning and game engines. “These technologies are some of the parts from which the Metaverse will form. This technology will allow both clients and designers to be immersed into spaces in a lifelike experience before the construction even breaks ground, creating a new realm for the whole industry.”
Drew is currently collaborating on an international Metaverse Meetup space, designing a levitating city which focuses on harvesting renewable energy and creating a Metaverse Gallery Museum to showcase the environmental and social impacts of his work. He is eager to continue pursuing his passion for human-centric designs which elevate societies and uplift the human spirit. “Never underestimate the importance of analysis before designing. It becomes the fuel to create solutions to real problems and drives good design. Know the place, the people and the challenges before sketching a single line. As architects and designers, it is our responsibility to design for the people and create better cities for future generations.”
To connect with Drew and learn more about his work, visit OBMI.com and follow Drew on Instagram and Twitter.
Dubai Iconic Mosque