Partnering for Success

Design Works Engineering
Written by Pauline Müller

At Design Works Engineering, 20 appears to be a rather lucky number. However, as any successful creative can confirm, luck consists of 20 percent inspiration and 80 percent perspiration. For this dynamic team of well over 120, driving growth of over 20 percent annually year over year is just that: work, but with passion—and a lot of it.

With seven busy Canadian offices in Ottawa, Toronto, Burlington, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, and Grande Prairie—where it all started—as well as offices in Makati and Cebu in the Philippines, it comes as no surprise that Design Works Engineering earned the 2022 Hot Firm Award from Zweig Group and made it onto 2020’s Canada’s Top Growing Companies–Startup list.

President and Chief Executive Officer Haydar Al Dahhan started the company in 2014, together with the late John Lehners. The two initially worked from home but soon realized that finding a more suitable space to run the business from was of the essence if they were to establish the company properly. As tough as the early days sometimes were, things went well, the two founders persisted, and today, the couch from the first office they rented above a coffee shop—and on which they drafted their first business plan—still has a place of honour in its offices.

Broad expertise under one roof
Design Works Engineering ascribes its success to offering everything under one roof. The services most widely in demand are its mechanical and electrical engineering, energy modelling and work on multi-family residential units. The team also performs light industrial construction, such as storage facilities, warehouses, retail spaces, offices, and more. And, after recently completing a facility for an international logistics giant, the team is eyeing a similar project for another large company in that sector.

The company’s in-house building science department, meanwhile, keeps its environmental stewardship efforts at the leading edge, and the company leans into creating environmentally friendly designs that sit well in their surroundings.

Much of Design Works Engineering’s appeal for clients revolves around innovation. Earlier this year, the company published a paper outlining the positive aspects of energy modelling—a science that tests energy requirements within a set scenario. The paper is aimed at developers and is full of practical advice on U.S. financing programs for energy-efficient buildings, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), and some pointers on sustainable building design—all geared toward encouraging improved environmental sustainability in the industry all across North America.

Considering that some facilities can require up to 350,000 square feet or more, building them takes tremendous expertise. “The price of oil and energy has created this boom. When oil companies are profitable, other service companies are profitable as well, and we do their work too,” says Al Dahhan, who points out that when companies are profitable, they typically build.

Diverse projects
Over the years, many projects have left a lasting impression on both clients and the team. One such project was a 140,000-square-foot warehouse with office facilities for one of Toronto’s big retailers, who approached Design Works Engineering for its expertise in sustainable design and a range of engineering services that included civil, mechanical, and electrical engineering.

Then there is the 3064 Trafalgar Road Condominium: twin high-rise, thirty-storey buildings in Oakville, Ontario. The 678-unit high-rises are set neatly in a two-storey base building with 739 underground parking spaces across four levels. The apartment buildings boast unrivalled views of the lush surroundings and are within easy reach of many amenities. Apart from delivering renderings and drafts on this project, the company also executed a range of engineering services, including custom sprinkler engineering.

Of all its most memorable successes, the team’s design of the $14,000,000 Norlan Chrysler building, a Chrysler Dodge Fiat dealership in Grande Prairie, Alberta, remains a particular favourite. At 80,000 square feet, this project depended on Design Works Engineering for energy modelling, structural, mechanical, civil, and electrical engineering, renderings and drafts, as well as light design and surveying.

Building partnerships
Al Dahhan’s design ethos is straightforward. While buildings naturally have to make financial sense, their design must address their purpose while ensuring efficiency; however, he postulates, cultivating connections between people over time makes all the difference. By meeting customers with an attitude of partnership, the company ensures that it grows and evolves with its customers’ own businesses.

“We are not in the engineering industry; I believe we are in the service and customer service industries,” he says.

To that end, remembering his roots and the challenges faced to attain the level he has reached keeps things real for this driven leader. “People sometimes forget where they started. They look at what they have right now,” he says, noting that, while that is nice, “At one point you started with nothing; at one point you were nothing. Once you learn and understand that, that is how you [will] get to the next stage in your career.”

Al Dahhan is particularly proud of the people he works with. The company is inclusive, which is reflected in the demographics of its team, and he says the team carries an ideal balance of personality, outlook, knowledge, and expertise. “We have an awesome team; they are at the forefront of what we do. The team creates the output, and it has just been fantastic,” he says, underscoring how grateful he is for everything they do.

Indeed, the camaraderie of its offices helped pull the company through COVID and beyond, with the business able to continue operating thanks to the commitment of its people.

Serving the community
With a big heart for giving, the company’s staff members partake in a number of charitable activities throughout the year. Some of the beneficiaries include the Grande Prairie and District Education Foundation, South Bear Creek Recreation Area, Royal Bank Cup, Swanavon Playground Society, Swan City Rotary Club, Grande Prairie Hockey Legends Program, Alberta Health Services, and Grande Prairie Regional College. In addition to donating engineering services to worthy causes, Al Dahhan serves as Chair of the Board of Directors of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce. The company’s mission is to serve, and it does that well.

When collaborating with Design Works Engineering, project work follows a clearly laid-out plan, starting with project research conducted by its team. Everything from budgets to requirements and location is discussed and considered in great depth. From here, the exact location and any associated challenges are examined in detail. The company has thus amassed a great deal of experience in engineering design for buildings in prairie areas. Designs are brought to life with consideration given to the natural environment in which the building will exist and the demands on its overall performance, and the team typically sees clients through the entire construction process right up to post-construction performance testing.

Looking at the company’s portfolio of projects, its outstanding capabilities and ability to work in different styles to suit its clients’ tastes quickly become clear. This team works in markets that include civic and community construction, hospitality and care, education, mixed-use, and more. Design Works Engineering’s adaptability and willingness to hear people and give them what they want will remain one of its strongest assets and will continue leading its future growth. The company’s diversity once again promises to propel this rising star to new heights.

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