In 1971, the former fishing village of Dubai was one of the seven founding cities that established the United Arab Emirates. Today, it is an oasis of oil, trade and tourism that has captured the imagination of millions through the images of slender towers, bizarre buildings and the sleek lines of the impossible. There is hunger for the impossible in the arid desert air, and pushing the envelope of international design is Aedas, the Hong Kong-born architectural firm. As the fourth-largest architectural firm in the world with 2,500 architects, Aedas' award-winning designs, with their impressive bottom-line figures, line the Dubai International Airport walls. These are the towering residential, enormous commercial, imposing mixed-use and multifaceted infrastructure projects that are shaping the desert city. Aedas Middle East director Robert Troup moved from Hong Kong to open the Dubai office in December 2006 and finds doing business in the two cities similar. 'The UAE is a dynamic place to do business and Dubai is a very good centre for regions including the Middle East, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, India and North Africa,' Mr Troup said. 'There is a fair amount of outward investment from the UAE, but within Dubai it is amazing to watch this young city being developed at a much faster pace than Hong Kong. There are a lot of similarities in the speed of design and construction, including the expertise required.' Hong Kong is famous for its skyscrapers, mixed-use projects and efficient infrastructure. The expertise built from years on the job has positioned Hong Kong contractors as ideal partners with the UAE. Mr Troup believes the diverse expertise of design and execution in different fields, such as commercial, residential high-rise and ports, has given Aedas an advantage. 'There is a lot of transfer of knowledge from Hong Kong to the Middle East,' said Mr Troup, who comes from Scotland. 'Take Aedas' public transport expertise, which was developed working and designing with the MTRC and KCRC. We've taken our design knowledge and expertise and applied it to the Dubai Metro.' The design of the US$3.9 billion project was developed in both the Hong Kong and Singapore offices and is now being executed by Aedas Dubai. 'The trains are more advanced than in Hong Kong and it will be longest fully automated metro system in the world. They will have more trains on the system and frequency will be very high - every 90 seconds. The roads and transport authority is an extremely dynamic group who are moving things along quickly. In a very short period of time, they are building a world-class transport infrastructure.' The receptiveness to different design is mind-boggling and includes the 518-metre residential Pentominium, the 82-storey Ocean Heights I, the 43,000-square-metre Union Square and the US$137 million Empire Tower. Mr Troup said that by pushing the design envelope, Dubai had shown the region what could be achieved. 'In property and construction, there is great potential in the Middle East. Dubai is a hub for the whole region, with many countries intent on diversifying their economies. Dubai is doing this very successfully. Oman, with its natural beauty and incredible coastline, is developing its tourism sector in a very careful and planned way,' he said. 'The current global economic situation is affecting the UAE, but every region in the world is affected. We are cautiously optimistic with regard to the potential in the UAE. There still remains great opportunity throughout the Middle East.' The UAE capital, Abu Dhabi, has its own strategic plan through to 2030. 'The government has the will and ability to see through the plan, regardless of any current economic crisis. One has to take a long-term view - meaning five, 10 or 30 years,' Mr Troup said. The future of the UAE lies in the design of a city and Mr Troup believes the biggest challenge is building a sustainable future. 'The global trend of architecture is to achieve environmentally sustainable buildings. There is a great focus on that in the UAE - both the government of Dubai and Abu Dhabi have put in place requirements for sustainable design of buildings. Aedas are at the forefront of that. Many of the measures seen as sustainable are second nature to us in Hong Kong, Singapore and China.' Mr Troup said his design team addressed some of the major challenges cities faced and the experience learned in East Asia is being applied to the UAE.