Even on Zoom, the glittering skyscrapers thrusting up behind Mahdi Amjad transport me instantly to Dubai, arguably the world’s most architecturally adventurous city. Amjad and I are meeting to talk about Omniyat, the property company he founded in 2005. I’m here to find out why Omniyat has become such an attractive proposition for investors, particularly in the last nine months. ‘Dubai already had the tallest, biggest, most extraordinary buildings,’ says Amjad. ‘His Highness had already set the bar so high that to surprise and innovate was a great challenge. My vision was to add buildings that were unique works of art to this city’s famous skyline.’ Amjad spent a year travelling, looking at unique buildings. ‘I’d spend hours browsing architecture books in Waterstones on London’s Piccadilly,’ he says, ‘and I filled my suitcases with books rather than gifts for my wife’.
Of the six architects that inspired Amjad most (including Norman Foster, Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers), he says that the late Zaha Hadid was the first to believe in his vision. ‘I was terrified of her budget, so I gave her the smallest building to design,’ he chuckles. ‘Then she entered the competition we staged for our largest building. One look at her design, with its bridge linking the two towers, and I fell in love.’ Today, Hadid’s Opus stands proudly on an island but in the heart of the city, and even the furniture is designed by her. ‘God bless her, I wish she’d been here to see it,’ he says.
In 2012, as Dubai recovered after financial meltdown, Amjad turned to top properties in Hong Kong, London, New York and Singapore for inspiration. ‘I asked myself how we could begin from where they finished,’ he says. ‘My formula was to combine urban connectivity with all the comfort of a resort. When you match something exceptionally crafted with excellent service and a great location, you have a magical outcome.’
Amjad believes it’s partly his partners’ excellent global standing that makes Omniyat such an exciting investment opportunity. He partnered with Dorchester Collection, knowing that its reputation for exceptional service was unassailable. ‘This level of service can’t be a process, it has to be personal,’ he says. ‘That’s where Dorchester Collection comes in with its philosophy, harvested since 1937. They curate surprising, memorable moments, those small gestures on top of the fundamentals of luxury.’
We discuss luxury, which he believes – as it ever was – is about space, fresh air and privacy, and even more so now more people crave outside space since Covid. Omniyat’s apartments have appreciated more than 50 per cent in value because Amjad, already ahead of the game, ensured they incorporated a seamless step-free, flush transition between indoors and outdoors and some façades open almost eight metres onto expansive views of sea and sky. Increasingly the challenge will be to maintain a sense of privacy and space in a compact environment as the city grows exponentially.
‘You buy and sell many things in a lifetime but we’re creating heritage properties that you keep and pass to the next generation,’ adds Amjad. ‘These are unique, priceless, rare heirlooms.’
When I ask what’s next for Omniyat, Amjad has a spirited response: ‘His Highness once said, “You are either a gazelle or a lion but whichever you are, when you wake up in the morning you’d better start running.”’ ‘I assume you’re a lion?’ I interrupt and Amjad grins delightedly. ‘I am indeed – and I’m running towards a bigger vision and better future.’