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Fall 2006 Vol. V, No. 1

Campaign Update: Architectural Redesign

Dar Al Handasah gives architecture at AIB the academic edge and technological advantage.

Nada Al-Awar

Like so many other AUB structures, the Architecture Building is also benefiting from the University’s Campaign for Excellence. Thanks to a $1.5 million donation from Dar Al Handasah (Shair and Partners) and an equal amount to be raised by the University, the building will undergo a complete renovation that will include area landscaping and major upgrading to meet the demands of the latest developments in technology.

Kamal Shair, senior partner and managing director of Dar Al Handasah and AUB alumnus, says it was only fitting that the firm’s contribution go towards improving the University’s facilities in this field.

“With Dar Al Handasah being an engineering and architecture consultancy we thought we would contribute to something that is in the area of our activities,” explains Shair, who has been a member of the AUB Board of Trustees for many years. “Since the other contributions we have made were in what I call the ‘software’ of the Faculty of Engineering and Architecture, we thought we would also give something for the faculty’s bricks and mortar.”

Dar Al Handasah has also made a $2 million donation towards a faculty position chair in engineering as well as a $2.5 million donation for an endowed research fund in the field.

While the campaign’s original goal of raising $140 million by the end of 2007 has almost been reached—the University has raised almost $137 million in pledges and donations so far—Shair hopes the campaign will raise far more than $140 million.

“Our first priority, of course, is to get the $140 million, but we want to surpass it because, from my experience both as a trustee and as the chairman of the campaign, the needs of the University are huge and pressing,” says Shair. “After all, the endowment of AUB should be a multiple of the annual expenditure of the University, and the bigger the multiple, the better off the University will be. AUB’s multiple right now is still miniscule.”

It is critical that AUB have the funds it needs so it can improve at the same rate as other leading universities in the world, continues Shair. To do this, AUB must continue to build a culture of philanthropy among students and their parents.

“I think we have about 44,000 AUB alumni, some of whom already contribute very generously to the University, but many of them don’t give anything at all. That is why the campaign has two goals. One is to raise funds and the other is to set up a Development Office that helps to create a culture among our future alumni that will encourage them to contribute to the University on a regular basis.”

It is the kind of outlook that Shair, who came to AUB in the mid-1940s from his native Jordan and went on to the United States to study at the University of Michigan and at Yale University, where he earned a doctorate in engineering, continues to embrace with enthusiasm, an indication of the impact this University had on him as an impressionable and exceedingly ambitious young man.

In a beautifully written and insightful memoir entitled Out of the Middle East: The Emergence of an Arab Global Business, published in 2006 by I.B. Tauris, Shair describes his first impressions of AUB as a place where all manner of men, regardless of their nationality, race, color, or religion, received an excellent education, exactly as its founder had envisioned in 1863.

“When I arrived, the University was more than fulfilling [Daniel] Bliss’s original ambition,” writes Shair. “Indeed, I found the student body did consist of ‘all conditions and classes of men’ from around the Middle East and beyond. Around 40 percent of the students came from Lebanon, with the remainder from a host of other countries. Many races, nationalities and religions were represented. This, I believe, helped to give AUB a uniquely tolerant atmosphere and an outward-looking approach.”

Shair’s years of study in the United States did not dampen his eagerness to maintain contact with AUB, and upon his return to the region in 1955, he took a teaching post in the University’s recently established School of Engineering. In the summer of 1956, Shair decided to act on his long-held dream of setting up an engineering consultancy in Beirut that would rival any in the international arena, and he invited four of his colleagues from AUB to join him in realizing his ambition. Recruiting experts from the region and abroad and working on the principle that the firm would always maintain international standards of practice while remaining sustainable and independent, Dar Al Handasah went on to win lucrative contracts. Since then, the company has established an excellent reputation as a leading international engineering and

architecture consultancy with over 5,000 employees, offices in Africa, Europe, the United States, and the Far East, and overall revenues of hundreds of millions of dollars.

While Shair is willing to admit to a personal sense of achievement for creating an engineering and architectural firm in a region where political and therefore economic stability can never be taken for granted, he insists that it took a great deal more than just his personal vision to maintain the company’s success for the past 50 years.

“It was possible to achieve all this because we’re located in Lebanon and also because of the presence of AUB in Beirut,” he says. “These were major factors in our success. Maybe if we had been in a different environment, Dar Al Handasah would not have worked. This is an environment that invites you to think, to have free thought, and to be open for discussion that is democratic in nature. This is in addition to the quality of the AUB graduates we were able to recruit as well as other Lebanese who studied in Europe and the United States and who also did very well in the most challenging of environments.”

“The Lebanese have characteristics of commitment, of hard work, and ambition to advance. They always have a thirst for knowledge. There is a lot of vitality in the Lebanese culture.”

AUB urgently needs to build on the successes of the existing fundraising campaign and launch a second campaign with an even higher financial target if it is to maintain its level of excellence and provide the necessary opportunities for advancement for people in the region, says Shair.

‘‘We also need to upgrade our Medical Center and achieve our aim of creating doctoral programs in some fields.”

There is, for example, an existing short-fall in resources for some of the building projects being carried out on AUB’s lower campus that will have to be met so that they can be completed. But Shair was heartened by the fact that an advertisement placed by the University in The New York Times calling for donations to support AUB’s relief work during Israel’s war on Lebanon in July 2006 raised some $1.3 million. It’s just a sign, he concludes, that whatever challenges the University is facing now will be resolved once all people put their minds to it.

“The needs of people in our region are huge and there are enormous social differences. We can hope to bridge that gap somewhat through a more far-reaching scholarship program."

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