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The untold story and lasting legacy of Dubai’s twisted bridge
The UAE is synonymous for its rapid urban development and bold, iconic architecture. And while many of us can quickly name the impressive structures and developments in the city skylines, the names of the architects and urban planners behind them are often unknown—regardless of whether they’ve designed the world’s tallest tower, planned the first sustainable city in the desert, or crafted some of the world’s most stunning mosques.
In 2017, the landmark Dubai Water Canal development was completed. Since then, millions of UAE residents and tourists have passed over the series of stunning pedestrian and motor bridges that link the city, including the popularly coined “Twisted Bridge” which was named among the world’s most beautiful bridges earlier this year by leading travel magazine Conde Nast Traveller from London’s Vogue House.
Yet most have never heard the story behind these bridges and the legacy of their architects—two best friends, Ismail Kerem Şerifoğlu and Tamer Fawzi Ismail—who started their careers 20 years ago in the design studios of American University of Sharjah’s (AUS) College of Architecture, Art and Design (CAAD).
Kerem, UK-born to a Turkish family, and Tamer, who was born and raised in the UAE with his Egyptian family, met in 2001 as 18-year-old students and became inseparable throughout their five years of intensive architecture study at CAAD. As members of the first few graduating classes of AUS, they and their wives Yusrah Mazen Saleh and Lamees M. Khalid Himmo are among some of the region’s most highly regarded and award-winning architects, interior designers and visual artists.
“We cannot separate our success and our story from CAAD,” said Tamer. “It’s where Kerem and I became best friends—brothers, even—where we met our wives, Yusra and Lamees, and where we received such a solid foundation and preparation for our careers.”
“Sincere passion in work, formidable teamwork, reaching out to others at all levels are all important principles we learned in CAAD, and we took these dogmas as values for our work and life,” he said.
Graduating in 2005, the two friends secured work, together with Tamer’s wife Lamees, on the $1.3 billion Dubai Autodrome, a mixed-use development and showroom project with global architecture and planning firm Burt Hill. The team became a formidable force, going on to design and realize major healthcare, commercial, residential, hospitality, retail, education and master planning projects across the Gulf region.
“Since 2005, we have worked on over 30 projects, many of which have surpassed our client’s expectations in the way they have been both designed and realized. As a team we are often acknowledged for our extraordinary design solutions for large-scale projects,” said Ismail.
One of these large-scale projects is the monumental Dubai Water Canal development, which they started working on in 2014—only a decade into their professional careers—and completed in record-time in 2017. A joint-venture of Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) and developers Meydan and Meraas, the project involved the massive task of connecting Dubai Creek to the Arabian Gulf. The development effectively cut one side of the city off from the other, requiring a series of new access bridges to reconnect the city for motorists and pedestrians.
Architecture firm AE7 was appointed to design three new pedestrian bridges integral and the masterplan, with Kerem and Tamer leading the team.
While all three pedestrian bridges are each individually striking and impressive, their third Twisted Bridge (officially known as “Bridge 03”) has garnered the most attention. The bridge’s popular name refers to its twisting truss, a design feature representative of the future and the dynamic vision of the city.
“The twisted Bridge 03 is 100 percent our design, nurtured by AE7. We used our architectural design experience coming directly from our time in Professor George Katodrytis’s studio. Kerem and I worked deliberately and meticulously to execute every detail to get it built and realized. We consider the three bridges our most glorious collaboration in our career as designers and architects,” said Tamer.
“The fact that the twisted bridge project was realized within only six months is remarkable. To be part of the decision-making with leaders from RTA, Meydan, Meraas, and the hard work of AE7 and Jacobs Engineering Group was a huge privilege,” he said.
“I must credit my wife Lamees and Kerem’s wife Yusra who provided the ‘fresh eye’, critical viewpoint, and always pushed us to our limits. They have both facilitated and sacrificed a lot to help us achieve our design and career goals,” Tamer said.
When the twisted bridge won accolades again this year, the team’s former mentor Professor George Katodrytis, Head of the Department of Architecture at CAAD, recalled:
“I remember back in the CAAD studio around 2005–Kerem was working on his studio project. Tamer and I were sitting around the table when Kerem walked in with a large white cardboard and not well-crafted model. He placed it at the table,” he said.
“It was a twisted bridge."
This project was, in fact, Kerem and Tamer’s last together. Shortly after Kerem and his wife were married and had their first child, the young architect passed away from a sudden, acute illness.
“Kerem’s passing was a great tragedy. His legacy will continue forever with the support of all of us—myself, Yusra and Lamees,” said Ismail.
“The three of us are one firm family for life. We are a team that will face all of life’s challenges together. When Kerem’s parents in Turkey learned that his story was going to be told, they were delighted,” he said.
Today, Tamer and Lamees lead major architecture and design projects with AE7 in Dubai, while Yusra works as an urban design director within a reputable mega project in Saudi Arabia. Tamer and Lamees have two daughters and a son, Kareem, who is best friends with Yusuf—Kerem’s little boy.