Landscape Architect Profile | A day in the life – Salam Alkhori

​As part of Landscape Architecture Month, we are publishing “A day in the life” series of landscape architects around the world. The first in the series is Salam Alkhori – Associate Principal / Master Planning Leader of Insite in the UAE.

Yalla, wake up!

My alarm goes off at 6:30 am, declaring the start of another day. I take my usual ten minutes, turning around in my bed, contemplating the day ahead and mustering the energy needed to face the world. Next task on my agenda is to wake up the twins and prepare them for the start of their online learning. This requires tremendous amount of patience and creativity and a big dose of love. Cuddles is a required ingredient. On very rare occasions a more decisive tone is needed: “YALLA WAKE UP! YOU ARE STILL GOING TO SCHOOL, ALTHOUGH YOU ARE STAYING AT HOME.” 

Old habits never die. 

I then turn to get myself ready – it has to start with a decent aromatic cup of coffee.  My full week starts on Sunday (the first day of the week in the UAE), which kicks off with a meeting of my amazing team. We like to call it Stand Up: Urban Team Happenings, where everyone talks about its weekend and plans for the week ahead. Our urban chat is intimate, friendly, and never boring.  ST can touch on a broad set of topics: from curious mother-in-laws, planning resources, urgent deadlines, new KETO recipes to ski trips and new exciting research. Having this conversation with the team is a perfect start to my week.  It is a space where I feel blessed and content, supported by the best people in the business – the true amazing InSiters! 

Organization, organization, organization.

Following the urban chat, I get to my “to-do list”.   BTW, I am a very organized person, assuming that I am not interrupted by the daily frenzies of the job! These can range from sudden yet continuous requests for updates on invoicing, collections and projects from our director of operations. Or questions from my team needing guidance, conflict resolutions or TLC. During my working day, unexpected disruptions sometimes come from my kids, usually ending with a hug and pep talk! And lastly, urgent secret missions that go along with the compliments of my dear managing director. Apart from that, I like to think of myself as an organized person juggling and multitasking and getting through the day with a lot of hard work, a bit of luck and divine intervention! My organizational skills is a gift from my beautiful mom, God bless her soul. By being a teacher for 36 years, my mom influenced immensely my and my siblings’ lives. When we grew up, we were always joking that even if my mom left the “school world”, a big part of it never left her! To-do lists for shopping, for housework, for social calls, etc. was a significant part of our daily lives. Therefore, my list includes random yet highly prioritized tasks ranging from calling clients, answering queries, attending meetings, pricing new schemes, preparing bids, presenting to clients (what?), checking on the twins, and of course following up on the projects. 

Being InSiter.

Now that my list is updated, I have a plan. I consider myself lucky by being part of InSite (the Urban Design and Landscape Architecture Division of KEO International Consultants). InSite has been a solid and safe home for the last 8 years of my career. Feeling at home, while being at work is a true blessing.  One always feels appreciated, valued, and supported. I am also extremely fortunate for being exposed to the endless opportunities to shape the built environment and create meaningful places that will influence people’s lives and create priceless memories. I engage with the team to follow up on projects and ensure activities are running in line with the program and allocated budget. The best part is usually when we kick-off on a new master project, where we organize an internal workshop to exchange ideas and brainstorm urban themes. Our team-oriented approach is energetic and at the same time relaxed, highly considerate and tailored to the client’s needs.  While our approach is uniquely personal, it is universally applicable and viable. We always research benchmarking and innovative ideas, no matter what the task is. Each place is a social space that deserves its own narrative, regardless of if it’s an industrial subdivision scheme or a prestigious waterfront. We are driven by the convection to create livable places. These human spaces will become homes, work premises, play areas, parks, schools or mosques. Planning social resilient sustainable master plans that lead to vibrant successful communities is our inspiration and guiding ethos. 

Halfway through my list, I have to sit through the Arabic language class with my daughter Nour, who thinks she is too sophisticated to speak Arabic! I help her with reading and answering few questions to somehow remind her of her Arab origin and emphasize the merits of mastering another language besides English. 

Yep, we can do that!

A big chunk of my daily routine is dedicated to business development and relentless pursuit of new opportunities. The bid process at KEO is carefully structured and tailored towards the client’s expectations and requested works. It starts with a multifaceted assessment of risks’ evaluation against advantages. This involves a multidisciplinary team meeting to assess the tender from different angles and perspectives. Today our discussion involved a new master plan scheme in KSA. I enjoy these cross-disciplinary meetings at KEO, because I always learn something new.  And if not new, then interesting.  And if neither, then unexpected fictional of real intel!   

I jump off to my other meeting with a new potential client in the UAE that involves a master plan scheme in Al Ain. In the next moment, I receive a call from one of our clients, requesting a swift presentation to their executive management. The presentation focuses on the vision, development yield and phasing. “Yep, we can do that. Consider it’s done! “I of course then call to the planning squad; I flash them a big smile and then deliver the news! They always smile back, and they always deliver! I am right to feel blessed!

I get MT call from our regional proposal manager related to an urgent request for waterfront development master planning qualifications is to go out by COB this week. Well, it looks like I need to give a call to the proposal team. We put a plan together with the “other squad” – an outline for the submission and break up of the tasks. Finally, I have half an hour before my next meeting to continue working on an InSite-led master plan bid. I update the technical write-ups in line with the latest clarifications. I feel good about this small accomplishment and decide to award myself with a cup of coffee. I go downstairs, fire up a coffee machine and ask the kids to start working on their homework.

I get my precious cup of coffee and go back upstairs to the bedroom AKA my office! I receive a call from my husband, who is confused about the grocery list I sent him by WhatsApp. “What do you mean by zucchinis? How big and how many of them?”, – he asks. I should be more attentive to these delicate details. 

Good night.

Today, my late afternoon is occupied with two consecutive interviews with potential candidates for urban designer/planner level 2. Currently, we are expanding KEO’s Porto office by hunting amazing Portuguese pure talents. Rodrigo and Ines are on the list for today’s interviews. I always include the seniors in the interviews; it is a tough decision to choose a new family member! We all need to be aligned! 

I look at my to-do list, move some items to the next day and start completing other critical tasks. I need to finalize a commercial offer for one of the bids now that I have received the contract risk review main findings from our legal team. I then try to wrap up my day by answering emails, messages, and chats. I check on my kid’s homework, to ensure completeness and legibility and finally upload it to the school’s portal.

It is cooking time now. I fix dinner and then enjoy having a meal with my gorgeous family. We go through the “get to bed” rituals and I kiss my twin goodnight!

I am not sure how I end up in bed and only aware of the alarm going off at 6:30 am, prompting another day of my life.

Thanks to Salam for sharing their day with us, it is always interesting to see the day to day lives of landscape architects.

Image Credits: Courtesy of Insite