For Omran al Hallami, the life of an inventor and tinkerer means living in a perpetually imperfect world. Wherever the former fighter pilot looks he sees flaws, unfinished ideas and problems waiting for a solution. "Most people, when they look at a nice car, they think 'Wow, what a beautiful car.' They are content with things," he says as he catches sight of new Lexus. "But for me, I see problems, things that need to be fixed, things that should be better. "
The Emirati chairman of the Al Hallami Group has more than a dozen patents to his name, while his family company has toyed with international telecommunications, transport and real estate. But it was when Mr al Hallami was looking for a new boat that his latest project, and possibly his biggest, emerged. "When people want to buy a boat or a yacht, it is very expensive. You need it made by a yacht maker, it must be made of expensive materials and it has to be very light. I said 'No, I'm not happy with this.' And I started thinking."
It wasn't that Mr al Hallami did not like the range of luxury yachts on show in the UAE's marina's, many complete with swimming pools, indoor cinemas and helipads. He wanted something different. He wanted a villa, complete with its own furnishings, architecture and large open spaces. But he wanted it to be seaworthy and self-propelled. "This makes me start to think, how do I use normal materials ? cement, concrete, steel ? to build my own floating villa. I want a real villa, built on a platform that can float and be easily driven."
The prototype answer, a domed structure sitting atop a floating barge, is now bobbing about on the water in Abu Dhabi's Bateen Marina. Mr al Hallami built it for himself, but now neighbours, friends and even government departments are showing serious interest. The floating villa is intended to stand alongside the luxury yacht as a way for the wealthy to enjoy the good life at sea. But by building a regular home on a floating platform, the costs of construction go down, meaning buyers get more for their money. A 3,000 square foot floating villa would cost around Dh2 million (US$500,000), less than a quarter of the price of the average 50ft yacht.
Options for furniture and furnishings also expand dramatically, as the barge-like structure can accommodate far more weight than a standard boat. "The first thing that strikes me about this concept is the historic idea of the dhow," says George Katodrytis, an assistant professor of architecture at the American University in Sharjah and the author of Metropolitan Dubai and the Rise of Architectural Fantasy. "The dhow has always been lived on."
While many challenges remain before Mr al Hallami can build his sea-going villas in large numbers, he is already looking at newer, bigger applications of the concept. The UAE Coast Guard is interested in using the structures as floating checkpoints, and even larger structures, such as floating hotels or connected clusters of floating villas, could become sea-based resorts.
The life of an inventor ? lonely, frustrating and immensely rewarding on occasion ? is one that Mr al Hallami hopes more Emiratis will take to, and one he says is suited to the resilient, resourceful culture. Mr al Hallami recalls an incident on a hunting trip in the desert as a child. He spotted a lizard sitting on a rock, staring directly at the sun. He asked his father why the reptile would do such a thing, and his father's reply ? that lizards have excellent vision both day and night ? remains part of his philosophy on invention to this day.
"The best way to keep your eyes strong is to look to the sun," Mr al Hallami claims. "This is a big concept, because people looking to discover things need to look in the hardest places." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org