ponds required some serious stakeholder
management. KAUST is perched on the
shore of the Red Sea, close to a coral
formation and influenced by tides. LJA
designed retention ponds upstream from
the sea to minimize the impact on the reefs
from increased freshwater runoff.
But Saudi Aramco, the national oil com-
pany that acted as KAUST’s lead project
management team, thought the plan wasn’t
aesthetically pleasing, Mr. Janzer claims.
“Aramco was unfamiliar with the basis of
our design, and they were reluctant to have
these retention ponds sitting between the
university’s landmark buildings and the sea.”
The company preferred instead to place
the ponds at the back of the campus to cre-
ate an unobstructed path from the buildings
to the Red Sea. While this might be a pleas-
ing visual design choice, it was not a good
water management one, says Mehdi Nezami,
project manager at LJA. “Water will flow
downhill, no matter what,” he says. “Our
design was based on that premise.”
Aramco proposed an alternate plan: Use
large stormwater pump systems to feed the
But that concept had a critical issue, Mr.
Nezami says. When Saudi Arabia experiences high rainfall—which happens about
once a year—the power usually goes out,
which means the pumps would fail to operate, and the site would flood.
The design team came up with a com-
promise: It agreed to create a gardenlike
design around the ponds to make them
more visually appealing.
NO GUTS, NO GLORY
When you’re managing such immense initiatives, everyone involved must be educated
about and able to communicate the risks
faced—as well as the benefits, Mr. Patch says.
Megaprojects are not a place for trial
and error. “It’s paramount that you have
experience on your team, because no one
is going to teach you as you go,” he adds.
Leaders on megaprojects also have to
have the confidence and guts to stand up
for what they believe is the best solution.
The project team vigilantly championed its
idea, and relentlessly educated stakeholders about why it was the best choice.
“We were consistent, and we clearly
articulated the validity of our concept,”
Mr. Janzer says. “Without clear communication, the final design may not have
been implemented in its current form.”
—Sarah Fister Gale
and the largest