In the past, building conversion and re-fitting were not things that the Middle East construction industry was well known for. New cities, particularly in the Gulf, have become synonymous with developing brand new towers and developments from scratch.

However, with the current economic climate and property downturn in the Middle East, the re-fitting of existing buildings is an issue that will become increasingly important in the region’s construction sector.

The Hamad Medical City project in Doha is one of the first major examples of building conversion in the region. Qatar’s Public Works Authority (Ashghal) recently selected South Korea’s Hyundai Engineering & Construction Company for the hospital fit-out contract at its Hamad Medical City project in Doha.

The project involves converting buildings that were used as part of the athletes’ village for the 2006 Doha Asian Games into a hospital specialising in the treatment of ear, nose and throat diseases.

According to a report by US-based property consultant CB Richard Ellis’ for the first quarter of 2010, office vacancy rates continue to grow due to an increase in the supply of new buildings. As the downturn continues to hit residential and commercial property markets, newly finished or half-completed tower blocks may need to be converted for other uses.

Re-fit contracts may become a much needed source of work for the region’s contractors.