Pearl-Qatar champions design after lessons learnt from Dubai

With numerous island projects being launched in quick succession across the Middle East, developers are quick to define each one as being ‘better’ than its predecessors. In this report, Zoe Naylor visits the Pearl-Qatar and finds that careful environmental planning and lessons learned from other projects have installed confidence in the island’s developers.

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By  Zoe Naylor Published  September 24, 2005

Pearl-Qatar champions design after lessons learnt from Dubai|~|night200.gif|~||~|Qatar is a country aspiring to great things. Recently named the most competitive Arab economy by The World Economic Forum, it is experiencing unparalleled growth. The Qatari government is forging ahead with its plans to boost tourism and infrastructure within the country and next year it will host the Asian Games — second only to the Olympics in terms of size. One project that defines the development zeitgeist in the country is the Pearl-Qatar, the US $2.5 billion offshore development taking shape off the coast of Doha. Its developer, United Development Company (UDC) recently reached a key milestone on the project with the reclamation of 2 million m2 of land, halfway to the Pearl’s final size. The Pearl is Qatar’s first international freehold real estate venture and when finished will create over 30km of new coastline. But what makes this offshore project any different from the many others dotted around the region? According to Nick Bashkiroff, development director of the Pearl-Qatar, the main difference lies in the organic nature of the planning and the shape of the island. “It’s all based entirely on the existing sub-surface conditions, which is very much a key to what the reality is going to be,” he says. “The surrounding water of the Gulf is also very shallow and we’re able to maximise this and ensure that we’re on very solid footing. We’re doing as much as we can to make sure that the excavation as well as the reclamation will balance to create something that works environmentally.” While environmental concerns are often pushed to one side in the race to keep up with the region’s property boom, the Pearl developers have taken steps to ensure their project has a minimal ecological impact. “The project has gone through a very comprehensive process with the Qatari government to ensure the bathometrics [quality of the water] are maintained,” says Bashkiroff. “We’ve hired the best planners and architects throughout to achieve this,” he adds. “Work was actually stopped at one stage for inspection by the Qatari government to make sure that we were doing things properly,” adds John Browne MBE, managing director of Sabban Property Investments — one of the first companies to begin construction work on the Pearl. “We also have an environmental consultant on board who will be inspecting our contractor and making sure that we don’t damage the ecology.” The shallow surrounding waters of the Gulf presented another environmental concern. “We’re doing a lot of dredging to improve the waterway, says Bashkiroff. “Not only are we deepening the channels and the harbours generally, we’re making sure that the channels leading up to the harbours are deep enough and will improve the flow of water.” Unlike some of the current offshore projects in the region, which are likely to need dredging at regular intervals even after completion, the Pearl-Qatar will only require a one-off dredging process. “The reason for this is that the nature of the geometry is different in terms of how the water flows. There won’t be stagnant water and there won’t be alluvial material coming through which will disrupt the water flow,” explains Bashkiroff. The fact that the Pearl-Qatar lies in shallow water means that it is less of a reclamation project and more of a ‘rediscovery’, says Browne. “Aerial photos of the area clearly show that there are pearl beds just 40 to 50cm beneath the surface of the water, so we’re not actually reclaiming anything. “One of the first things we looked at was to make sure it was on solid foundations,” he adds. “With other similar projects you’d have to fill maybe up to 14m to get the landbase, which makes it artificial. But here we’re dealing with solid limestone bedrock that’s already in place. Even the shape of it follows the original islands.” UDC decided against underwater blasting during the site preparation works. “Instead of underwater blasting, dykes were created so the area could be dewatered,” explains Bashkiroff. “It was then excavated before the rock face was blasted to create the necessary depth for the harbours.” He says one of the biggest challenges is the sheer volume of material that needs to be shifted — somewhere in the region of 14 million m3 of material needs to be moved. “We have 500 pieces of equipment working there at the moment. It’s a lot of work, but that’s normal for a project of this consequence.” The bulk of the material will be re-used on site. Once complete, Browne says that another distinguishing feature of the Pearl will be that it is less densely developed. This is a lesson learnt from watching other property hot spots in the region - particularly Dubai. “Qatar is an emerging market and has the opportunity to learn the good and the bad things from Dubai,” he explains. “Look at the infrastructure and the services: don’t make things too dense. On the Pearl we’re limited to 30 000 people. We won’t be cramming in 50 or 60 towers.” Browne believes that the Pearl now offers the growth potential that the Palm offered at the beginning, with a key difference: Qatar has everything to back up the investment potential. “It is one of the richest countries in the world, not only now, but in the future — they’ve signed contracts here with the UK for gas for 30 years. Plus Qataris have the drive to develop Qatar, as well as keep their cultural identity.” With half of the reclamation work completed on the Pearl, tenders are now out for various construction packages. Simplex has just been awarded one of the multiple contracts for the piling, and shoring is likely to be awarded within the next month. As many of the GCC countries announce a string of brash property developments seemingly just to keep the bubble inflated, the Pearl-Qatar may be the perfect example of less being more. ||**||

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