The good, the bad and the ugly side of construction

Construction dominated the headlines in 2005 for good, bad and even ugly reasons. Dubai was of course the epicentre of the regional construction boom during the year, but 2006 may see the focus shifting to other building hotspots throughout the region.

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By  Sean Cronin Published  January 1, 2006

|~|Sean-Cronin-200.jpg|~||~|Construction dominated the headlines in 2005 for good, bad and even ugly reasons. Dubai was of course the epicentre of the regional construction boom during the year, but 2006 may see the focus shifting to other building hotspots throughout the region. The success of mega-projects like the Palm offshore islands, the recently launched Dubai Waterfront and the new high-rise citadels of Dubai Marina and Jumeirah Beach Residences, triggered a wave of copycat projects by other GCC countries. All of them are eager to emulate the ‘if you build it, they will come’ philosophy of the emirate. Nowhere is this more evident than in the development of offshore islands. It is worth remembering that the original Palm Jumeirah island was launched just three years ago. Since then we have seen construction work start on The Wave in Muscat and the Pearl-Qatar. Then we had the Nujoom Islands development in Sharjah, Al Raha in Abu Dhabi and the Durrat Al Bahrain. The Dubai formula of economic diversification is being adopted throughout the Middle East and the developers that made it happen are cashing-in on that success. Dubai International Properties and Emaar are both expanding their operations across the region, spreading the Dubai development gospel as they go. The largest such project, announced just days ago, is the US$26 billion King Abdullah Economic City to be developed by Emaar in Jeddah – set to provide jobs for a staggering 500,000 people. So that was the good, now let’s look at the bad. The superlative-driven, record-breaking nature of the construction industry attracted worldwide attention last year in the form of the Burj Dubai (the largest tower in the world), Ski Dubai (largest, and oh yes, only ski slope in the Middle East) and Dubai Waterfront (largest master-planned development ever). But the Middle East construction industry also attracted the attention of global media for very different reasons. It was the year that the world heard about the abuse and mistreatment of expatriate labourers forced to work in often appalling conditions on sites across the region. Fed up with the abuse, workers in Qatar and Dubai took to the streets in protest and forced authorities in both countries to deal with issue of pay and conditions for foreign construction workers. While some pressure has been put on contractors to provide adequate accommodation and pay their workers on time, deteriorating industrial relations in the sector are likely to feature largely in 2006 as activity expands still further. So that only leaves the ‘ugly’ – and that is what many cities throughout the region will inevitably become unless governments do more to ensure that not every crazy-horse masterplan submitted is given planning consent. And while it is fitting to reflect on some of the best projects to have started construction in 2005 it is also a relief to mention some of those that didn’t – Hydropolis, Skitrac and the Crystal Dome are a few to spring to mind. But the one that takes the cake has to be Chess City. The brainchild of Russian entrepreneur Kirsan Ilumjinov, the US $2.6 billion project included plans for 32 chess piece-shaped towers, including two ‘King’ towers standing 64 storeys tall. The high-rise citadel of giant black and white chess pieces is the strait-jacketed, twitching, crazy mother of all building projects that never were — and long may they continue. Sean Cronin is the Editor of Construction Week magazine. ||**||

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