Jurassic Park meets its maker in City of Arabia

Anwer Sher is heading up the City of Arabia project in Dubailand. We catch up with the man who is set to defy all the conventions and bring dinosaurs back to life on The Restless Planet, one part of Dubailand which is not facing extinction.

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By  Angela Giuffrida Published  February 11, 2006

|~|108int200.gif|~|City of Arabia: “The engineering going into this project is quite incredible. Nothing like this has been done.”|~|What makes City of Arabia so different from all the other mixed-use developments in Dubai?

To understand that, you have to see it in the context of what Dubailand is offering. Dubailand’s mandate is to build world-class theme attractions. And with that same mandate being given to us as the master developer, we conducted a
competitive analysis, and came up with two things that fascinate people: Dinosaurs and Space. We then devised the concept of the Restless Planet dinosaur park.

How is construction work at City of Arabia supervised?

We’ve compiled a supervisory breakdown schedule. So for Mall of Arabia, for example, we will need close to 100-plus inspectors full-time, supervising different trades, with a speciality in their own trade.

The trouble with most construction contracts is that once the job is done, you don’t know what’s underneath or how good the quality will be, and to achieve this you obviously need good supervision.

How do you think project delays can be avoided?

Part of our pre-qualification criteria for contractors is not only how big their labour force is, but how much is available. We believe that companies can overcome this problem through establishing consortia. But in many cases the delays are down to weak project management. Some project developers are not clear about their vision and change their mind too often.

To avoid delays, I think the key is to plan to the nth degree and once you’ve finished your plan, try not to change it. Technical variations are acceptable but design variations, once a contract is awarded, are usually not acceptable to us. I don’t see why they should be.

Project managers also fail to consider the whole work breakdown schedule and the procurement strategy.
Site supervision is also important — big projects require massive supervision.

How far do you believe construction in Dubai can go?

I think, as His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, has said, there is a larger vision for Dubai. So I believe that for the next 10 to 15 years there will be many more projects coming up, maybe not at the same pace, but Dubai is certainly going to be the market with an increasing number of projects.

In terms of resources, some of the delays that have happened have actually helped the market; a massive fall off of resources hasn’t occurred.

What will The Restless Planet look like?

It will cover 152 000 m2 and will feature four rides, life-like dinosaurs and exhibits of real fossil discoveries. There will be about 100 dinosaurs, which are being made by Kokoro in Japan. They will be sensitive to sight, colour and sound. The idea is to engage people in a fun way.

We have teamed up with Jack Rouse Associates, who will manage the design and build contract for the park, palaeontologist Jack Horner, and the Natural History Museum
of London.

We will work together to ensure the scientific accuracy of all the figures included in the project and the surrounding material, such as the environment and landscape.
The engineering that is going into this project is quite incredible. We believe that nothing like this has been done before. It will be a destination that people want to come to.

When do you expect construction to begin?

Work on the superstructure should start later this year. The main thing is that the foundation and infrastructure work has started, so once that has been done, then it will be a case of a certain number of floors a day.

The mall itself isn’t a complicated structure; it’s only two floors. It’s the internal finishing that tends to be more complicated, but nothing that cannot be handled as a challenge.

What are the challenges of a project of this scale?

Keeping the whole project on schedule will be a challenge. We’ve done our work breakdown, and at a peak we will have 16 000 workers on site — so overcoming the health and safety issues that such a number of people in one working environment will create is a major task in itself.

We have calculated that for the life of this contract we will have as many as 48-58 contractors, not counting the sub-contractors. So we anticipate having around 120 supervisors on site.

Because we decided that we would like to build most of the City of Arabia in one go — so that we don’t have people living there with construction going on around them — the aim is that it will be a turnkey operation, which will be ready to open in 2008.

That’s quite a tight schedule, how do you hope to achieve all of this in such a short space of time?

Most of our contractors respect the deadlines we give them. If we say that the layout of the mall, for example, cannot be changed after a certain date, they take heed of this. The retailers also appreciate that.

Secondly, we give our project managers a lot of empowerment, unlike other projects where the architect has a stronger relationship with the project owners than the project manager. In this case the project manager leads; they have a tremendous amount of power over the project because that’s their responsibility — we don’t hire them for cosmetic reasons.

You expect 48 000 residents to be based at City of Arabia. Where do you expect this population to come from?

Look at the fact that it is difficult to buy an apartment or find office space. Currently, demand is so high that it is impossible for it to be met.

From a living point of view, you can’t look at Dubai as a UAE player anymore, it’s a regional player — I know people who live in long-term apartments here who commute to Qatar everyday. A fair number of people are doing that.

The only concern I have is the roadwork system and the Dubai Metro; just how soon will they come on board?

It has been said that the success of this project depends on the infrastructure coming into place. What do you think?

My view is very different. Our business model for the City of Arabia was devised assuming that nothing was built around us, and the only way to get there was by Emirates Road.
For example, people go to Disney World in Orlando. But it’s not actually in Orlando, it’s a one hour drive away. The Restless Planet is 14km from the centre of Dubai, but we are confident that the local infrastructure will be upgraded.

How will the City of Arabia monorail link up with the planned Dubai Metro?

We have provision to link up with Dubai Metro, once the
government announces the next connection along the Emirates Road.

We are also in discussions with Dubailand and other developments close by to scale our monorail to serve the whole of Dubai — so it becomes a transportation hub. The aim is to be as much competitive with other projects as it is to be supportive.||**||

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