Towers start rising from Pearl-Qatar

Qatar’s contribution to the offshore island craze sweeping the Gulf has attracted plaudits for its design and execution. But has the award-winning Pearl-Qatar project become a victim of its own success, as developer UDC increases the development density in response to huge investor interest? Sean Cronin reports.

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By  Sean Cronin Published  April 29, 2006

|~|119PearlQatar200.gif|~|A concrete pump at work on the Pearl-Qatar. The dredging and reclamation phases are almost complete, and piling work has begun on site.|~|For the last year the sand line has slowly been extending off the coast of Doha to form the distinctive shape of a string of pearls. The vastness of the project, however, means that this shape is only distinctive if you are travelling overhead in an aeroplane — a view that Qatar Airways now obligingly treats its passengers to on the final approach to Doha airport. Now the US $2.5 billion (QR9.1 billion) Pearl-Qatar project is moving from the reclamation phase into construction, as piling work gets underway on the development’s first cluster of towers around the Porto Arabia district. As the first project of its kind in a country not known for its leisure offerings, the Pearl-Qatar has met with enormous demand from investors — and that has encouraged the developer to substantially increase the development density of the project. While a total of 19 towers were originally envisaged for the island’s Porto Arabia district, which is currently taking shape, developer UDC is now planning a total of 31 towers for the site. It also plans to increase the number of private islands on the end of the development from nine to a possible 14 — including one that has been earmarked for the Emir of Qatar, according to project sources. The project is Qatar’s contribution to the offshore island craze currently sweeping the Gulf — a trend triggered five years ago with the announcement of Nakheel’s original Palm Jumeirah development in Dubai. Since then Dubai has added two more Palm islands to complete a trilogy of similarly-shaped developments while also launching a collection of 300 reclaimed islands in the shape of the world. These have been followed by more multi-billion dollar offshore schemes in the UAE emirates of Sharjah and Abu Dhabi, as well as elsewhere in the region — in Oman, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. But the Pearl-Qatar has particular significance as the largest single real estate development in a country that is now witnessing a boom in residential and leisure-based construction, which is funded in a large part by the enormous gas wealth of the country. The development involves around 14.5 million m3 of reclamation works, which have been carried out by Qatar Dredging — a company owned by developer, UDC. Half of the sand used on the project comes from the seabed offshore while the other half is excavated from the dewatered areas of the site. Like many projects in the rapidly over-heating Doha construction market, the Pearl-Qatar team has encountered problems in sourcing a regular supply of some materials. “There was a shortage of cement in Doha, but this was overcome and we made arrangements for imports. There was also a shortage of aggregates, but now most other building materials are more or less ok,” says Dr Alexander Babovic, resident engineer with project manager, Dar. With around three quarters of the total reclamation work already completed, and the quay walls on the main marina installed, the project is entering its main construction phase, with piling work underway on the first of a total of 31 towers to be built that will skirt the circular Porto Arabia marina district. While UDC says work is progressing to schedule, it is a new schedule to the one outlined at the project’s launch. The first residential units are now due to be handed over in ‘late 2007’, while the original timetable referred to ‘late 2006/early 2007’. The quay walls on the main marina were finished on 10 January, and most activity on site is currently focused around piling and compaction. Thousands of blocks were pre-cast on site and transported to their positions by trailer and positioned in place using crawler cranes. Substantial compaction work has been carried out across all the reclaimed elements on the project. According to Babovic, there was settlement of up to 60cm in some of the soft areas where vibro-compaction has been carried out. Groundworks are already underway on the first seven towers of the 31 to be developed in the Porto Arabia district. While some of the plots on this part of the project are being developed directly by the master developer, others have been sold on to other tower developers — such as Sabban Property Investments, which is developing three towers on a single podium at Porto Arabia. The construction team has had an easier job of the reclamation than many other artificial islands currently underway in the Gulf, because of the shallow waters off the Doha coastline. In fact there are pearl beds just 40 to 50cm below the surface in some areas of the development which has dramatically reduced the need to travel several kilometres offshore to sand-borrow areas. Another key difference is that unlike some of the other offshore developments underway in the region, the project team has ensured that there will be adequate water circulation within the project through a system of canals. “The main purpose is for flushing but also for navigation as there will be berths for around 700 boats — in the north we have around 4m draft and in the south we have 6m,” says Babovic. The consultant does not expect significant silting to occur and says that there will not be a requirement for maintenance dredging for at least a decade.||**||

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