Between two bridges and a sandbag

The Between the Bridges project is set to offer five-star luxury next to a 900m stretch of Abu Dhabi waterfront. Tim Wood donned his life jacket to check out the project that is seen as an important milestone in the development of the emirate’s tourism sector.

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By  Tim Wood Published  May 13, 2006

|~|121proj200.gif|~|The view from the SCARAB ALEC 1. As construction work is being carried out in close proximity to the sea, giant sandbags are being placed to shore-up the reclamation material and provide a solid piling platform and general work surface.|~|The 1,300 white-suited and yellow-helmeted workers are scattered in groups among the concrete walls of the Between the Bridges development under construction in Abu Dhabi. Five giant cranes tower over the project site, while cement mixers rumble past amid the labourers — a multi-cultural mix of Lebanese, Bangladeshi, Egyptians and Syrians — busy among the 4,500 piles still currently being constructed on site. The scene could be typical of any construction site in the UAE, or indeed, anywhere in the world. But the dozens of giant sandbags poking out of the water that line the front of the 143,000m2 development, and the fact that a marine team has been formed to ensure that three elements of the whole project can be carried out successfully, offer clear evidence that this is no ordinary job. Nor does the fact that this particular Construction Week journalist and photographer are witnessing the work unfolding on the US $240 million (AED880 million) contract from the deck of a small boat — the SCARAB ALEC 1. Welcome to the Between the Bridges project, a joint venture between the Al Jaber Group and the Abu Dhabi Tourist Authority, that is, claims the main contractor, “set to transform water developments in the emirate”. Standing on one of the prime river locations in Abu Dhabi, Between the Bridges, so-called because it lies on a 900m stretch between the Al Maqtaa and Al Musafah bridges, is also “a pre-cursor of things to come”, and “the tip of the iceberg”, according to Kent Southworth, contract manager at Al Jaber Engineering & Contracting (ALEC). It is hard to disagree. On the same side of the river as the Between the Bridges project, is a rapidly growing 10-storey hotel; on the opposite bank, work on the gleaming Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan al Nahyan mosque nears completion. And standing next door to that will be the latest in the long list of hotels being constructed by Hyatt after the demolition of the Gulf Hotel, which stood there previously. But it is the five-star hotel, luxury villas, executive apartments and a fully serviced retail and spa facility that is leading the way when it comes to adding to the range of leisure, hotel and residential projects in the emirate. Seven themed restaurants blend into the overall ambience, and on the far end of the project will be the Lighthouse restaurant, which will be built on the largest of seven groynes that stretch far out into the sea. The centrepiece of the design and build project is the hotel, with seven floors and some 220 rooms, which is taking 20 months to build and will be ready by the end of 2007. Executive apartments ranging from studios to four-bedroom living spaces together with a communal swimming pool facility, are also under construction and set for completion by December 2007. Four, five and seven-bedroom villas are also in the works, along with gardens and private swimming pools. Surrounded by 21,000m2 of gardens, the property will be crisscrossed by canals navigated by water taxis, transporting visitors around the complex. Leading from the central canal is the three-floor spa. Elsewhere terraces overlook the sea, and there are recreation areas, a gym, and swimming pool adjoined by a conference facility and 10,000m2 of retail space. South Africa-based architect, urban planner, interior and graphic designer, Northpoint, put together a concept for the hotel, which was originally a four-star but was then upgraded to a five-star. Tony Soares, associate partner, tells CW more about its role. “We saw it as an urban project, where you have got to look at all elements of design and how all of the different buildings on the site can be accessed. “We had many beautiful features to work with such as the canal, although the groynes were a challenge because they were elements right from the start that we knew we had to keep in place. “Because of the length and character of the site we decided to introduce quite an organic design and we also used the idea of the canal to try and link one end of the site to the other,” he explains. Northpoint decided to cut down the length of the canal because it wanted to try and achieve a more private boulevard along the water edge. It was terminated at the hotel, allowing the quay to become an even more important feature. It also felt the need to face most of the buildings, especially the apartments and the hotel on to the water, which helped determine the shape of the blocks of the apartments. But with so much of the development next to water was it harder to design the project? “No, not really,” says Soares. “In architecture, difficult sites often become the most challenging to work on and this often makes a project become more interesting. We made the most of what we could with the site.” He adds: “We have been given free hand to carry through the strong conceptual character of the project. The client hasn’t interfered at all, and although we have worked very closely with the operators, it has given us the leeway to create something special.” It could be argued that villas, apartments and hotels, even gyms and swimming pools are commonplace on construction projects. But how many other projects can boast a marine division as part of its team? Without it, though, the Between the Bridges project would never have been allowed to begin some eight months ago. The marine team, which starts work on 13 May, has a vital role to play with overall responsibility for the construction of an artificial reef, which should prevent erosion and attract marine life, a new swimming beach, and the retaining wall between the landfill area and the beach. “Construction of the artificial reef will be done with the aid of a barge, front-end loaders, excavators and a mobile crane,” says marine engineer, Phoenix Locke. “A barge is moored 3m off the bund line [the top outer edge of the reef], while the 966 loaders construct the bedding layer consisting of 300kg to 600kg rock. “On completion of the reef the upper surf area is dredged to final level and the imported beach sand is placed at repose of one in 12 — maximising the swimming area and allowing for large areas of undulating beach front. The retaining wall is then constructed to separate the landscaped upper level from the lower beach front.” The work of the marine site team, which is due to be completed by the end of 2006, will also involve the filling and placing of jumbo sand bags for the reclamation of land to form a piling platform and general work surface. But being a member of the elite marine team is not achieved easily, as every one of the dozen members is tested for their swimming capability, and are all trained in basic rescue, whether it is from a drowning or an evacuation off the rocks or bags. “The project team also features a barge foreman and seaman whose sole responsibility is to ensure the safe and proper mooring of the barge in defined areas and supervise the traffic on and off the barge,” Locke adds. The diving team consists of two technical divers and a master diver. Their responsibilities include: profile checks; geotextile placements and securing; elected and restricted dredging; buoy placement and fixing; recovery of small tools and fenders; barge inspection; and data logging in photo format. Meanwhile, land reclamation to the infinity pool and Lighthouse restaurant is a unique idea conceptualised by the ALEC team. But due to spatial restrictions on site the design could not be fulfilled so ALEC approached a local flour bag manufacturer in Dubai for the purchase of 1.1m cubic bags. “The bag consisting of woven polypro, nylon strapping and filled with dune sand and hoisted into position with the aid of a 75-tonne crane” Locke says. “The bags are guided into place in a fashion similar to that of building a block wall. In section the idea is similar to the shape of a pyramid, allowing for a sound base and maximum topping resistant to any superimposed forces. “Once the bags are in place, all the small voids are filled with 20kg sand bags and the area is backfilled,” he concludes. The completion date for the project is January 2008.||**||

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