Piling on the pressure to open on time

On completion in 2008 the billion dollar City of Arabia will be home to the largest shopping mall in the world, a dinosaur theme park, commercial and residential towers, and a 10km waterway. With the entire development scheduled to be finished inside two years the project team faces a race against time. Angela Giuffrida look at its progress so far.

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By  Angela Giuffrida Published  July 22, 2006

|~|131proj200.gif|~|Sixteen piling rigs are currently working on the City of Arabia site, which is located just off Emirates Road in Dubai. Sher claims that in five months of work, none of the rigs has failed. Infrastructure work on the site is about to begin.|~|Looking at the vast and predominantly empty area of desert that will play host to what is billed to become the biggest hub for leisure and entertainment in the world, it is difficult to imagine that, in just a few years, the land will be transformed into a bustling mix of activity that will eventually make up the ambitious Dubailand development. Aside from a few billboards depicting what the 300 million m2 site may look like in years to come, just a handful of the 26 projects signed off for the development have started construction. But one that is determined to meet its 2008 deadline is the US $1.1 billion (AED4.04 billion) City of Arabia. Among the largest projects in Dubailand, it will form a new suburb of Dubai with an estimated 40,000 residents. It will include the Mall of Arabia, the Restless Planet dinosaur theme park, a mix of residential and commercial towers, and Wadi Walk, which will be made up of a number of low-rise apartments alongside a 10km-long waterway. Work on the 61 million m2 development got underway in January when Middle East Foundations Company began boring the 13,000 piles that will form the foundations for the Mall of Arabia. The mall — which is tipped to be the largest in the world — will accommodate two levels for shopping, two for parking and two hotels on its roof. There are currently 18 piling rigs on site, with 16 working full-time and two on standby in case any rig fails. “So far in five months of work we have not had a single failure of a rig. All load tests on the piles have been very satisfactory,” says City of Arabia director, Anwer Sher. “The pile depths are based on the load that they carry and would usually be about 30m deep. There was extensive value engineering done on the design of the foundation work by WSP, the structural engineer on the City Of Arabia project. “These are fairly conventional piles but it’s the load calculations that have to be precise, and this is where smart engineering comes into play.” With the infrastructure work about to begin, the number of workers on site will increase to around 800. The $64 million infrastructure contract was recently awarded to Kier Dubai and Leighton Asia. The joint venture will undertake the construction of 15km of roads in and around the development, five bridges and underground services including drains, sewers, water mains and telecommunications. The main contractor for the Mall of Arabia is yet to be announced, along with the contract for the $200 million monorail, for which Malaysia’s Trans and Bombardier of Canada are in the running. Bids for the Wadi Walk component are under evaluation, and contracts for the first phase development of the Restless Planet are expected to be announced soon. “At the peak of the contract we expect to have 16,000 workers on site,” adds Sher. “We’ve compiled a supervisory breakdown schedule. So for Mall of Arabia, for example, we will need around 122 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.” The most complicated element of the project will be the construction of the dome that will house the Restless Planet, says Sher. Spread over 152,000m2, the theme park will feature four rides, exhibits of real fossil discoveries and about 109 dinosaurs, which are being made by Kokoro in Japan. City of Arabia has teamed up with Jack Rouse Associates, who will manage the design and build contract for the park, along with palaeontologist Jack Horner, and the Natural History Museum in London. “The main new building element will be the skin on the Restless Planet dome, which has never been used in the Middle East and remains a surprise for the market. All we can say is it will move design to a new level,” says Sher. “But one of the main challenges is the Cloud Building — which will house the 109 animatronic dinosaurs — as we will have to put the largest dinosaurs in first and then construct the building around them. To my knowledge this has not been done here before. The engineering that is going into this project is quite incredible.” With 16,000 workers expected on site at the peak of construction, overcoming the health and safety issues that such a number of people in one working environment will create is just one of the challenges facing a project of this scale. “We have calculated that for the life of this contract we will have as many as 48 to 58 contractors, not counting the subcontractors,” adds Sher. “Because we decided that we would like to build most of 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. “So from consultants to contractors, all have to have a health and safety officer and proper training in place for all the staff. In addition, there will be an emergency medical centre on site that will be properly staffed with paramedics to deal with emergency situations, as well as health and safety stations across the site.” Another challenge of such a huge project will be completing it within such a tight deadline, as well as within budget. “We have hedged the cement and concrete prices so are not worried about potential increases. And for all other elements we have contingency sums already built into our budget,” says Sher. Part of the pre-qualification criteria for contractors was not only how big their labour force was, but how much of it was available. This is one of the reasons why City of Arabia has appointed contractors in joint venture. “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,” says Sher. “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.”||**||

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