Watertight build for Creek-side project

Flanking Dubai Creek across an area of 6.4 million m2, Dubai Festival City is one of the biggest design-build contracts in the emirate. In her latest visit to the site, Zoe Naylor reports on the logistical challenges of building a project of this size so close to water.

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By  Zoe Naylor Published  October 14, 2006

|~|141proj200.gif|~|Building a two-level basement car park underneath Festival Waterfront Centre meant that Al Futtaim Carillion had to build a cofferdam along with an extensive dewatering system adjacent to the Creek to keep the site watertight.|~|Waterfront developments are big business. It seems everybody wants to live, eat, work and shop close to water – witness Dubai’s three Palms, the World, Business Bay and Dubai Waterfront just for starters.

One project in particular that is making the most of its prime Creek-side location is Dubai Festival City (DFC). Stretching 4km along the airport-side of the Creek, DFC is one of the largest construction projects in town and combines leisure, retail, hotel and residential facilities.

And herein lies the tricky part: constructing a project of this scale while dealing with the vast body of water adjacent to the construction site.

One element of DFC that has had to work around this is Festival Waterfront Centre, the retail backbone of the development. Spanning 792,480m2 and facing a man-made marina on the Creek, Festival Waterfront Centre incorporates around 500 shops along with cafes, restaurants and a two-level basement car park.

Work commenced on the project in early 2004 and the first phase is due to open on 22 November 2006. Al Futtaim Carillion is the main contractor and its remit includes the structural work for Festival Waterfront Centre, along with all the roads leading in and out of it.

Other contractors involved in the project include Hyder, which is the structural consultant as well as the MEP consultant; and Dutco Balfour Beatty Group (DBBG), which constructed the sea wall for the marina. The main concept architects were HOK and the Jerde Partnership, with HOK carrying through with the detailed local architectural work.

“Controlling the water during the construction phase was a challenging process, because firstly it meant excavating the basement area below the shopping centre to make way for a two-level car park,” says Robert David, director of construction management, DFC.

The 6,500-space car park will be accessed directly from a ramp coming off the nearby Ras Al Khor crossing, which is currently being built by Besix.

“Since the car park beneath Festival Waterfront Centre is entirely under the water level, we had to keep the water out using a cofferdam and an extensive dewatering system,” adds John Guest, general manager (DFC project), Al Futtaim Carillion.

Using 450 sheet piles, each up to 14m in length, a cofferdam was built to separate the Creek from the construction site, thus enabling work to get underway on the Festival Waterfront Centre.

“By using a cofferdam and dewatering, we were able to start placing the concrete,” adds Guest. “Once the structural works were completed and we were satisfied they were waterproofed, we were able to raise the water level in the marina.”

The flooding of the marina began about a month ago and has been carried out in stages, the first of which is to let water in from the Creek to equalise the pressure on both sides of the wall.

“Once the water has reached its full height and the pressure is equalised, we can pull out the sheet piles that form the cofferdam,” explains Guest.

A vibro hammer is used to loosen each of the sheet piles, which are then pulled out using a crane. “We then take away as much fill material as we can with plant equipment such as earth movers, and finally we’ll dredge out the material that’s below water in late October,” he adds.

The Creek is not the only water feature within the Festival Waterfront Centre project: Al Futtaim Carillion is also constructing a freshwater canal that will run between the main shopping centre and the pavilions that front onto the marina.

“The canal will be lined with retail, food and beverage outlets and there will be abras running backwards and forth along it,” says Guest. “It will be filled with approximately 7,000m3 of fresh water and will not be connected to the Creek,” he adds.

Al Futtaim Carillion is currently waterproofing the concrete surfaces of the canal. Flooding is due to commence in the first week of November, and is scheduled to be completely flooded by 22 November to coincide with the opening date for the Festival Waterfront Centre itself. “We’ve left it late to fill the canal because it’s been needed for construction access [in order] to finish off the building works,” explains Guest.

According to David, one of the reasons for not linking the canal to the Creek is to avoid the rise and fall of tidal levels. “The water level remains the same and it means we can control the quality of the water and prevent stagnation.

“It’s a similar principle to a swimming pool, just a lot bigger — we will have a filtration system that has been designed to cope with the capacity of the water in canal. The water will be continually circulated through the filtration system and will be topped up to replace loss through evaporation. It will also be chemically treated to keep it clean,” adds David.

The Festival Waterfront Centre is just one element of DFC, which covers a staggering 6.4 million m2 in total and will eventually have an estimated 150,000 people who live, work or visit daily.

The scale of works means that the development is divided into various zones, all of which have phased completion schedules.

The last 12 months has seen the opening of a variety of stores including Ikea, Ace Hardware and five car showrooms. Much of the Festival Waterfront Centre is due to open in late November, while the InterContinental, Crowne Plaza, convention centre and Festival Tower office suites are due to open by 2007.

All of this presents significant construction challenges, says Guest: “At times we’ve had 15 to 20 projects happening in parallel on the site, which means we’ve needed management structures and processes in place that can control all of that.”

“Any major shopping centre is a challenge,” continues David, “because not only does it have to be completed, but then towards the end of the project the retailers all need to do their own fit-out.

“This means there are people with different requirements that all need to be managed within the building. On this project the main contractor is finishing off its bit while hundreds of retail stores are being fitted out at the same time. It can be quite chaotic if not managed properly,” adds David.

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges is the interface between the public and the remaining ongoing construction work — not just on DFC, but also on Besix’s adjacent Ras Al Khor crossing and DBBG’s rebuilding of Al Rabat Street through to the Nad Al Hamar interchange.

“It poses a lot of logistical challenges but it helps that we have a very good working relationship with both Besix and DBBG,” says David. “Between Besix, DBBG and Al Futtaim Carillion’s infrastructure team, we’ve kept temporary roads running into and within the site open, so that the public can get through [now that stores such as Ikea are open], as well as construction traffic.”

By the time the Ras Al Khor crossing is open (scheduled for March 2007), cars will be able to exit the crossing onto a ramp that leads straight down into the Festival Waterfront Centre car park, or they will be able to use the next ramp that takes them to other parts of the development.

Safety, according to Guest, is key: “We implement international safety and quality management on the project, which is particularly important with the public and construction traffic using some of the same access roads.”

Stringent safety measures are imperative given the vast number of construction workers on the 24-hour site. According to Guest, there are currently around 6,500 labourers at work on the Festival Waterfront Centre: “But the number is climbing rapidly as all the shop fitters come in, and may peak at around 10,000.”

Even with this massive labourforce, David says it is still a challenge to finish the job on time: “Completing a project as big as this to a tight deadline is not easy, especially given the current environment in Dubai — most suppliers and subcontractors are under enormous stress with the workload they have from the industry within Dubai.”

Despite numerous construction and logistical challenges, Festival Waterfront Centre is on track to meet its scheduled opening date. As with so many projects in the emirate, it has successfully negotiated the challenges of building close to water, thus adding to the hive of activity seen along Dubai’s Creek and coastline. ||**||

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