The mighty island challenge
The $6bn Durrat Al Bahrain island project nears end of phase two
Deep in the south of Bahrain lies an ongoing struggle to create another world. The Durrat Al Bahrain project is one of the most remarkable in the Middle East, perhaps the most complex of the offshore reclamation developments that have transformed the shoreline of the Arabian Gulf.
Its huge scope includes a dredged crescent shape off the coast that roughly echoes the shape of the land and connects via bridges with five petal-shaped islands in one big circle. These five petals thereafter give bridge access to six curved islands, known as atolls, which themselves form a crescent into the sea.
If this is not enough, also specified is a 300-600 room central hotel, an 18-hole golf course and a 400-boat marina comprised of a smaller crescent of dredged land, with two further crescent shapes at different angles in front.
Named after the ‘most perfect pearl’ in the Gulf, it is a $6 billion joint development owned by Bahrain’s government and Kuwait Finance House.
But a financial crisis that spread to the Gulf in the last two years and declining sales has dramatically slowed the development, creating not only an uneven development but a big decision for the developers as to where to progress from here.
At present, three of the petals and four of the atolls contain finished villas; the rest remain areas of bare reclaimed land. There are about 150 to 160 villas on each atoll, according to Steven Boyce, project manager for the development at the Kuwait Manager Company-Bovis Lend Lease JV (KMC Bovis), which also had a hand in the design of the project.
Construction of the villas was awarded to a total of five contractors between mid-2006 and March 2007. “Phase one was the dredging and reclamation of all islands, as well as the two ‘horns’ [of the crescent].
This started in 2005. All villas have been sold on the islands, with the exception of some villas on some petals. Work never stopped; we are closing in on the end of phase two.”
Plans to develop the golf course have also been put on hold, having ballooned as a prospective feature as the design was revised in the booming years.
WS Atkins, the UK-based consultant with a strong presence around the Gulf, was appointed in 2004 to design the masterplan and provide complete design consultancy services for the project. This included the initial environmental impact assessment, as well as marine studies and decisions around the highways, utilities, land use and construction sequencing.
Much of the early design was conceived by Tom Wright, an Atkins architect perhaps most famous in the region for the design of the Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai. Lee Glover, project manager at Atkins, explains that the concept had evolved significantly since 2004, first starting as an oasis before further islands and amenities were added.
“The general concept evolved over time, as originally it was smallscale, with a target population of about 30,000 at the start,” he says. “Then this was developed over time as the sales were going well. Traditionally the islands were the residential areas and the mainland and the crescent area for services, as well as the golf course and schools. After some time had passed, when the islands started, the marina and the golf course and its villas were expanded.”
The prospective population of the project at one point grew to around 90,000 people, he adds – it is now around 63,000. The marina escalated, in particular, starting from a low-rise and changing to a high-rise project on the drawing board. According to Durrat Al Bahrain’s website, the site should be able to accommodate 4,500 visitors daily.
As the target population grew, Atkins had to ensure that the community facilities planned were extensive enough to meet the needs of the residents. In order that the contracting requirements for these extra facilities were able to keep in step, Atkins was able to draw on its wide network to get the right companies.
“That is one of our strengths: we have a global reach of contacts, and we can get clients in contact with contractors that specialise in schools, healthcare. We had various suppliers come to Bahrain to see the project.”
The project fully launched construction in 2004, following a dredging contract awarded by client Durrat Khaleej Al Bahrain to a JV between Nass Contracting and US firm Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company.
Nass Contracting has played a significant part in the project so far, and also worked with Great Lakes for additional reclamation on the golf course and marina reclamation in 2007.
Dredging began on 1 November 2004 and was completed 31 July 2007, according to David Anthony, general manager of Nass Contracting. “Great Lakes was chosen [as a JV partner] because of its skill; the company did the dredging and Nass did the rockwork, the civil aspect,” he says.
Anthony explains that the dredged sand would not have been able to maintain the angle needed up to the dry land. Thus Nass Contracting placed an underlying bed of rocks on top of the sand, with the geotextile positioned on top. Then there was a layer of smaller rocks, followed by larger rocks.
The company formed a JV with South Africa’s Murray & Roberts to construct the bridges and, with Kuwait’s Burhan International Construction Company for the project’s infrastructure. It continued a strong relationship between the Bahrain firm and Murray & Roberts; the two companies worked together on the Khalifa Port, among other projects.
The JV was able to utilise Murray & Roberts’ expertise in bridge building gleaned from South Africa, says Anthony of the 50-50 deal, though the majority of the workers on-site were from Nass Contracting.
The infrastructure was contracted in five parts: Phase 1, which saw work on the first petal and two atolls; phase 2, which covered petals 2 to 3 and atolls 3 to 4; two sections of mainland infrastructure; and a final third phase.
Atkins was rehired in November 2009 to carry out architectural and infrastructure design for phase 3, which involves design and documentation of infrastructure works and landscaping and architectural engineering of the luxury villas, plus facility buildings on the remaining four of the planned 13 islands.
Tower palm trees line the entire road along the crescent, with high hedgerows on the side and manicured hedges between the road lanes. On the petals and atolls, the rows of villas are in pristine condition, as is each beach on the south side of the petals.
Glover says the dredged land provided excellent material for constructing the beach itself, and indeed all the aggregate material for the project, except the cement, could be sourced from Bahrain itself.
The utilities compound, situated to the right of the base of the crescent on the shore, had been installed early, and provides all the vital supplies to the crescent and islands.
These provisions were a mixture of private and public work, says Boyce, although the desalination, telecommunications and waste management were all provided from private sources.
The establishment of these utilities allowed a service corridor to be created through temporary causeways across the water to the islands. This meant that the construction process on the islands could go ahead.
David Anthony says the bridges were able to be completed between 14 September 2005 and 13 June 2008 – 14 months earlier than planned. He said the speedy work was helped by using the temporary causeways as a base to install the piles, and then constructing the bridge on top of the piles. “It is a good engineering practice,” adds Glover.
The villa contractors
Petal 1: Projects Construction Company WLL (inner villas); Charilios Apostolides & Co (Bahrain) WLL (outer villas)
Petals 2 & 3: Charilios Apostolides & Co (Bahrain) WLL (all villas)
Atoll 1: Bokhowa Group
Atoll 2: Kooheji Contractors WLL
Atolls 3 & 4: GP Zachariades (Overseas) Ltd
The joint ventures
KMC Holding – which changed its name from Kuwait Manager Company in 2008 - is a Shariah compliant Kuwaiti company specialising in construction, real estate project development and investment, manufacturing and related services in Kuwait and the GCC. The company is owned by Muthanna Investment Company KSCC and Nakheel United Real Estate Co., both of which are wholly owned subsidiaries of Kuwait Finance House.
Bovis Lend Lease is a leading project management and construction company operating in more than 30 countries with more than 7,500 staff.
Nass Contracting – a local giant
Part of Bahrain's construction sector for more than 40 years
Nass Contracting was the flagship company of the Nass Corporation, and has been part of the fabric of the construction sector of Bahrain for more than 40 years.
David Anthony calls it a civil engineering company, with a vast array of project areas, including industrial structures, infrastructure, towers, jetties and quay walls – including that of the Khalifa Port – drainage pipelines, land reclamation and offshore works such as piling, and jetty constructions and dredging, among other areas.
The company has a long history of participating in joint ventures and as consortium partners with major international contracting companies to undertake turnkey pro-jects.
It has also completed a number of projects for government ministries. For Bahrain projects, Anthony says it is Nass that is often approached for joint ventures; for projects abroad, and it is Nass that needs to prove itself as the international partner.
Work on the Durrat Al Bahrain would only have bolstered the company’s standing for delivery. Both the bridges and the land reclamation on the Durrat Marina were completed ahead of schedule with its respective joint ventures. More than 5 million m³ of material was reclaimed in 24 months for the latter task.
“The Durrat project was split up into several packages, though maybe together you could say it was the biggest project we have worked on, though it is difficult to judge,” he says.
The company has a modest presence abroad. “We have a presence in Qatar and Saudi. We have also done work in Kuwait,” he says. He points out there are 40 companies in the Nass Group, including business lines in heavy machinery and scaffolding.