Turning up the heat: fast-track techniques give contractors winning advantage

If the sound of horsepower and the screech of tyres appeals, Motor City, which is currently under construction in Dubailand, may be for you. Christopher Sell fastens his seat belt and takes a journey round the site to see which contractors are overtaking the competition.

ANALYSIS, Business

In a region that enjoys a fascination with four-wheels, it seemed prudent that within the entertainment complex of Dubailand, a project is currently under construction that is geared to satisfy the cravings of all those who are interested in motor sport.

Motor City is currently being developed on an 11 million m2 site and encompasses residential, business, sports and leisure opportunities in the form of five major components: Dubai Autodrome, F1 Theme Park, Business Park Motor City, Uptown Motor City and Green Community Motor City. It is being developed by Union Properties, with an expected investment of US $3 billion (AED10 billion).

There will be noise; the whole theme of the city is that people will be excited by this ... and lured to live here.

Of these, only Dubai Autodrome - an FIA-certified track measuring 5.39km, has been completed. The $360 million F1 theme park, which, according to Zayed Ahmed, real estate executive, Union Properties, will be a world first and occupy 300,000m2, is being developed as an 'edutainment' park complete with museum, retail, restaurants and virtual experience and will be developed in conjunction with F1. Delivery is expected towards the middle of 2009, though, as yet, no contract has been awarded for the park.

For residential demands, Union Properties has planned two distinct developments. Uptown Motor City will house 3,500 units, ranging from studios to three-bedroom apartments. "We have launched the first phase of nine buildings, and we plan to have 40 in total," says Ahmed. Green Community Motor City will house 300 villas in three types of units - townhouses, family villas and bungalows. Again, this has been launched, with construction underway and the family villas have all been sold. Once complete, it is expected to house 10-12,000 residents.

Addressing the concerns of noise pollution affecting those in proximity to the track, Ahmed points out that, in addition to conducting noise studies, the nearest villa will be approximately 1km from the race track. This is coupled with the fact that all windows are triple-glazed and the topographical alignment of the track will see it sit below the level of the residential areas, with buildings acting as a sound barrier.

"But ultimately, we are not going to kid you around. There will be noise; the whole theme of the city is that people will be excited by this, interested by this and lured to live here by the concept of motor sports," says Ahmed.

Motor City's business park, though looking to cultivate a strong commercial base, will still have an emphasis on the automotive industry. Divided into three sectors: retail boulevard, motor commercial district and the applied technology district, it is expected to attract tenancy from high-profile auto-related companies. The motor commercial district will feature eight towers of commercial offices, which will be offered to private developers, and Ahmed says these will be ready for handover in the next two to three months. The same setup will apply for the applied technology district. "We are offering this to specific investors. They would have to develop this facility to service the Autodrome, so anybody interested in this would have to be directly related to the motorsport industry.

"They will construct the facility, their own workshop and their offices in such a way that they can access the track whenever they need a car launching or testing. We have signed up four manufacturers for the applied technology district so far, but we cannot disclose who."

Situated within the motor commercial district will be the Automall. Nasa Multiplex is the contractor and the lump sum package, worth $256 million, includes construction of the mall, a 38-storey office tower and a three-level showroom at Motor City.

It is hoped the commercial space on the development will help to alleviate the dearth of office availability in Dubai, with the further attraction of being freehold and in what the company hopes to be a prestigious location. "These properties will be the first freehold units from Union Properties outside of Dubai International Financial Centre," explains Ahmed. However, the company has no plans to apply for freezone status.

With infrastructure and congestion a daily concern of every development within the emirate, questions have been raised over the ability of Motor City to meet capacity demands, especially on race days when 15,000 people are expected to be at the Autodrome.

To that end, it is fortunate that the development finds itself in a strategic location. Positioned at the corner of what will become Dubailand, it is in close proximity to the new Arabian Ranches interchange, which is currently under construction.

Being built by Taisei, at a cost of $111 million, it will be a three-level interchange with 13 bridges. Construction began in June last year and is expected to be completed in 2008. Ahmed says that the company is currently in negotiation with the Roads and Transport Authority to develop an exclusive road to serve the city and is also in talks regarding a possible link-up with the metro line that will run along Emirates Road.

Befitting a city that incorporates myriad projects, numerous contractors are currently working on site, employing differing techniques where necessary. Antoine Hasrouni, senior project manager, Edara Project Management, explains that Al Naboodah Laing O'Rourke, which has the contract for Uptown Area One in Uptown Motor City, is using precast columns to speed up construction and allow for a shorter build cycle.

"We are also using post-tensioning on the raft slab; this is a technique rarely used in Dubai, though it is often seen in Europe and the US. By doing this, we will reduce the amount of steel needed in the slab, and will also reduce the amount of concrete," says Hasrouni.

"When you go to post-tension, instead of having 40cm slabs, you can have 25cm. So if that process is repeated on 11 storeys, you can save 11 times the amount of concrete."

The process also enables contractors to reduce the amount of manpower on site.

"It will also halve the labour required," adds Hasrouni. "On a project of this scale, we will have 9,000 construction workers a day in the Uptown area alone. So we have to ensure we use our logistics carefully to keep up with our construction schedule."

Technological innovation is being incorporated on the construction equipment being used on site as well. Al Naboodah Laing O'Rourke is employing a mobile tower crane, which adds flexibility and is designed to reduce the craneage required on site. There are currently 11 being used in Area One.

Contractors are also using modified cranes to backfill areas and speed up the process. "It is not a complex build, but given the construction period, they are doing the most efficient techniques to complete it in a year and a half, which is a challenge," says Hasrouni.

Al Futtaim Carillion is the contractor for Area Two, having secured the $376 million contract to build 34 apartment blocks. Work involves three to five-storey residential buildings, each with two levels of car parking. It also secured the $75 million infrastructure contract for the project. Area Two distinguishes itself from Area One in the use of hollow-core slabs for the buildings.

Motor City is just one further demonstration of Dubai's willingness to gamble on the public's appetite for property. Whether there is enough interest for residents to live within hearing distance of a fully functioning race track is a moot point, but there is no doubt with contractors such as Al Futtaim Carillion, Al Naboodah Laing O'Rourke and Nasa Multiplex involved, Union Properties is taking no chances in finding out.

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