Back to the future

History is making a come back in the UAE with the formation of heritage sites.

ANALYSIS, Facilities Management

Due to the UAE experiencing dramatic growth and change over the last 50 years or so, history and the preservation of history have understandably been lost in transition. But the UAE is keen to ensure this generation can witness and experience how life in the Emirates used to be.

A'Sammaliah Island Heritage Project in Abu Dhabi sets out to do just that through the preservation, promotion and exhibition of Abu Dhabi's social, cultural, sporting, and environmental heritage.

He, who does not know his past, will certainly not understand the present; if man knows the past, he will too understand the present, and will, from that, understand what lies ahead in the future... - H.H. Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

The ambitious project, which is the inspired and enlightened vision of H.H. Sheikh Sultan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, affords the ideal opportunity for the people of the Emirates and in particular its youth, to acquire a greater understanding of their history, culture, and environment.

The Arabic sports zone, the desert/wildlife zone and the heritage zone, have all been developed around an underlying theme of environmental conservation and preservation of natural and cultural heritage.

The architectural design of the island follows a general theme. It has been of great importance for the proper execution of the project, to rediscover the old building materials, as well as the traditional construction methods and techniques by consulting with the older generation of the region. Numerous heritage and archaeological sites were visited within different parts of the Gulf region, namely in the UAE, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, the eastern part of Saudi Arabia, and the western coast of Iran.

Following an extensive study of local and regional cultural heritage, it was possible to ensure the traditional authenticity of the executed works and to assure building longevity by treating the traditional building materials, and combining the old building methods with the modern construction technologies and contemporary engineering techniques.

Samples of traditional materials were sent to laboratories in the United Kingdom to help in advising for the proper use of additives to ensure longevity and in keeping with traditional authenticity of appearance.

The efforts made during the construction of the project have also brought about the preservation and rehabilitation of many lost trades such as carpentry, ironmongery, gypsum plaster and decorations. This has assured continuity between the distant past and the future.

Architects and engineers have best designed the project. According to them, initial construction required the involvement of an 85-year-old local man, Ali Bin Hassan Al Rumaithy, to help advise on traditional practices and procedures.

Conseco International & Heritage

Conseco International, part of Pell Frischmann Group, will see the project through construction and completion, before handling the day-to-day operation and running of the 9.5km long and 2.5-3km wide, island.

John Tunstall, managing director of Pell Frischmann in the Middle East, explains that there are many challenges to developing a heritage site, with legislation being one. "Things that would have been acceptable 100 years ago are now regulated."

Also, simple advances mean that most buildings in the Middle East are now fitted with air conditioning. The traditional method of circulating air by using wind towers is something the project has included in the design. "We have old fashioned wind towers that visitors can experience. They are symbolic. This was people's way of living and breathing due to the humidity. We use them for the students and visitors to experience how they used to work. Once you open the four sides, you can pull in the air by positive and negative pressure," explains Fouad Bleibel, principal architect, Pell Frischmann.

Another area that needs careful thought is craftsmanship.

"Finding proper craftsmen is the biggest challenge. We had to train talented workers for the specific types of crafts which were used on the project," he adds.

Tunstall agrees and explains that in time, fixtures and fittings will need to be fixed or replaced. "We want to extend the island's life expectancy. It has to be something that will retain its features a lot longer and make sure we're not forever maintaining it, which is another problem, particularly if you're somewhere that is going to attract tourists. They don't want to see scaffolding up there every four to five years, or a flow of maintenance people going in and out - it's getting that balance," says Tunstall.

And this project isn't the only one being developed in the UAE, as Tunstall explains. "I think there is a move towards developing the heritage style in the UAE and in turn will hopefully encourage people to specialise in this kind of trade. I would imagine it's similar to the UK when thatched cottages went out of fashion. If you had a thatched roof, you couldn't find anybody who could repair it."

The key for developers and FMs tasked with constructing and managing a heritage site is to bring in specialist knowledge on how to design, build and maintain.


Advice and guidance for the operation of a heritage site, according to David Coldwell, divisional director of Pell Frischmann in the UK.

What does a FM need to consider when looking after a heritage site?

Developers and FMs involved in a heritage site should bring in specialist knowledge on how to design, build and maintain it.

Services have to be provided in a way that is sympathetic to the site and the sites operational objectives. This includes all aspects from materials used to, in some instances, the very appearance of the operators. It applies equally to H&S procedures and is likely to require knowledge of obsolete and sometimes unique systems.

Some of the requirements for a heritage site are likely to be different to those that would be specified for a normal development infrastructure. For example, it is quite likely that the requirements for a heritage site will be tailored to maintain a 'used' appearance whereas maintenance of a normal development would require no evidence of age and use. For example, wear and tear of elements of the buildings, which would require particular care when sourcing replacement parts. As with any FM service, but particularly where the assets have a 'heritage' connotation, it is vitally important that the client's requirements are fully defined at the outset.

A modern development will usually require the maintenance management of 'modern' materials and equipment that are more capable of standing up to current day usage and handling techniques. Whereas comparable assets on a heritage site, may be reflective of an earlier age and require a maintenance regime that is more sensitive to the characteristics of less robust materials and equipment.

Are there special cleaning products that should be used?

Quite often, the most effective and non-intrusive systems that can be used are those that are the most basic and traditional. Lemon juice and vinegar with water can be just as effective as the more modern multi-surface cleaners.

The characteristics of cleaning products should be compatible with the assets that are being cleaned, i.e. they should be chosen or used in a way that does not cause harm to the assets. Also, the facilities manager should select and use cleaning products that comply with environmental legislation and with the environmental objectives of the client.

If replacement materials are needed, how should the FM source these? Or should the FM Company have a tie-in agreement in the contract that the contractor/developer will provide these?

As with conventional contracts, the expertise here should lie with the contractor. But a significant input should be given by the FM provider to ensure the materials are also maintainable, cleanable etc.

Firstly, it is worthwhile asking the question: "Why do the materials need replacing? Is it because they expired before expected?"

The answer should come from the specification for the initial procurement, which should incorporate appropriate warranties or guarantees that will define the expected life span of the assets.


Ideally, the client should require the contractor/developer to enter into supply contracts that include defined life cycle guarantees on all critical components. The Facilities manager would then normally seek to have agreements with the initial suppliers of these components for at least the first year of operation following completion of the heritage works.

Ongoing arrangements would be dependant on them being financially beneficial to the client.

If it was deemed to be cost effective, a tie-in agreement with suppliers may be appropriate.

Can technology be used to help keep the building/development operational?

Today, there are many none intrusive technologies that can be adapted for use in heritage sites. For instance, security, system monitoring, fire detection and CCTV can all be deployed fully and without compromise with the application of wireless technology.

Current day technology can be very helpful in managing heritage site assets. For example, the use of computer aided facilities management (CAFM) software will facilitate comprehensive forward planning and timely intervention, preventative maintenance of all assets to ensure they are maintained to required performance standards and agreed financial budgets.

What kind of environmental issues does the FM need to take into consideration?

Building technologies have advanced dramatically. Twenty years ago, asbestos was still widely used in the construction of buildings. But today, we need to ensure that these materials are closely managed in accordance with the relevant regulations.

Environmental issues associated with maintenance of a heritage site are consistent with those for management of a modern development site.

Control of waste is vitally important to ensure it is not generated unnecessarily and disposed of in an inappropriate manner. The efficient use of energy and conservation of water is also important, avoiding wasteful depletion of non-renewable energy resources and maximising sustainable energy solutions. Other aspects include the control of drainage, chemicals used in grounds maintenance, cleaning products, and noise.

How can modern concepts be adapted to work with old ones?

The most effective working processes are those that are simple enough to be systematically and consistently carried out and adhered to.

Modern methods of working may need to be adapted to acknowledge and account for the materials and facilities that are being maintained on a heritage site. In certain circumstances it may be that the old methods of working have to be retained to achieve the desired outcomes. For example, repair of a heritage building may require the use of materials, tools and processes that replicate the original methods of working in order to retain and replicate the heritage features of the site.

It is likely that on occasions and in order to work within financial constraints, a blend of modern and old methods of work will satisfy the desired outcome, for example, using mechanical equipment rather than hand tools.

What kind of preventative maintenance can be scheduled?

Ideally, all types of maintenance should be scheduled as preventative such that the assets are serviced /repaired before they fail to perform satisfactorily or break down and fail to perform at all.

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