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Site visit: Saadiyat Beach Residences

John Bambridge visits TDIC's latest residential development

ANALYSIS, Site Visits, Projects, Residential development, Saadiyat island, Tdic

John Bambridge visits TDIC’s latest residential development on Saadiyat Island as the spotlight returns to the developer’s $27bn masterplan in the wake of major project announcements

The launch of The District, a 17-hectare retail project in Saadiyat’s Cultural District, and the award to Arabtec of the long delayed main contract for the Louvre Abu Dhabi, have done much to restore industry confidence in the progress of the Tourism Development & Investment Co. (TDIC) on its extravagant masterplan for the island.

However, these high profile bursts of attention belie the broader nature of ongoing development on Saadiyat, and in particular TDIC’s residential projects, an element of the masterplan that though indispensable can get forgotten about in the race for the flagship tenders.

The Saadiyat Beach Residences is the latest such project that TDIC has been nurturing. Last December, a ceremony marked the handover to eager tenants of the first 285-unit batch of properties on the gated development. These will be followed by a further 210 homes in a second phase being completed this year.

Construction on the project, with its final tally of 495 residential units across its six low-rise apartment buildings, is being headed by Dhabi Contracting. Both phases involve three five-storey structures, which together cluster around a community centre and the project's array of sports and leisure facilities.

On site is Ahmed Al Fahim, executive director of marketing, communications, sales and leasing at TDIC. By the pool of the largely completed communal area, he says: “We are delighted to welcome the first tenants to this new residential community on Saadiyat.”

Billed as a middle-income development in a luxury location, the Beach Residences have risen alongside their costlier cousins, the Saadiyat Beach Villas, which are now into their third phase and already 80%-sold.

Commenting on this juxtaposition, Al Fahim notes: “With the high level of interest we continuously receive from prospective residents, Saadiyat Beach Residences has proven to be just as appealing and an ideal opportunity for people searching for reasonably priced apartments in Abu Dhabi.”

While the project may seem ahead of the curve in terms of the development of facilities on the island, by 2014 the education stages from pre-school up to university level will be available on Saadiyat with the opening of both the Cranleigh Abu Dhabi school, which will become the largest school campus in Abu Dhabi, and the New York University Abu Dhabi, which will host 2,500 students.

“We want to build whatever the university requires,” agrees Al Fahim, but beyond this the 27km2 Saadiyat Island is expected to one day be home to 145,000 people.

He adds the master developer is looking at selling plots of land near to the New York University campus, priced in the range of $161 per m2, for schemes of about eight-storeys high, that will blend student housing, homes and offices aimed at supporting the new university faculty.

“This year we are concentrating on our developments, but we want other developers to build on Saadiyat too. It is not economical for us to develop the whole island, and it is good for the market to involve other developers.”

Dhabi Contracting, in its role as main contractor on Saadiyat Beach Residences, has been discretely productive, leaving a record that will stand it in good stead to carry out further residential projects on the island.

Touring the site, James Fitzpatrick, senior project manager with the contractor, says: “The main point of the project is the way the teams adapted together right the way down from the client down through the architect and consultant to ourselves, the main contractor, and all the specialist subcontractors – we have maintained a team on that basis throughout.

There have been some difficult moments, differences of opinion sometimes on the choice of materials to use, or the cost of the materials, but that is about it. On the whole, it has been a really well-managed team effort, and it’s worked very well.”

On the physical construction side, Fitzpatrick details: “There is some glass-reinforced concrete, especially the ridges around the tops, some of the balconies, the shading, the awnings, so there is some precast, but in the main it has been built from concrete from scratch – the extra elements that are precast are just add-ons.

The foundations are nothing we haven’t done before, so there were no issues with the underground car parks. Obviously there is a lot of water proofing – you’re digging down into a water-filled area, so there’s a lot of dewatering to be done – but again it is something that we have done before, and we are used to in the region, so we just get a specialist subcontractor in and they make it easy for us.”

For Al Fahim, “the high quality finishing distinguishes Saadiyat Beach Residences as a unique residential community in the Abu Dhabi market.” For both the client and contractor the standard of the finishing on the buildings is an element of the project that stands out.

The quality of the materials and the workmanship is a point of note and pride for Fitzpatrick, who explains: “I have spoken to a couple of people who aren’t involved with the project and they have said that they are the best looking buildings in Abu Dhabi, so it’s a big plus – it’s a big plus for everybody involved, but especially Dhabi Contracting, and TDIC – I am sure they are very proud as well. I certainly think it’s the most nicely finished project in my time in the UAE."

“It is a project that at the end you can see the work has gone in and it has been finished well, and top class materials have been used.

Certainly on bigger projects for TDIC, they will not use anything that’s not up to scratch – they want their occupants to have the best of the best. You are not going to sell things that are rubbish, but you give something that’s a little bit better than anything else and you’re going to get money for it.”

Overall, the development will occupy an area 168,000m2, including roads and open space, while the built up area will total 370,000m2. Aside from main contractor Dhabi Contracting the parties on the $182m project include Clarke Bond Middle East as project manager, the Sweett Group as cost consultant and GHD as project engineer.

The MEP works, worth $35.4m is being carried out by Grade ‘A’ MEP sub-contractor Drake and Scull International, and have a programmed date for completion in January 2013. Another consideration for DSI was the lack of a gas supply on Saadiyat Island, so a plant has been installed on the project for the production of synthetic natural gas.

The facilities in the middle of the compound include a gym, changing rooms and prayer rooms, and outside, there is a 25m swimming pool, an 800m2 tennis court, a 646m2 multi-purpose basketball, volleyball and football court, and a café and a covered barbeque area with a kitchen. On each floor of the six apartment buildings there are also communal terraces from which occupants can relish the sea view.

“We have designed these residences especially for families. They are very community oriented,” comments Al Fahim. In terms of final delivery, he says: “We are working on it now, to clear the site from all the construction machinery and facilities and then will provide the necessary facilities. The beach should be opened before the summer next year.”

Reflecting back on his time with the project Fitzpatrick says: “I have loved being here for the past two-and-a-half years, I have really enjoyed it. It has been a good project to work on, and as it has been quite a straightforward project I am sure there are people that have learnt both in building skills and in management skills as well, because projects do not usually run as smoothly as this.

Usually there is a degree of confrontation between the different parties, between the client and the consultant, but going back to what I have said before, it has run quite smoothly between everybody – a real team effort.

“It is the setup that TDIC have put in place, but we all have our own protocol, our own way of doing things and on this particular project things have gelled well together.

Everybody is proud of it, from the top people on this project down to the labourers – they like what they see, they are proud of what they are doing, and they have been educated along the way to do a good job and to know why they have got to do a good job.”

Al Fahim can only be hoping that work flows just as smoothly on TDIC’s grander project schemes for Saadiyat.

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