Making a mark

With construction of Index Tower reaching the half-way point, Hugo Berger visited the site to see just how the Sir Norman Foster-designed building is coming along.


In the shadow of the Burj Dubai, the Index Tower project on the Sheik Zayed Road is reaching skyward.

Faced with having possibly the world's most-famous construction project as a neighbour, a striking design was needed to make the building stand out.

Many believe architect Sir Norman Foster has achieved this and has come up with a skyscraper which is innovative in its form and function.

Foster, the man behind the new Wembley Stadium and the Millau Viaduct, has designed a glass-plated tower which could possibly become as famous as the Burj Dubai.

Yet, transforming plans from the architect's blueprints to reality is always difficult, but especially so when buildings are of a ground-breaking design.

Workers on the project will testify to this, having constructed the building's four basement levels and 41 floors of the 80-storey building.

About two floors beneath the civil construction team, the mechanical, engineering and plumbing (MEP) workers are labouring at pace to fit out the building.

The team of 700 MEP workers, who are employed by contractor BK Gulf, has a number of its own complex challenges to face.

Perhaps the most difficult of these is the sheer bulk of the Index.

The building has a huge footprint of 3,150m2, which only tapers out slightly as it reaches its total height of 326m.

This means that its size and the amount of MEP equipment is equivalent to that which is needed in four towers.

For example, when finished, the building will need 18,000 sprinklers, four times the amount needed for an average-sized tower.

It will also utilise 6,000m of pipes to keep the air conditioning functioning.

MEP project manager Gary Reader has previously worked on high-profile projects such as the Burj-al-Arab and Atlantis The Palm.

But he admits this project's vast scale meant he had to deal with a number of unique challenges.

He says: "At 326-metres it is a very high building, a lot bigger than ones I have worked on before.

"It is also a Norman Foster building, which means there is pressure to make sure everything is done to the highest possible standards.

"There is a lot of very detailed, complex designs on the MEP side of things, which take a lot of time to fit.

"Saying this, because of the quality of the staff we are able to get through a floor in two weeks and we are three floors below the civil team.

"There have been a number of challenges, but so far we are not behind schedule.

"And there is the feeling that this is a Norman Foster building, so it is going to be something special in the city."

Reader adds that the safety of workers was another big concern for the company.

"So far, we are at one-and-a-half million accident-free hours for the company, which is something we are very proud of," he says.

Fadi Deyab, mechanical engineer for water pipes agreed that the design was creating a number of new challenges.

"Because the building is so large it does require a lot of water pressure for the top floors," he said.

"We would have usually used copper pipes, but it is just so expensive at the moment. In fact it costs the same price as gold.

"That is why we have decided to use stainless steel, because it is able to handle the high pressures of water we need."

Kumar Nagarathinam is the chief engineer for fire protection.

"We are also finding that the main issues affecting us are the availability of materials," he says.

"This is such a huge project with so many fixtures and fittings that the biggest challenge is making sure that you get them on time.

"We hope to have finished this project within 24 to 30 months, so we do not want anything outside our control holding us up."

The vast amount of engineering, plus the impending deadline - the building is due to be finished by December 2008 - means that mechanical pipe joining systems which are quick and easy to install is imperative.

The MEP team has been using Victaulic fittings throughout the Index Tower.

Area sales manager Uzair Mohammed said the product was particularly useful for a building of the vast size of the Index Tower.

He says: "Many contractors will tell you that getting a well-trained work force is a big, big concern in Dubai.

"On some sites, many people come with very little training at all, and then when they have been trained they move on to other companies.

"Our products are very easy to install, which means that work can continue despite these setbacks."

Although Index Tower is situated at the heart of the Dubai International Finance Centre - an area known for its proliferation of skyscrapers - the constructors believe they are creating an extraordinary building.

Despite the pressures of tight deadlines, availability of materials and labour shortages there is a general feeling that Index could be one of the most stunning buildings in the city.

Index Tower - the facts

When finished Index Tower will be a mixed-use development, with 520 high-end residential apartments including 12 penthouses.

It will have 25 floors of office accommodation and 47 levels of residential space.

There will also be some small retail units on the lower floors.

Sir Norman Foster has designed the building around four large A-frame concrete fins, which are buttressed at the east and west elevations.

Its cladding is designed to minimise the climatic effects on the building.

It is orientated that the east and west cores shelter the floor plates from the intense heat of the sun, with sun shades on the south façade to minimise the solar effects.

Each office floor plate is comprised of three 27 m2 column free bays.

These long span structures allow maximum flexibility for space planning.

It is suitable for large international financial corporations and can also be subdivided for multiple tenancies.

The design features a sky lobby in between the offices and apartments, occupying an entire level of the building.

This accommodates spaces for recreational activities such as a swimming pool, a managed gymnasium as well as bars and restaurants.

The building is strategically-designed so people can view the Dubai International Finance Centre on the north side and the Dubai cityscape on the south.

It will be surrounded by boulevards and open spaces, as well as public transport and pedestrian links.

There will be pools of water at the entrance, together with plants and shaded areas.

Residents and office workers will be able to make use of small retail units, bars and cafes on the ground floor level.

It will have 2,681 car parking spaces - 768 for residents, 1,868 for office workers and 45 for visitors.

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