Site visit: World Trade Center Abu Dhabi
The new World Trade Center sits on the site of the old Central Market
The new $1bn World Trade Center sits on the former site of Abu Dhabi's Central Market. Michael Fahy discovers a combination of the traditional and modern.
The UAE appears to be rapidly pulling itself from the economic crisis but it certainly had an impact on the redevelopment of the former Central Market site in Abu Dhabi - plans for the project were first developed in 2006.
However, as the bulk of the project will be delivered by the end of 2013 when the site will once again begin to play a vibrant role in the city's economy.
Since the first element of the scheme - a 15,000m2covered souk aimed at the tourist market - was completed in 2010, much has changed with the project - not least its name.
It is now known as World Trade Center Abu Dhabi - adopting a moniker that was originally planned for a new financial district next to Aldar's HQ on Al Raha beach and making the most of a trademark for which the developer was already paying a royalty.
Moreover, the retail mix within the site's centrepiece - an 85,000m2 mall - has also changed. It was initially planned as a luxury mall, but several other developments (including Aldar's own Yas Mall, Etihad Towers and the Galleria at Sowwah Square) appear to be the destinations to which the high-end fashion and jewellery brands have graduated.
Still, Aldar's director of planning and infrastructure, Talal Al Dhiyebi, believes that the project which is being delivered at the site is one that is worthy of its setting and place in the city's history.
"Anyone who understands Abu Dhabi knows the importance and significance of this site," he said. He adds that the World Trade Centre name is also an appropriate moniker for a site which was the UAE capital's trading hub for such a long time.
The World Trade Centre sits on the former Central Market - a 12-acre site, which represented the heart of trading activities when Abu Dhabi began its economic growth in the 1970s. The site was host to nearly 1,000 traders for a period spanning more than 30 years.
"It’s where people came to shop, to do business, to meet and do deals or form joint ventures. It's very close to Al Hosn Fort where Sheikh Zayed used to govern."
Once complete, the $1bn World Trade Center project will contain five elements - the souk, the mall, a 72,000m2, 278m-high office tower, an 80,000m2, 382m-high residential tower and a new 15-storey, 195-room Courtyard by Marriott hotel.
The development has been designed by UK-based architectural practice Foster & Partners, with Arabian Contracting Co serving as the main contractor.
Atkins has carried out the project management consultancy role, while EC Harris has provided cost consultancy.
Aldar has handled the design of the MEP, landscaping and Estidama accreditation work, while the MEP contracting work was split into two packages, with Voltas handling the office and residential towers, and Drake & Scull working on the mall and hotel buildings.
He said Foster & Partners’ design has been created to represent old and new Abu Dhabi. The souk and the mall, for instance, both take inspiration from traditional Arabian architecture and are clad in heavy, dark wood, while rough granite has been used as a finishing material internally to add to the earthy feel.
Once the mall opens in the third quarter of this year, it will have a number of unique features – the most distinctive of which is the first department store by House of Fraser outside the UK.
It will also have a number of international fashion brands like DKNY, Tommy Hilfiger, bebe, Ted Baker and Rodeo Drive. In total, the mall will have 150 shops arranged around two central atriums as well as an 8-screen cinema and around 20 restaurant units.
The mall also graduates in levels from the rear to the front, allowing for tiered food & beverage units at higher levels to take advantage of external terracing space.
Al Dhiyebi said the entire World Trade Center site has been designed to create as much public space as possible given its downtown location, so green roofs and terrace areas around the restaurants can all be accessed by stairs on the side of the mall.
This means people don’t have to enter the mall to use the space. Restaurant operators don’t have to worry about mall opening times, either, and can stay open for as long as the municipality stipulates.
“We’ve worked with the municipality to utilise the space in a smart way so that we can give as much space back to the community as possible,” he said.
The mall also makes use of skylights to provide natural light where possible, and has a first-floor bridge linking it to the souk that will contain a new foodcourt.
The bridge will run above Khalifa Street, which has been closed for several years to allow for the complex to take shape and which splits the sites eastern and western elements.
Meanwhile, the office and residential towers have both been developed to contrast with the retail elements by adopting a much more contemporary style of architecture, which Al Dhiyebi said reflects the modernity of Abu Dhabi.
“Externally, there is this amazing blend between local and modern architecture. The mix between the two is quite striking."
The first of the towers to complete is the 59-storey office tower, where building works have recently finished but as CW was going to press commissioning works were ongoing.
Following a deal signed last month, the entire building will now be home to contractor Arabtec, which agreed a long-term lease on the building.
The contractor is planning to operate its new joint venture with Samsung Engineering targeting mega-projects in the oil & gas and infrastructure sectors from the building, as well as taking space for further growth.
The tower has already been fitted out to Category A standard, which includes raised access flooring, suspended ceilings, air conditioning and lighting systems already in place. The building also has secure dedicated parking for 2,200 cars and direct access to the mall. There are also Sky Offices on the top floor offering views all over the city.
The residential tower, meanwhile, is set to be handed over at the end of the year, with residents expected to move in during the first quarter of 2014.
“In the apartment towers, the taste is much more modern,” said Al Dhiyebi. “There are a lot of light, off-white colours used and it has a very modern look with accent colours in the kitchens and bathrooms.”
The residential tower is also set to break a couple of records. As well as being the tallest residential tower in the city at the time of completion, it will also feature the highest swimming pool - on the 86th floor.
Al Dhiyebi said the towers also benefit from “a very high-tech” building management system, with automatic lighting sensors and LED lighting lowering both utilities and maintenance costs. In total, the tower will have 474 apartments. The bulk of these will be one-, two-, three- and four-bed, but there are also 12 penthouse units at the highest levels.
The final element of the site will be a four-star Courtyard by Marriott hotel which will be the last element of the project to complete. The 195-room, 15-storey tower is set to open its doors in summer 2014.
Building the towers on this site has been a challenge, he explains, as they are integrated with the mall complex and therefore could not be developed as standalone buildings.He added, though, that the toughest part of the construction was in dealing with the constraints of such a busy site.
For instance, for the concrete pour the company’s sister firm, Aldar Readymix, had set up a batching plant 5-7km away at Mina Zayed.
This made sure that the company could ensure enough quantities could be brought onto the site as it was needed.
“It was the only way to ensure that the concrete we were having delivered to the site was of a high enough standard,” said al Dhiyebi.
Similarly, its central location – surrounded by commercial and residential buildings – meant that working hours were constrained, particularly in the summer when the midday working ban was in effect.
Noise from excavation work also had to be tempered as much as possible. Major excavations had to take place as there were six levels below ground, providing parking for up to 5,000 cars.
“Doing this on a greenfield site would have been easy but there are 20 buildings surrounding the site,” he said. “We were trying to organise this in a way so that we caused as little disruption to the residents as possible.”
Also, every time that access was required from certain roads or utilities needed to be closed off to add new connections, diversions or temporary services had to be added.
“It's one of the most complex projects we've ever undertaken,” Al Dhiyebi said.
As the bulk of the projects draws to a close, with both the mall and the residential tower now largely concerned with MEP, interiors and landscaping work, Al Dhiyebi said that the project’s profile will grow in recognition once Khalifa St re-opens.
“It was one of the busiest roads in the city but has been closed off for over three years.
“By the time we open the mall, we’ll re-open Khalifa St and people will drive right through the development under the bridge.”