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Site visit: Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Palm Jumeirah

It's not the first on the peninsula, but it has some unique challenges

ANALYSIS, Site Visits, Projects, The Palm Jumeirah, Waldorf Astoria Hotel

The Waldorf Astoria on the Palm Jumeirah is the latest hotel on the man-made peninsula in Dubai. It is not the first hotel built there, but it is the deepest and that presented some unique challenges for constructors as Michael Fahy discovers.

The resurgence of Dubai’s economy over the past 12 months has been led by growth in two sectors – retail and tourism.

Recent tourism figures published for the emirate suggested that visitor numbers grew by 9% in 2012 to 10m. Moreover, a new report by property consultancy Jones Lang La Salle suggests that this upward trend has continued into 2013, with the city’s 58,000-plus hotel rooms currently achieving an occupancy rate of around 85%.

It also pointed to a recent MasterCard report which stated that the emirate is set to become the world’s seventh most popular tourism destination, and at current growth rates is likely to be in the top three by 2017 – ahead of Singapore, New York and Paris.

Given this dramatic turnaround, Al Habtoor Group’s decision in 2011 to press ahead with a plan to build a $272m (AED1bn) hotel resort which will be managed by Hilton Group’s Waldorf Astoria Hotels and Resorts brand at Palm Jumeirah, now looks prescient.

The company signed a deal with main contractor Al Shafar General Contracting (ASGC) in June 2011 to build a 320-room five-star hotel complex with six restaurants, a huge spa area and its own private beach.

The hotel is set to join a group of other luxury properties on the crescent of Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah and is being built next to the existing Rixos resort. It is being built on a 49,000m2 plot, although the built-up area of the structure will be 20,000m2, with the rest of the land being used for outdoor swimming and dining areas and a large internal courtyard area at the centre of the structure, which has been designed with elements representing a crescent, a circle and a wave.

Lower floors will house the lobby and common areas such as the spa, a 600-capacity ballroom, meeting halls and a business centre, while rooms and suites will be based on the upper floors. The basement will contain back-of-house food preparation and cold-storage areas, huge laundry facilities and parking.

The total built-up area of project, which has two basement levels and six upper floors, is 110,000m2.

Work started on the hotel, which was designed by Dubai-based Khatib and Alami, on 24 August 2011. Initially, the contract period was 24 months, but according to the Waldorf Astoria website the hotel is not due to open until 2014. The Habtoor Hotels site states that it will open later this year.

Ibrahim Salib, site manager for ASGC, said that as main contractor it is “pushing a lot of resources into the site”.

“We are trying to achieve the earliest possible dates for completion,” he told Construction Week.

Building such a structure on an artificial island surrounded by seawater on three sides is not without its challenges, though.

“I heard that our project is the deepest in the Palm,” he said. “None of the other projects have two full basement levels below the water.”

The technical issues began with the site’s de-watering, given that there was no closed shoring of the site and water coming in from three sides, the company had to adopt several different de-watering methods.

Moreover, when it came to the foundation work, the diameter of the piles used was greater than those in the original designs as a result of changes to requirements. Foundations therefore had to be tailored according to existing pile locations.

Given that certain distances had to be left between the centre of piles and the edge of foundations, this led to irregular shapes being adopted for steel foundations.

“That affected the productivity of the workers,” he said.

A separate challenge was presented by the requirement for large, column-free spaces in lobby and other common areas. This created a need for large transfer slabs and beams. Some of the transfer slabs were up to 1.2 metres in thickness, while 4m x 2m transfer beams spanned distances of 27 to 30m.

Each beam required around 168m3 of concrete, while one huge transfer beam at second floor level required around 360m3, Salib said. All of the beams were post-tensioned using a multi-slab system.

Another issue was the building’s shape, which was “unique in every section”, according to Salib.

“The project is not like a tower where there is a cycle and everybody knows what they have to do. Every area is different and has to be treated differently.”

Waldorf Astoria’s requirements for larger-than-average hotel rooms – also meant the building’s envelope varied from other hotel schemes.

The hotel has a total of 320 rooms – 251 of which are either standard or queen rooms.
A further 66 are junior or executive suites, and there are two executive suites and a royal suite perched at the top of the hotel.

Salib said that construction of the project has now entered its peak phase. Structural work completed in March and the contractor is now working within every part of the hotel – on brickwork, plastering MEP and interior design.

There are currently more than 2,220 workers on site and ASGC is employing three separate interior design firms in order to complete work as quickly as possible.

It has also moved a lot of its own plant onto the site, including five tower cranes and two mobile cranes. There are also four external hoists being used to move equipment and manpower throughout the site.

“All this machinery is owned by our company. It is easier for us to try to control the progress and achieve more progress as the equipment is in our hands - these are our assets.”
Salib argues that this advantage also extends through the fact that ASGC can call in lots of sister companies for other parts of the project.

For instance, ready-mix concrete is being delivered by a sister firm Emirates Beton and most of the carpentry, steel fixing and masonry work is being carried out by ASGC group companies. The MEP work is being undertaken by affiliate Al Shafar United.

“Relying on your own manpower gives a good benefit to any project -controlling your own manpower is much easier than subcontractors.”

Despite this, the company is also working with more than 50 subcontractors and over 100 different suppliers. Many of the subcontractors are working on a performance basis, so they are paid by the amount of work carried out as opposed to the number of hours racked up.

One final issue that Salib expects to have to contend with as the project moves towards completion is storage as many of the subcontractors will require materials on the site at the same time.

“We are preparing ourselves. I'm 100% sure we will have a contingency for the delivery of all of the material at the same time.

“Now we are working on the façade and at the same time we are working on the external works. We are working in the rooms, in the public areas, in the basement, the plant room, the external water features and the swimming pools,” he said.

“Like it was in the boom times, the benefit of any contractor’s experience is the ability to finish his job as soon as possible.”

In numbers:
- 320 Rooms in the hotel
- 2,220 Workers on site
- 20,000m2 Built up area

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