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The fight to fit-out

A five-month delay and numerous challenges didn't stop Depa successfully fit-out Al Futtaim's new management offices in Festival Tower.

ANALYSIS, Facilities Management

A five-month delay and numerous challenges didn't stop Depa successfully fit-out Al Futtaim's new management offices in Festival Tower.

Mastermind behind Dubai Festival City (DFC), Al-Futtaim, soon decided it wanted to live and breathe its creation and situate its head office in the heart of the development, Festival Tower.

And it's clear to see why Al-Futtaim wants to sit its top management in the Tower.

The panoramic views stretch as far as the eye can see with one side of the tower overlooking the airport, the other over Dubai creek and iconic landmarks like Emirates Towers, the Burj Dubai, Nakheel's World islands and the Marina.

Taking over three floors in the 30-storey tower, including the top one, Al-Futtaim also wanted a warm and inviting office for its top management.

The decision to appoint Depa as the fit-out contractor, originated from the Al-Futtaim Group holding shares within the company.

The offices ooze a style of superiority, with printers enclosed in discreet storage space and cables hidden in cleverly disguised cable trays.

Its modern and cluster-free feel make for a comfortable and productive working environment.

Project managing the fit-out is Yamin Shihab, Depa, who explains the challenges behind the fit-out and why the project is now five and a half months late.


"There were many challenges in this particular project due to Al-Futtaim nominating many contractors and companies it already owns or has shares in."

"And the fact that Depa as the main contractor did not have contractural prevalence over these contractors, made it difficult, in some instances, to pinpoint responsibilities," Shihab says.

Under normal circumstances, the MEP contractor would be answerable to the main contractor. However, Al-Futtaim chose to use Al-Futtaim Engineering, taking control and contractual management away from the Depa.

But this resulted in Depa not being able to impose delay penalties or, for example, send contractual letters about performance.

"We've got to be careful because it's harder to manage them due to them being nominated by the client. It would have worked better if the nominated sub-contractors were in contract with Depa, that why we would have more control over them."

"It is also better from the client's point of view, since the main contractor is then contracturally bound to managing the nominated sub-contractors and may not use delays from these sub-contractors as substantiations to claims," he adds.

Shihab was given an allowance to assist and coordinate the Al-Futtaim Engineering work into its. And although he says they were a good contractor to work with, he also admits there can often be a clash of interest between MEP and fit-out contractors.

"In a lot of instances in Dubai, MEP contractors are the biggest pain to fit-out contracts and they think the same about us. Our work highly depends on them and vice versa," he claims.

Another challenge with this project was getting a finally agreed scope and design, so even though most of the design had been completed in an early stage of the project, small changes made it impossible to finish in the scheduled dates.

These scope changes, especially when they come closer to handover of the project, have bigger financial complications.

"So even though the fitted-out area has dropped by nearly 15%, the Client still ended up paying almost the original amount agreed," explains Shihab.

The problem with scope changes when the project is nearing completion, is that even a small change would require several tasks to accommodate, and would affect several parties.

For example, if a light fitting is to be changed, then the ceiling would need to be cut-out and re-painted in order to accommodate the new light fitting.

"It is important for designers and clients to clearly define the scope from the inception stage of any project."

"The designer or the project manager should make sure that all stakeholders are involved in the kick-off meeting to ensure that the design is made to suit the client requirements, hence reducing scope changes and consequently reducing project overall cost," he adds.

The original completion date was 16 August 2007, but due to the challenges mentioned, a series of completion dates were set with the latest one being 1 February 2008.

Structural challenges

To look at, the two floors Depa has fit-out (the third has not yet been started) are visually appealing and inviting to anyone working on them.

What's not apparent to those working their 40 hours weeks are the problems faced during the fit-out.

Unclear to Shihab, is the exclusion of a raised access floor throughout the building. "Raised floor would have definitely given the offices more flexibility for future tenants, it took us and the designers quite some time until we finally agreed on how to resolve cable management without a raised floor solution, which also added to the overall delay of the project" he says.

Positioning the core holes in a way that suited the client's requirements while ensuring they didn't hit beams or tendons was an exhausting task.

Although there wasn't a lot Depa could do about the raised access floor apart from suggest alternatives that were later disregarded by the client, it managed to come up with a simple and aesthetically pleasing alternative feature that blends with the office design, to hide the cables hanging from the ceiling.

Cabling within the singular management offices is disguised by a cable tray situated below the back of the desk, it also has a closing capacity to keep the cables well hidden.

"Cable management is always an issue. But we've left a continuous grommet (40mm) space between the wall/partitioning and desk so that laptops can be moved around."

Another area to think about was storage. Every desk has a pedestal with drawers and the singular offices have plenty of drawer or cupboard space. But for other documents, the design expertly camouflaged storage in the cladding.

A lot of what you see that looks like cladding is hidden storage.

The storage room has been purpose made to meet the client's requirements.

"There are drawing hangers and portfolio/presentation board storage."

"The idea is that the designers sit somewhere close by for ease of access," he explains.

Like most places in Dubai, Festival Tower was hit by power issues and still is with most of DFC still using independently generated power from generators.

But the problem for the MEP contractor was the original amount of kilowatts that had been allocated for each floor.

"When we had the design of the lighting, the power allocated for each floor was 80kw - that's quite low."

"In a Grade A office like Festival Tower, you should have between 120 and 140. But because Al Futtaim owns the building, it was given an additional 200kw of spare power.

"We were given 160 of these 200, so we upgraded from 80 to 160kw per floor. This was enough to cover the lighting," Shihab says.

A problem occurred on the 26th floor as the additional allocation of power ran out.

Each workstation was designed with four sockets, so the designer reduced this to two and the light fitting used was a more energy-conservative type.

This has enabled him to tightly keep power consumption within 80kw.

O&M manuals

On the successful and time consuming completion of the fit-out, Shihab will hand over the operation and maintenance (O&M) manuals to Al-Futtaim for it to give to its appointed FM team.

Depa didn't consult with a facilities management team on Festival Tower and has not been made aware by the client, who the FM will be. Again, in an ideal business world, Shihab would like this to change across the board.

"It's wrong that we don't do the handover to the FM, they should overlap."

"No matter how detailed the O&M manual is, if there is no overlap between the people who did the fit-out and the people appointed to manage the development, there will be problems," he explains.

"FMs should be appointed earlier and the O&M manual should be given to them directly, not by the client because I know they are just shelved and not looked at until there is something wrong."

Shihab's top tips for FMs needing to do a fit-out
  • Opt for a full turn-key solution to ensure the job is done correctly
  • Choose a contractor that specialises in office fit-outs
  • Go for locally made products
  •  Avoid customised furniture
  • Go for standard workstations, like system furniture

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