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The Art of Planning

TDIC talks through its latest masterplan for Saadiyat Island

Five-star resort planned by Bin Otaiba Group on a 91,000m2 plot
Five-star resort planned by Bin Otaiba Group on a 91,000m2 plot

The latest masterplan for Saadiyat island involves linking the site’s museums via a luxury shopping centre. TDIC’s development chief Carlos-Antonio Wakim takes CW through its plans.

Saadiyat Island can perhaps be seen as a microcosm for the fortunes of the UAE in recent years. Plans for the island involve building a number of world-class museum attractions, which were announced in a flurry of publicity in 2007.

These focused on culture, with three museums designed by world-class architects as the centerpiece – a new Louvre Abu Dhabi designed by Jean Nouvel, a Guggenheim museum by Frank Gehry and a Zayed National Museum of art by Sir Norman Foster & Partners.

Initially, the three museums were due to be built simultaneously and were due for completion next year. However, as with much else in the UAE, lofty ambitions were brought to a halt and the project was put on hold in the wake of the financial crisis.

Within the past year, though, there has been a fresh impetus. Master developer Tourism Development & Investment Co (TDIC) had quietly carried on completing some of the residential aspects of the island, such as the Saadiyat Beach Residences, but it was the announcement in January this year that a $653m contract to build the Louvre Abu Dhabi had been handed to an Arabtec-led consortium that really seemed to set momentum off again.

This was the clearest demonstration yet that the Abu Dhabi government, through TDIC, was willing to provide the financial wherewithal for the attractions that the development company rightly sees as being the catalyst for a string of private sector investment on the island.

Chief development officer Carlos-Antonio Wakim tells Construction Week that the build programme for Louvre Abu Dhabi, which is due to complete in December 2015, is “right on track”. A sub-contract for construction of a huge dome weighing 7,000 tonnes has already been awarded and construction will get underway off-site while building of the piers on which it will sit continues on site.

It will be followed by construction of the Zayed National Museum, for which a tender has already been issued and which Wakim said TDIC was “aiming to award by Q1 2014.”

“At the same time, we are in the pre-qualification phase of tendering the Guggenheim,” he said. “We are finalizing the design now, we have a number of contractors under pre-qualification and we are aiming also to award the Guggenheim contract by Q2 2014.”

These three primary attractions are understandably providing the main focus for TDIC, as they will provide the draw that will attract tourists, residents and perhaps most importantly potential investors to the island. They are expected to follow the Louvre in 12-month intervals, with the Zayed National Museum opening in December 2016 and the Guggenheim in December 2017.

The new masterplan, which has been designed by Aecom, with Parsons overseeing infrastructure design, has a luxury mall as its centerpiece. It is being developed by TDIC in a joint venture the property arm of luxury goods maker LVMH (the firm behind Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Tag Heuer and Parfums Christian Dior).

It is the mall, which is on a site next to the Zayed National Museum, that has led to the redesign and it will become a focus of activity for the entire area, containing 550 stores in around 250-275,000m2 of gross lettable space during its initial phase.

There is also potential for expansion if more capacity is required. It has been designed by UK-based architectural firm Civic Arts, with Saadiyat’s masterplanner Aecom serving as architect of record.

Wakim explains that parking for all three museums – consisting of 1,000-1,500 spaces – will be underneath the mall, meaning that visitors need to move from underground parking to a first-floor level to access the individual museums – all of which will be linked directly to the mall via a new bridge designed by the museum’s architect.

The mall is also surrounded by a new strip containing high-end residential and office space, with three hotel plots on each of the corners. These have been designed by RMJM.

“We are focusing on this area to make it lively and where the vibe should be,” Wakim says. “Nonetheless, we have not forgotten the remainder of the island.”

This starts with areas around the mall, with roads and infrastructure upgraded to take account of the estimated traffic increases. A new public park area between the museums and a bridge out to sea offering views of the Guggenheim and the Louvre have been added.

There is a facility for the link road between these to be pedestrianised when required, with service tunnels built underneath to keep delivery vans for museums and the mall off the road.
A range of new beachfront properties containing food and beverage units on lower floors with loft-style apartments above will also be offered.

Wakim explans that these will be no higher than 3-5 storeys, with the island’s buildings climbing in height the closer they are to the expressway linking through from Abu Dhabi to the Sheikh Zayed Road thoroughfare.

Other changes to the masterplan involve a major boulevard from the Manarat Al Saadiyat visitor centre through to the proposed UAE Pavilion being built as an exhibition venue. This will be lined with space for artists and furniture designers.

The new masterplan also signifies the opening of the door to external developers. All of the sites thus far have been brought forward with TDIC, but it is now ready to handover plots to third parties.

One major deal has already been done with Bin Otaiba Group, which is developing a five-star luxury hotel resort with 366 rooms on a 91,000m2 plot.

Others will be invited to develop new neighbourhood clusters – each of which will be aimed at different sectors of the market – one for young professionals, say, or another for families.
“It can look like traditional architecture, or it can look more modern. It all depends on the type of clientele you want to attract.

“This does not mean all the buildings will look alike – or that anyone who buys land and invests can do whatever he wants.”

One major advantage for developers, Wakim argues, is that they can be assured that all the necessary infrastructure such as water, power and sewage networks will be in place by the time Louvre Abu Dhabi opens in December 2015. The new Cranleigh Abu Dhabi school will open in September 2014 and the island already possesses other infrastructure in terms of mosques and community retail.

William Neil, manager of Cluttons Abu Dhabi, believes there will be plenty of interest from investors – particularly as most of what has been developed by TDIC to date is at the exclusive end of the market.

Asteco’s recent report states that apartments are attracting average rents of AED110,000 per year – higher than anywhere outside of core bits of Abu Dhabi Island itself. Meanwhile, Saadiyat Beach Villas at AED295,000 are the most expensive in the municipality area.

“It wasn’t that long ago that there wasn’t that much on Saadiyat Island,” he said. “Then they built the main road linking it to Sheikh Zayed Road. By doing that, they made Saadiyat Island accessible and it made sense if you were going to the corniche to use that.”

He says TDIC has thus far been focused on trying to design space that keeps the cultural attractions to the fore, while also creating proper communities on the island.

A key element of its success, though, will be based on the fact that it is one of the few areas around the city open to investment by non-GCC nationals, with expats typically offered 99-year leaseholds on properties.

“It’s one of only a limited number of areas where non-nationals can buy,” he says.

In numbers:
- Q1 2014 Zayed National museum contract awarded
- Q2 2014 Guggenheim Abu Dhabi contract awarded

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