Site Visit: The Onyx

ASGC is progressing a fast-track scheme on a prominent Dubai site

All three of the complex’s towers are being worked on simultaneously, with the structure due to complete by November.
All three of the complex’s towers are being worked on simultaneously, with the structure due to complete by November.

Having one of the most visible construction sites in Dubai can be both a blessing and a curse.

For developer Ishraqah, at times it may have seemed a lot like the latter. Its location – facing onto Sheikh Zayed Road, between Emaar Business Park and the entrance to The Greens residential community – is probably only surpassed by the huge Al Habtoor City site further down the road in terms of noticeability – either from the city’s busiest thoroughfare, Sheikh Zayed Road, or from the packed Metro trains which tootle past both.

Indeed, its prominence has proved to be a challenge logistically, with restrictions not only on getting goods onto the site, but also on how and when they can be moved around. Moreover, there have been periods where activity on the site has slowed to a standstill. Yet the developer and its contractor, Al Shafar General Contracting (ASGC), have been on a fast-track implementation programme working on phase II of the project since July last year, and as structural works near completion, the project is becoming its own, constantly evolving, billboard for potential investors and tenants interested in its offices, residential units and even the passing trade for its restaurants and shops.

Ishraqah, which is a partnership between Saudi companies Zahran Group and Bin Mahfouz Group, first announced plans for the site in 2007.

Arabtec was initially appointed as contractor in July 2009, but its agreement was terminated by the November, with the developer citing a “failure to meet certain contractual requirements”.

It began talks with ASGC in the same month and signed a contract with the company to complete the main building works in January 2010.

The firm also had an issue with one of its project consultants, which had its licence suspended by Dubai Municipality. This led to the firm recruiting Saffarini as its new project consultant, which also meant delays in gaining a new construction permit.

The first phase contained all of the substructure works for the project, which consists of three towers sharing a common podium. Three separate rafts needed to be cast for each tower and their lift cores.

Piling work completed in May 2010 and the bulk of the substructure was ready by 2011. However, there were some delays to the project, with work restarting in September 2012 as the market recovered.

Both Ishraqah and ASGC have been keen to make progress since, though. The contract for phase two of the works, which includes all of the construction above ground, was signed on 21 July 2013 and the substructure of all three towers is expected to complete by the end of November, with an anticipated completion date for the whole project of the fourth quarter of 2015.

The complex sits on quite a tight plot of 237,000m2, but will contain a built-up area of over 2mn ft2 once complete. Two of the three towers will have 14 floors (including podium levels) – the Tower 1 office block fronting Sheikh Zayed Road and Tower 3, which is set to be a four-star business hotel containing four restaurants and a coffee shop, as well as other facilities Ishraqah’s client representative, Fouad Abu Ghanem, told CW that negotiations with the hotel’s operators are currently being finalised.

The biggest tower, at 25 storeys, will be a mixed-use tower containing 11 lower levels of offices and then 14 floors of residential properties above. All three are linked by the four-storey podium, which contains a basement and three floors above ground. In total, this will contain 1,429 parking spaces, four restaurants (three of which will be part of the hotel) and 20 retail units.

ASGC’s senior project manager, Essam Anwar, explained that parking provision was considerably higher than Dubai Municipality’s requirement, with extra spaces being allocated for people who will come in to use podium area faciilities.

The podium levels have taken time to build as they cover the entire plot. Abu Ghanem says special attention was also paid to landscaping and features to create a pleasant environment on these levels.

The other major issue for the site has been accessibility. Its positioning fronting the slip road to The Greens has meant that all deliveries have to be made to the rear of the site as it has an obligation to the RTA to keep traffic flowing.

There is no room for storage, either, as it is pinned at one side by buildings and parking for Emaar Business Park and by a major road junction and bridge on the other.

This has meant site offices and, crucially, stores have to be placed on the opposite side of the road junction, in the neighbouring Tecom district.

Goods therefore often have to be handled twice, with fleets of trucks allocated to make the circuitous route from the stores at Tecom back to the site.

Not only that, but Anwar points out that the Metro line running parallel brings another set of issues to contend with.

“There are a lot of regulations and restrictions regarding safety. This created problems for us, but we have resolved most of them,” he said.

“The main problem near the Metro line is you cannot fix mobile cranes. There is a restricted or safe area of 30m near the Metro line. When raising cranes, we have to submit mission statements or risk assessments to the RTA and get them approved. Then we can work.

“We have made some modifications to our tower cranes so that it is not working to its full capacity. We cannot lift material near the metro line until you are away from that restricted area.”

Given that the site faces onto Emaar’s The Greens residential development, there are also restrictions on working times, with a 7pm finish time even during the summer months when days are shortened due to the midday working ban.

Yet despite these inconveniences, Anwar says that restrictions have not hampered progress on the site.

“All of these issues have been discussed and agreed firstly by the project manager and the engineer. It’s agreed at an early stage of mobilisation.”

By mid-August, progress was being made on all three towers simultaneously, with Towers 1 and 2 both reaching the 14th floor and Tower 3 .

“At Tower 1, our plan is to finish the concrete by the end of September,” says Anwar. “At Tower 2, which is the highest one (closest to the Emaar Business Park), our plan is to complete the structure by the end of November. In between, with Tower 3, our plan is to complete by the end of October.”

Anwar said work has progressed quickly since it moved from podium levels to the upper floors, which are split into two portions for the creation of the slabs.

In terms of the slab areas, they are typically 2,480m2 per floor at the mixed-use Tower 2.

Anwar said that it is currently completing 2.5-3 floor slabs per month at Tower 2, while for Towers 1 and 3 the rate is around 2-2.5 per month.

“Right now, we have 1,300 people on site – for the main contractor and subcontractors,” he said. “For the peak time in November we expect 2,000. Then you’re working on all of the finishes.”

Both Tower 1, which is purely office space, and the first 11 floors of Tower 2 are being finished to shell and core.

However, Ishraqah is looking to fit out the apartments to a high standard, and it recently appointed Dubai-based consultancy 4D Design to create the spaces.

Some of the apartments have already been sold, but the rest will be launched in September following the creation of a show unit on the building’s 13th floor.

Ishraqah’s CEO, Ammar Sweis, explained the reason for choosing 4D Design. “They have worked on a number of projects in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and have very interesting designs and creative ideas.”

Abu Ghanem added: “We have a high end interior design already done and completed,” he said. “We’ve selected the materials and we’re now in a phase of procuring – sanitaryware, marble, ceramics, the kitchens – all of these have been specified by an interior designer.”

Nabil G. Aoun, a senior project manager at Morganti, said that the building has been completed to a very high standard.

“I’ve just finished a five-star hotel and some of these interiors are as good as a five star hotel,” he said.

Abu Ghanem, meanwhile, argues that, once complete, its unique selling point will be its “strategic” location.

“It’s close to Media City, Internet City, Tecom, Emaar and on Sheikh Zayed Road. It’s a very strategic location,” he said.

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