Site visit: Al Hikma Tower, Dubai

China State Construction is nearing completion of latest skyscraper

ANALYSIS, Site Visits, Projects, Al Hikma Tower, Dubai

For the world’s biggest contracting company, with 57-years in the business, you wouldn’t think China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC), has many more project milestones to achieve; but in Dubai it is working on a scheme that has proved a first in many ways.

Al Hikma Tower on Sheikh Zayed Road, measuring an impressive 283m, is the tallest building that CCSEC has built to date in the UAE.

Moreover, the project comes with something of a profile given that it is being constructed for Sheikh Issa bin Zayed Al Nayhan, the son of UAE founder Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who will not only use three floors of office space in the building but has dedicated the project to his late father.

An LED-generated image of Sheikh Zayed will crown the top of the building for all to see when it is finished at the end of the year.

“The client really believes in us,” said project manager, Ji Tao. “We know how important this project is to Sheikh Issa and we want to do a proficient job.”

The 57,945m² office tower situated just in front of the Burj Khalifa contains two basement levels, a ground floor, mezzanine, 60 typical floors and a separate automated car park. CSCEC was appointed to the project in September 2009 through Sheikh Issa’s real estate firm, Pearl Properties, under a AED390mn ($106mn) contract. That the tower will have taken five years to build come handover – an age by Dubai standards – has been something of a challenge for the contractor.

The project had been running smoothly up until February 2012 when it was suddenly halted as Pearl Properties wanted to take a look at introducing some major design changes, including turning it into a hotel. Obviously, this had a knock-on effect for CSCEC and the other subcontractors at the time.

“We had nearly 1,000 labourers on the project at the time,” said Tao. “Around 400-500 belonged to us and the rest were the various subcontractors. We had finished about 60% of the MEP works at that time, so we said we could not change this because it will cost too much.”

Having workers idle on site for an indefinite period was clearly never going to be an option so CSCEC had to think on its feet – and fast. Fortunately, the fact that it is the world’s biggest builder meant it was able to deploy workers onto other UAE construction sites as design change issues were being resolved.

“We shifted around 150 workers to a pipeline project we were building for Adco (Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Oil Operations) from Dubai to Fujairah,” said Tao. “Other workers we shifted to the City of Lights project in Abu Dhabi that we’re doing for developer Al Tamouh.”

CSCEC is building five out of 13 towers at City of Lights. All in all, the suspension at Al Hikma Tower lasted 14 months. However, senior project manager Konudula Rao said Pearl Properties was kind enough to award costs for the programme’s prolongment, believed to be around AED25mn ($6.8mn).

“We were very grateful for this because you have to remember, for example, that you cannot just remove the tower crane from the project because it has stopped,” said Rao.

Asked whether despite the delays CSCEC would turn in a profit on the project, he said: “The financial issues we need to check, but we are looking to break even. But what you have to also remember is that this is a very prestigious project in a very good location. It is good for the company’s track record.”

Pearl Properties eventually decided against turning Al Hikma into a hotel, at which point the project team was recalled to site. A new revised construction contract was also drawn up covering the period April 2013 to 31 December 2014.

“The time period was very tight,” said Tao. “So we had to bring back 1,200 workers to recover the project.”

The tower had already topped out in July 2011 – some 16 months after the core wall, columns and slabs were first erected at a rate of one level a week – so work continued on finishing MEP tasks and also incorporating a number of smaller design changes.

“Some areas we needed to change,” said Tao. “For example, for the toilets the client changed the location, so we needed to change the pipe work, the connections for firefighting, etc.”

Currently on the priority list is interior design (ID) work for the ground floor, mezzanine, gym on level 31, levels 58, 59, 60 that will be occupied by Sheikh Issa, landscaping, and testing and commissioning.

The typical floors have been completed only to shell-and-core. Around 400 labourers, 150 being CSCEC employees, are presently on site.

“The client has already nominated an ID contractor for this work. They are submitting the shop drawings, the materials are almost approved,” said Tao. “We are targeting two months’ work. We are still waiting for the design for the landscaping. This is sensitive work as it will affect other neighbouring towers that are still to be constructed,” he added.

“We have started testing and commissioning independently off temporary power, but for the whole building will are awaiting for the cabling and transformers for permanent power.”

When CW visited the site recently, the roof’s waterproof membrane was in the midst of a two-day test, which Tao subsequently said had gone smoothly.

In fact, the rooftop varies in height. One side is 50m and the other 30m. It took 100 days to erect the steel structure. Containing 32 pieces in total, the steel was fabricated in Al Quoz and brought to site for assembly, erection and cladding using a tall crane.

Tao said tower crane movements were severely restricted by the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) because of the building’s proximity to the Dubai Metro.

“The Metro is only 20 metres from the project. The RTA gave us so many requirements that we must follow,” he said. “So our tower should get an NOC (No Objection Certificate) first, then the tall crane needs an NOC and any job for the façade work. So many requirements. It’s like a book that we have to follow.”

In order to ensure no construction debris fell onto the tracks, which would have resulted in a heavy fine, the tower was covered at night with a safety net and a steel sheet/climbing protection screen was used to cover the exposed slabs and columns, which were being erected with a Chinese Zulin climbing system.

“Until now, we haven’t had an RTA fine,” said Tao proudly.

Façade work is all-but finished, and the adjoining automatic car park, which is not in CSCEC’s scope of works, is set to also be completed by the end of the year.

“We will finish this project on time,” said Tao. “This client believes in us so much. We will not let them down.”

Project Overview
Al Hikma Tower (2B+G+M+60)
Height: 283m
Area: 57,945m²
Client: Pearl Properties
Consultant: Al Watan Al Arabi
Contract value: AED390.9mn ($106.4mn)
Start date: 16 September 2009.
End date: 31 December 2014
1. Concrete: 49,000m³
2. Steel: 10,000 tons
3. Glass: 9,007 curtain wall panels; 796 glass points.
4. Elevators: 10 High speed Elevators; 2 panoramic lifts.
5. Climbing system: Zulin
6. Core wall thickness: 800mm

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