Al Barari is being developed as an environmentally-friendly option for those with plenty of cash.
Jamie Stewart looks at how Al Barari is being developed as an environmentally-friendly option for those with plenty of the folding green stuff.
Al Barari is a mammoth 1.3 million m2 development within the north eastern corner of the GCC's second largest development - Dubailand. The site hugs the corner of Dubailand nearest to the current centre of Dubai.
Al Barari means "the wilderness," and it exemplifies the shared vision of Zaal Mohammed Zaal, the founder and chairman of Al Barari, and Mohammed Bin Zaal, chief operating officer (COO).
There is no disguising the fact that Al Barari is a high end development, with the decidedly well off in mind. Around US $4.14 billion has been invested in construction of the project, which is progressing in two phases. Phase one comprises residential buildings, while phase two will cover mixed-use buildings.
So what, exactly, does $4.14 billion get you these days? The Al Barari development comprises 296 villas, a 6-star boutique hotel including 120 suites and 32 attached villas, a spa and resort, an alternative medicine village, apartments, shopping areas, a mosque, and a cultural village.
Work on phase one is currently well underway at the site, around 20 minutes' drive from the centre of Dubai. To date, 190 of the 296 villas have been sold. COO Zaal expects to hand over the keys to the first stage of completed homes by the end of the year.
Following this initial handover, keys will again be handed over in three phases. First in March 2009, followed by September 2009 and January 2010.
The 296 villas can be classed within four general grades - A,B,C and D. There will also be an elite class. The show home, a 'B' class, was unveiled at the end of April.
It is difficult to believe that it is considered 'B' class. Within this class villas range from 930m2 to 1,860m2.
The architects have taken particular account of one resource that the region possesses in adundance, as Zaal explains: "The doors and ceilings are high throughout the house. This allows us to make the most of the natural light within the interior.
Attention to the smallest detail is also apparent within the show home: "All of the electrical components and servers throughout the house are concealed within closed compartments.
Every detail has been considered, because it's the little things that are so important.
They make such a difference. Even down to the doors of the kitchen cupboards, which close by themselves.
Construction-wise, Al Barari has managed to avoid many of the pitfalls that have been plaguing the industry across the region of late.
Materials shortages and rising costs, so often the thorn in the side of the developer-contractor relationship, have not been an issue due to a close working relationship with the main contractor Al Naboodah.
Zaal says: "Naboodah have helped us a lot. At the moment, whoever wants to work for you, you just snap them up, because everyone is so busy on the contracting side. We have a very good relationship with Naboodah and we were happy to get them on board.
They were not the cheapest, but we do not cut corners. We know that if we did, it would harm us in the end."
Talking of the all-too-common delays that have hit projects across the GCC, Zaal continues: "Delays are something that have hit the whole market here. The amnesty law that came in a few years ago saw two or three hundred thousand people leave the country, most of whom were construction labourers, which really hit the market.
"Of course, with raw materials you are looking at a five-fold rise in the cost of a tonne of steel in recent years. These things do affect everyone but I think we have anticipated many problems.
We foresaw that electricity supply may be a problem, so we are currently building our own sub-station which will power the entire development. We are trying to support ourselves internally as much as possible."
Al Barari have also put much thought into the environmental quality of the development that bears the company name. More than 80% of the land in phase one is devoted to gardens and common areas, making Al Barari the least dense development in the region.
In addition to this, hundreds of species of plants which have never been seen before in the UAE are to be used to create 15 themed botanical gardens. As Zaal says:
"We were the pioneers of green real estate development. Everything from our water strategies to our recycling, and from our lighting to our planting. Our plant production totals 1.3 million trees annually.
Along with this, our ratio of built up area to open land is something that has never really been tested before. Within this open land we are building the longest man-made waterway in the world, at 14.6 km.
"As far as recycling is concerned, we have adopted a Spanish system that is completely underground. The seal is hydraulically lifted to allow access to different compartments.
Each villa will also be supplied with bins to separate waste. We will also introduce green recycling with a composting plant, so we are making use of organic waste."
Talking of greenery, Zaal is keen to show off the Al Barari nursery. His annoyance at his prized golf buggy's inability to start is swiftly put aside by pride in the nursery itself. Covering 50,000m2, Zaal says it is the largest in the Middle East.
"We have devoted $38.1 million towards our themed gardens, woodlands, waterways, streams and water bodies. We will be planting 4.6 million trees, shrubbery and ground cover. Our array of gardens will introduce new species of plants to the UAE, as well as encourage outdoor living.
The gardens will contain 800 types of plants and flowers from 20 different countries across six continents."
The nursery is an oasis in the desert, and marks the culmination of years of work, with plants carefully selected and tested to ensure they can adapt to the harsh Gulf climate. As Zaal puts it: "And they say that money can't grow on trees. Well, it can."
So the villas are impressive. But who is going to live in a house like this? "We looked initially at whether it would be a certain geographic market, or certain groups of individuals, but it doesn't work that way.
The people have to be affluent, obviously, and be able to afford the property, but other than that, it's people who enjoy space, enjoy gardens, and want a home.
"We are not catering to investors. We are looking for home owners, which 90% of our clients are. I personally know every single one of our clients who has bought with us."
Al Barari is an ambitious development. Those involved are trying to work out a new way to define luxury, despite these being somewhat trying times for the construction industry.
In fact, Zaal is a relaxed character, who comes across as a man who has grown accustomed to things working out. Just don't mention his golf buggy.