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Site visit: The Opus, Dubai

Omniyat and Brookfield Multiplex speak to Michael Fahy about work still to be done at Dubai's torus-shaped The Opus

Those charged with building The Opus are using 3D models to ensure that everything runs smoothly.
Those charged with building The Opus are using 3D models to ensure that everything runs smoothly.

Omniyat and Brookfield Multiplex speak to Michael Fahy about work still to be done at Dubai’s torus-shaped The Opus, with only months to go before the building’s upper bridge is installed

Constructing something as complex and visually stunning as Zaha Hadid’s The Opus in Dubai was never going to be easy, but the building is now taking its distinctive shape.

The mixed-use building, which was created by London-based Zaha Hadid Architects, is proving to be as complicated to construct as it looks. Hadid’s firm created the design for the 21-floor, 2m ft2 structure back in 2007, and Brookfield Multiplex was appointed as design-build contractor to complete the building in 2008.

According to Hadid’s website, the building is made up of two structures “conceived as a single cube eroded by a free-form void which appears to ‘hover’ above ground”.

To put it in layman’s terms, think more of an ice cube that has almost melted into two separate parts at the bottom, but remains connected at the top. It is 100m wide by 97m in height and is 67m deep, with the void linking the two towers between the 16th and 18th floors above ground level.

Creating something like this in the most buoyant of markets would have had its challenges, but then when the recession hit, developer Omniyat held off on work and, like many of the surrounding sites in Dubai’s Business Bay area, the project missed its initial completion date of the first quarter of 2012.

However, the area has undergone a significant revival over the past 12 months, with many nearby hotels and office buildings (including Omniyat’s twin-towered The Binary project) now reaching handover stage.

And The Opus – a $700m (AED2.5bn), mixed-use building is approaching its most crucial stage – where the two, asymmetrical towers have to be joined together via a three-floor bridge which appears above the ‘void’ on the 16th-18th storeys.

The Opus is a mixed-use building containing six basement levels of parking, a nightclub on basement levels one and two, and a hotel and retail space covering five of the atrium levels. The two sides of the cube are filled with office spaces on floors two to 15, and those top three floors will house serviced apartments.

Buyers can choose whether or not they want their apartments serviced by the hotel’s operator, Spanish chain Melia, which is opening its first ME Hotel brand in the Middle East at the Opus.

“Selecting the operator for the hotel was not an easy task,” explains Omniyat director Mark Phoenix. “We were conscious about selecting a brand to suit such a unique and iconic building. ME Hotel, a luxury brand owned by Melia hotels is a perfect match for the Opus because of its unique and modern hotel experiences.”

The hotel and the serviced apartments are not expected to be complete until the first quarter of 2017, but Brookfield Multiplex, which is working under a design-build contract, is set to deliver the building for handover by the first quarter of 2016.

It is completing the two office towers to shell and core, although it is finishing common areas such as lifts and lobbies. It is also installing MEP connections up to office doors, but those taking units within the building then need to provide their own MEP and fit-outs.

It will provide MEP services to the serviced apartments, but again, fit-outs will be left to individual buyers. The hotel will also be fitted out under a separate contract, which has yet to be tendered.

Brookfield Multiplex’s project manager Rob Moffatt has been working on the site for around eight months. It is his first project in the UAE, and he admits that it has “had its challenges”.

However, as it moves towards the key stage of the void installation, he says: “It’s going to be exciting over the next few months. With all the steel and all the work that has gone into it, to see it all coming to site and being installed, and seeing the atrium and bridge taking shape will be amazing.”

The bridge for the atrium level will be around 32m wide and will be installed in 7m x 4m sections – each weighing around 10 tonnes.

The individual elements of these sections have been designed by suppliers from all over the world, with the glass being shipped over from China, the steelwork coming from Holland and the frames from Denmark. The components will be held at the premises of the relevant subcontractors.

The structure’s unusual shape and form have meant that a huge part of this job has been taken up modelling scenarios and through extensive use of 3D modelling software, with workshops taking place over two full days each fortnight purely to review the design and to make sure that the components will all fit together.

These are usually attended by a number of key project team members, including Omniyat, Brookfield Multiplex, Zaha Hadid Architects, Brewer Smith Brewer Gulf (lead consultant), and structural consultants National Engineering Bureau (NEB) and BG&E. Subcontractors, including separate primary and secondary steel contractors, also have their own consultants in review meetings.

Every detail needs to be reviewed, Moffatt says, including how the façade aligns with the steelwork, how brackets sit on steelwork and connect to the façade, whether the views from the offices will be unobstructed, and so on.
“Zaha Hadid Architects really challenges and pushes the boundaries of conventional architecture and construction, which in turn ensures that a unique and individual building is delivered,” Phoenix says.

“However, pushing and testing the limits of what can and can’t be built means a great deal of effort is required to go into the design. This is why major components of the project are reviewed by up to five internationally-recognised consultants. Designing and assembling one double-curved façade panel is considered complicated, and the Opus project boasts over 4,300 curved and double-curved glazed panels for the void area alone.

“That task is difficult, but then you take the bridge and the atrium components – the design and construction of these by themselves are phenomenal engineering feats, but to do them all together, at the same time, creates a challenging, but extremely unique project.”

To make sure that the completed bridge section will fit between the two irregularly-shaped sides as envisaged, a full, three-storey ‘mock-up’ structure is being erected. Speaking to Construction Week just prior to the structure being topped out, Moffatt said that he expected the number of workers on site to remain at around 700 to 800, as those who complete concreting will be replaced by people working on the steel and facades.

During the installation of the bridge, he expects to move onto three shifts, as people work through the night to ensure that the key piece of this project’s puzzle fits. Peak activity at the site was around September-October 2014, when there were around 1,300 on site.

So there are a nervy couple of months ahead as this key piece of the structure is dropped into place. However, Phoenix believes that if something is worth doing, it is worth doing well.

“The Opus is our flagship project in Business Bay, and ensuring the highest quality of finishes is one of our key drivers,” he concludes.

Overview: The Opus
Developer: Omniyat
Contractor (d&b): Brookfield Multiplex
Design: Zaha Hadid Architects
Lead consultant: Brewer Smith Brewer Gulf
Structural consultants: NEB / BG&E
Facade consultant: Koltay Facades
MEP: Haydon
Facade contractor: Alu Nasa
Steel: Al Nasr
Glass: Shanghai Pilkington
Lifts: Kone

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