Creating Atlantis The Palm

Commercial Outdoor Design finds out how the project went from concept to reality.

The Ziggurat is the centrepiece of the waterpark.
The Ziggurat is the centrepiece of the waterpark.

Having already brought the Atlantis myth to life once in The Bahamas, Sol Kerzner decided to repeat the trick in Dubai. Commercial Outdoor Design finds out the project went from concept to reality.

Opening this month, Atlantis, The Palm is the latest hotel resort to take Dubai by storm.

Situated on the crescent of the manmade Palm Jumeirah Island surrounded by the sea of the Arabian Gulf, the 46-hectare site is nothing short of spectacular.

In developing Atlantis, The Palm, Kerzner International Holdings has once again recreated the myth of Atlantis, the legendary island that sank into the ocean - the original being the Atlantis, Paradise Island located in The Bahamas.

It is simply not enough for us to deliver new water rides. Our goal is to redefine the concept of a water park.

Like its sister resort, the Palm location boasts an extensive waterscape. The resort's star attraction is Aquaventure, which covering 17 hectares, will be the largest water park in the region, according to the company. By comparison, Wild Wadi, Dubai's most famous water park to date, measures 4.9 hectares.

Open to the public as well as guests at the resort, Aquaventure will revolutionise the concept of water parks, declared Sol Kerzner, executive chairman at Kerzner, as the project was announced. "It is simply not enough for us to deliver new water rides. Our goal is to redefine the concept of a water park," he said.

How Kerzner planned to achieve this was by pushing the boundaries of water park design.

The park, designed by Texas, US-based firm Henry Schooley & Associates (HSA) which also designed the original Aquaventure park in The Bahamas, includes a number of new attractions including a shark-filled lagoon that visitors are submerged into, as well as a 2.3 kilometre action river featuring rapids, wave surges and water falls.

The objective, says Peter Doyle, senior vice president, marine and water park for Atlantis, The Palm, was "to create a water park that is both a resort amenity and that operates successfully as a standalone attraction."

One of the challenges of achieving this objective at the masterplanning stage was respecting both the public and private usage that would be conferred on the location. "The challenge was dealing with the architecture and arranging site amenities so they were equally accessible for hotel guests and the public. Many design alternatives were considered," Courtney Moore, project manager at urban design firm EDSA, comments.

Another consideration at the planning stage was identifying the best way to incorporate the park into the overall design. It was important for the water park to have a visible presence, but not compete with the hotel, Moore says.

"The hotel is a main focus at arrival but the water park is also viewable upon approach to build anticipation and excitement," he adds.

As well as doing the masterplanning for the resort, EDSA also did the landscape design. The brief here was to "create a cohesive ambiance using a lush tropical jungle experience" he says.

Approximately 6,000 palms, and over half a million shrubs and ground cover were used to create the landscape, plus over 20,000 square metres of turf.

The centrepiece of the water park is the Mesopotamian-style Ziggurat. Rising 30 metres high, the structure is visible from the Dubai mainland as well as from the fronds of the Palm Jumeirah.

Theming is all about creating an illusion.

The Ziggurat is the showcase for the work of Dubai-based theming contractor Amusement Whitewater, which did the exterior theming at the resort.

"Our role was the creation of the artificial rockwork and the themed plaster on the outside of the buildings that gave the impression that it was all made of giant stone blocks," explains John Cussen, general manager at Amusement White Water. "We also created all the external cornices and mouldings.

The multi-million dollar contract on Atlantis was a significant one for Amusement Whitewater, which has also worked on Ski Dubai in Mall of the Emirates, the exterior of the Madinat Jumeirah, and Wild Wadi, all in Dubai. Atlantis, The Palm is the largest themed construction project ever done in the Middle East, says Cussen.

Theming is all about creating an illusion, he states. "The idea is to create the illusion that you are in another world. While here you are away from the 9-5 and in Atlantis," he says.

Each of the rocks was carved by hand by one of a team of specially trained rock artists, explains Cussen. Working in sand and cement, the artists carve the rock to create the effect requested. Once the rock has been carved, specialist painters colour the rock to finish the effect.

Making the illusion believable comes down to the detail, Cussen says. For the exterior work on Atlantis, for instance, it was important to include cracks and use distress paint to get an authentic old look. "The detail is critical in the creation of the illusion. Everything must look real and touch like the real thing," he says.

The firm used approximately 100,000m2 of themed plaster and rockwork in creating the exterior, and at its peak had 500 staff on site.

A key challenge in designing a water park in the GCC is adapting it to work with the climate. Although the high summer temperatures can boost the attractiveness of a water park - Wild Wadi is reportedly at its busiest during the summer months - careful attention still needs to be paid at the design stage to ensure the park doesn't become too hot for comfort.

An innovation in this respect at Aquaventure is that the visitor stays in the water throughout the trip, a solution achieved by using water escalators to carry participants up slide towers. The water is also temperature controlled.

"Climate and comfort became big considerations during the design process as improving the guest experience by never having to have them leave the water was imperative," says Doyle.

Traditional cooling methods were also employed from misting systems at the entrance to the park to overhead awning on central paths. The park also has a path cooling system, using a sprinkler system.

Coping with the heat was in fact one of the major challenges construction workers on the resort had to deal with.

With the launch date scheduled for the tail-end of one of the UAE's notoriously hot summers, the pressure on contractors was intense as they juggled a looming completion deadline with enforced reduced working hours for labourers.

Co-ordination between the various contractors on the project was the other main challenge for project managers. "Onsite supervision and co-ordination of contractors was imperative to ensure that the [design] concept was translated to reality," said Doyle.

Hot weather and numerous meetings aside, the construction of Atlantis, The Palm appears to have progressed without major mishap. When COD visited the site a few months ago, work was clearly near to completion. Minor details were still being sorted - the sharks had yet to arrive - but the water park was functional and looking finished.

The opening of the resort September 24 brings to the end three hard years of work for all those involved in the construction of the park. Giving life to a myth is no easy undertaking, but thanks to the commitment of all parties, it seems Sol Kerzner has done it yet again.

Project details

Investors: Joint venture between Kerzner International Holdings Limited and Istithmar

Developer: Kerzner International Holdings Limited

Masterplanner and landscape design: EDSA

Water park designer: HSA (Henry, Schooley & Associates)

Theming contractor: Amusement Whitewater Softscape

Shade and irrigation supplier: Citiscape

Paving contractor: CCP

Total cost of development of Atlantis, The Palm: US$1.5 billion

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