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Site visit: The Opus by Omniyat, Dubai

CW visits The Opus by Omniyat, a mixed-use development masterminded by late architect Zaha Hadid which, following a comprehensive redesign, has finally taken shape in Dubai

The Opus resembles a melted ice cube, owing to its distinctive void.
The Opus resembles a melted ice cube, owing to its distinctive void.

After almost a decade in development, The Opus by Omniyat has finally taken shape in Dubai. Designed by late architect Dame Zaha Hadid, the mixed-use project is rapidly approaching completion, and looks set to offer a striking addition to the emirate’s skyline.

Located in the heart of Dubai’s Business Bay area, the development consists of three components: commercial, residential, and hospitality. With an above-ground development area of 93,000m2, the building includes seven basement levels, a ground floor, and 22 storeys. It will offer a range of amenities, from hotel apartments to lavish offices, not to mention a five-star hotel. With a total built-up area of 186,000m2, on a 14,057m2 plot, The Opus will also feature an area dedicated to entertainment, and food and beverage (F&B) outlets.

As the project’s lead consultant, executive architect, and architect of record, Brewer Smith Brewer Group (BSBG) has been working on The Opus since 2008, when construction officially began. The UAE-based consultancy has more than three decades of experience working in the Middle East, and has had to leverage every bit of its expertise to support the delivery of this ambitious development.

BSBG is currently providing architecture and construction supervision services on The Opus, working in conjunction with the project’s main contractor, Multiplex, and developer, Omniyat. A close working relationship between the stakeholders has been vital in the realisation of Hadid’s vision, which is arguably one of the most fascinatingly designed buildings in the Gulf.
Multiplex worked on the shell and core of the building under a design-and-build (D&B) contract, completing work on its common areas, such as the lifts and lobbies. The Australia-headquartered contractor was also responsible for The Opus’s mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) delivery. Multiplex has installed connections up to office doors, while those taking units within the building will conduct MEP and fit-out works to fit their individual requirements.

According to Scott Orwin, director of BSBG, The Opus’s construction is on track and moving rapidly. As the project progresses towards completion, the consultancy is now in the process of finalising its work, after a challenging – yet rewarding – nine years.

While an official completion date has yet to be announced, Omniyat’s marketing materials state that The Opus will complete in 2017. Orwin and his colleagues are set to hand over the structure’s shell and core – as part of the D&B contract – by mid-2017.

The project is undoubtedly complicated compared to the majority of its conventional counterparts, but nine years is still a lengthy development period. So what led to The Opus’s delayed completion? Orwin says that a comprehensive redesign represented a major contributing factor. He explains: “There was a decision by the client to revise the design and interior functions during the construction process, which led to a lengthened overall duration.”

In terms of construction, Orwin says The Opus’s void – the space between its two main buildings – was the most challenging element to deliver. This distinct feature, which gives the project the distinctive shape of a melting ice cube, is 100m wide, 97m tall, and 67m deep. The bridge between the two buildings is 40m in length, and connects their 16th and 18th floors. “We used very economical ways to create this negative space,” recounts Orwin.

Owing to its amorphous design, The Opus’s façade also tested the construction team’s skills. Orwin elaborates: “The design of the glass exterior took a good 18 months to complete. The manufacturing of the glass itself [was an exceptionally] strenuous process, due to its curved nature in specific sections of the building. The internal form of the atrium will give The Opus a very distinctive character; you’ll be able to see this when you look from the office floors into the void and across the residential area,” he adds.

Cladding the void and installing the glass was a difficult process but, as Orwin points out, these works were conducted with a great deal of care and attention. The results, he says, are clear to see. The Opus’s glass features the latest ultra-violet (UV) coatings to reduce solar gain and glare within its spaces, while the shape and form of the main buildings were driven by Hadid’s design process.

The project’s residential section will feature a total of 96 fully furnished one-, two-, and three-bedroom hotel apartments, also designed by Hadid. Among these units will be penthouse apartments with balconies and private rooftop gardens. The final apartment sizes are currently under revision.

Commenting on the project’s repurposing, Orwin says: “The Opus was redesigned internally to modify its uses from a commercial-only development to a true, mixed-use project. This took place in 2008.”

The redesigned structure includes a five-star hotel that will operate as the ME By Meliá – a brand that also boasts branches in London, Madrid, Cancún, Cabo, Mallorca, Ibiza, and Milan. While the hospitality area of the project has yet to be fitted-out, it will boast a curved and fluid design, much like that of the rest of the building. A completion date for this section has not yet been announced. Nevertheless, Orwin says that the client is exploring options to integrate its fit-out to ensure the hotel areas and residential components are completed quickly.

“I think the owner took the view that in 2008, when everything stopped, it was then a great time to relaunch the project and offer a hotel component,” he says. “The challenge with that, however, was redesigning the core of the building, [taking into consideration] the structure that was being built.

“When you change uses, you also have to consider the different entry and access points, as well as [service delivery] requirements, among other things,” he adds. “Hotels are very structured in their requirements, so getting all [of the elements] within an existing tower core, with existing lifts and access requirements and escape provisions, and working with the authorities to accept these changes, is very challenging.”

The required permitting revisions were carried out during the construction phase, so a close design partnership between the project’s stakeholders and Dubai Creative Clusters Authority (DCCA) was necessary.

Ultimately, BSBG and its fellow stakeholders have succeeded in bringing Hadid’s vision to life.

“We were very fortunate to work with Zaha Hadid Architects,” says Orwin. “The studio was brought in very early [in the development process] to design the concept and form at the time when it was just an office building. [In turn, BSBG] was [enlisted] to partner with Hadid to make sure that the design and direction of the architecture was realised in the structure’s built form.”

Now that The Opus is nearing completion, what’s next for the BSBG team? Encouragingly, Orwin says the consultancy has plenty of additional work on its plate. He concludes: “We are currently working on a number of other UAE projects, including the residential component of Meraas’s Bluewaters Island in Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR), and ICD Brookfield Place, a 53-storey commercial building located in the heart of Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC). We also supported the development of The Beach, a recently completed project, which was also developed by Meraas.”

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