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Site visit: Aloft City Centre Deira, Dubai

Designed for a new generation of visitors, Majid Al Futtaim’s under-construction Aloft Dubai City Centre Deira is a fully connected four-star hotel that includes both retail and entertainment components, in addition to the latest technology

The Aloft Deira City Centre, Dubai, is on track for its Q1 2018 opening.
The Aloft Deira City Centre, Dubai, is on track for its Q1 2018 opening.

Mixing business and pleasure has become a part of Dubai’s culture and, in recent years, developers in the city have capitalised on this growing trend. The result has been an influx of mixed-use projects.

One such developer, Majid Al Futtaim, is now synonymous with making its projects one-stop shops for its customer base, combining retail, entertainment, and hospitality, all under one roof.

In its latest development, Majid Al Futtaim is embarking on yet another hybrid project, introducing the Aloft Dubai City Centre Deira – a four-star hotel directly connected to the company’s flagship City Centre Deira mall in the city’s historic district.

In collaboration with Marriott International, construction on the hotel – which is the fourth partnership between Majid Al Futtaim and Marriott International to date – began in June 2016, and topped out in September of this year.

As of April, approximately 50% of construction activities had been completed, with work progressing on schedule for a Q1 2018 completion and opening.

“We hope to get the façades completed in the fourth quarter of 2017,” says Khalifa Bin Braik, head of asset management, Majid Al Futtaim – hotels, explaining that this will be the first Aloft hotel to open in Dubai, and the only one to be operated by Majid Al Futtaim within the UAE.

Spanning an area of 28,800m2, Aloft Dubai City Centre Deira will feature 304 guest rooms and 29 suites, and will offer connectivity to the shopping mall via a direct link on level two.

Wall cladding work is well underway and will soon be followed by fit-out and finishing works, which will also be completed by the end of the year.

The hotel’s most interesting feature is located on level five: a whole floor inspired by world cinema, and an ideal place for any avid movie-goer. Level five will comprise four suites, 25 standard rooms, and associated public circulation areas, as well as a VOX cinema.

“[The hotel] will include a multipurpose events space that can be converted into a cinema, with a retractable roof that can be covered and fully air conditioned at any time,” Bin Braik says.

Construction work for the outdoor Vox Cinema, and the event terrace works, commenced in September 2017, and will include the development of a portal frame structure, the integration of an automated roof system, and preparation for the hotel’s large, high-definition cinema screen.

“The Aloft will have five food and beverage (F&B) outlets, including a brand-specific WXYZ bar, an all-day dining outlet, and a speciality concept restaurant, leased out to one of Dubai’s long-standing operators.”

Bin Braik describes the new venture as a “brand for the millennial”, citing its stylish feel and high-tech features, which integrate the latest technologies to accommodate both business and leisure travellers. To this end, in addition to fast and free WiFi throughout the property, the Aloft will also offer SPG Keyless, the hotel operator’s keyless entry system, which will allow guests to use their smartphone or Apple watch as a room key.

A major challenge in the construction of the hotel, according to Bin Braik, has been the compactness of the site itself.

“This specific site had a main fountain at the entrance,” he explains. “We have converted that space into a G+14 hotel and, [as a result], the narrowness of that space has been the greatest challenge.”

Laing O’Rourke Middle East was awarded the main contract for the project, and has successfully handled all site constraints relating to logistics and traffic management.

“The second main challenge is developing a hotel next to an operational mall,” Bin Braik continues. “We were able to manage issues such as traffic effectively with the help of the contractor, Laing O’Rourke, to overcome these obstacles.”

Roger Cassidy, project director for project management at Majid Al Futtaim, elaborates on the specific issues the developer faced during the construction phase of the hotel.

“We actually had to design the building in such a way as to maintain [the customer] experience,” he recalls. “For example, at level one, the structure [has] space underneath, to allow traffic and pedestrians to pass – so at that level, the structure transfers up to the building.”

According to Cassidy, some 5,700 tonnes of steel were used in the building, a result of the major beams and transfer slabs that were integrated to reinforce level one and level four. “I think that has been a major undertaking, the fact that it is a design-and-build (D&B) project – it’s not a common approach in Dubai, or the UAE.”

Approximately 140 parking spaces have been added to accommodate  hotel guests, in accordance with Dubai Municipality (DM) regulations, which require a certain number of bays to be allocated per guest room.

“Those 140 spaces take up an entire floor, and we have also connected car parking with [the P4 car parking level], adding an extension and further integration with the mall,” Cassidy explains.

Majid Al Futtaim employed a distinct approach to  the design and construction of the hotel, as the project director explains. “We have different elements, including a post-tension system, which allows us to basically build the structure in accordance with [Dubai Civil Aviation Authority rules].”

Mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) works are also ongoing, he continues: “We are well through the first fix, and are now starting to look at the second one. The third fix will follow later on, once the fit-out has advanced.”

An unusual feature of the MEP works currently underway at the Aloft is the use of offsite fabrication, as Cassidy explains: “We are looking at prefabrication. For example, some of the MEP plant rooms are being fabricated offsite and assembled on the site later.

“We bring [the equipment] in two or three pieces, and then set them down in place, connecting them on site in the plant room,” Cassidy adds.

The hotel’s bathroom pods were fitted using a similar method. “More than 290 pods were fabricated off site and dropped into place on site. In this regard, the fabrication of the pods must be done ahead of the structure.”

Though pods are widely used in the UAE, Cassidy says that Majid Al Futtaim has gone a step further in their development and assembly for this project. “What we’ve done is to go another level by adding a second guest room, so you effectively have a double pod and two guestrooms connected in one pod.”

Majid Al Futtaim, which is building the project in a single phase, is now in the final stages of completing the hotel’s major structural components, Cassidy adds.

And while the developer has no definite plans to build any additional hospitality projects at present, Bin Braik reveals that Majid Al Futtaim is considering the introduction of additional Aloft-branded hotels to the market in the future – although the does not indicate a specific timeline for these launches.

“The plan for now is just to open this Aloft hotel – there are no [concrete] plans [yet] for others,” he explains.

Cassidy concludes: “We run into certain issues or delays, but then they are [tackled using specific] recovery programmes or mitigation strategies. It happens all the time, so it’s a fluid process. But in general, we are on track with the project.”

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