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Construction update: UAE's $6.8bn Sharjah Waterfront City

Construction of 321 villas on Sun Island, Phase 1 of Sharjah Oasis Real Estate’s $6.8bn Sharjah Waterfront City, is expected to be completed in June 2019, Construction Week finds

Upon completion, Sharjah Waterfront City's Sun Island will comprise 321 G+2 villas.
Upon completion, Sharjah Waterfront City's Sun Island will comprise 321 G+2 villas.
Shiraz Hasan, group chief executive officer of Tech Group.
Shiraz Hasan, group chief executive officer of Tech Group.

Live construction sites don’t typically inspire ruminations on history. It can be hard to wax poetic about the past when surrounded by heavy equipment, grey slabs of concrete, and the exposed skeletons of unfinished buildings. It becomes even more difficult when one is reminded that construction is primarily about the handover date and the final product – the future, some would say.

The ruminations tend to come much later, decades after the completed structure has reshaped the area's skyline, and maybe even its economy. This nostalgia is inspired by ‘before’ photos and video footage, in the way that images of Dubai in the 1970s evoke wistful exchanges about the emirate’s transformation from a trading port to a skyscraper hub – conversations that will no doubt continue, fuelled by the developments under way as the city prepares for Expo 2020.

But while the world is looking at Dubai to see how far – and how tall – its growth ambitions will take the city, its neighbour and sister emirate, Sharjah, is steadily creating the foundation for future discussions about its own transformation, in the form of megaprojects – one of which is Sharjah Waterfront City.

READ: Construction begins on Phase 1 of UAE's $6.8bn Sharjah Waterfront City

A sprawling mixed-use master-planned waterfront community, Sharjah Waterfront City is being developed by Sharjah Oasis Real Estate Company for an estimated cost of $6.8bn (AED25bn). The project has a total land area covering more than 557.4ha and consists of eight interconnected islands, which the developer hopes will eventually be home to more than 60,000 residents.

Once completed, the eight-island development will feature a 36km beachfront, an 800-berth marina, and a water theme park, as well as 95 high-rises, 1,500 villas and townhouses, 14 hospitality properties ranging from hotels to serviced apartments, and two shopping malls.

At the moment, however, the project site is but a hive of construction activity that is largely concentrated on Sun Island, where Tech Construction, a subsidiary of Tech Group, is in the process of building 295 precast villas.

Phase 1 of the Sharjah Waterfront City master plan, Sun Island will have a total of 321 G+2 villas – the 295 that Tech Construction is building, plus 26 existing villas. Of the 321, 109 will be three-bedroom villas and 149 will be four-bedroom, while 22 and 15 will have five and six bedrooms, respectively.

IN PICTURES: Phase 1 of Sharjah Waterfront City, Sharjah

Awarded the main contract, valued at more than $81.7m (AED300m), in August 2017, the contractor’s scope also includes “the complete facelift of the façades of the existing villas so they match the contemporary style” of those under construction, Shiraz Hasan, group chief executive officer of Tech Group, tells Construction Week.

“Construction works on the project started in August 2017,” says Hasan. “Now, overall progress is about 20%, with 80 villas in different stages of construction, but foundation and substructure works like slab-on-grade, which are [necessary] before erecting precast [structures], are 50% done.”

With June 2019 as the target completion date for the Phase 1 villas, Hasan and his team are expecting activity to peak in Q4 2018, when finishing works are likely to start. By then, the number of workers on site – currently at 500 – will go up to 1,100.

Situated on the northeastern coast of Sharjah, the waterfront development overlooks the Arabian Gulf on its western border. It’s a detail that, while adding to the appeal of the property, has posed as a challenge for Tech Group, whose subsidiary companies Tech Engineering, Tech Steel, Tech Remix, Tech Blocks, Tech Aluglass, and Tech Wood are also working on the project.

“There are issues to working on a waterfront project, such as the wind conditions,” explains Hasan. “At times, they make the work a bit difficult for the project team. Also, in certain areas, soil conditions require some soil improvement work to be carried out before construction starts.”

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The villas being precast has also served as both a boon and a bane, adds Hasan: “This is a precast project, so construction goes faster, but it comes with its own challenges. When you have complete precast panels prepared and directly erected, it’s important to get all foundation blocks done correctly and in the right sequence, and for the panels to be numbered for a specific wall, for a specific villa.

“The mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) subcontractor, which is Tech Engineering, has to also play a more proactive role [than in conventional projects], and there’s a lot of coordination work needed with all the parties, especially Abu Dhabi Precast, the subcontractor for the precast walls and hollow-core slabs.”

However, he points out that having a number of Tech Group companies involved in the project is helping reduce the time required to resolve any coordination-related problems.

READ: Phase 1 villas of $6.8bn Sharjah Waterfront City 65% sold

“There are only a few companies [in the market] that own the entire supply chain,” he says. “We are an integrated construction group, which is a comfort to the client, because it makes us reliable. In this industry, it is normal to see disputes and issues with subcontractors, but for this project, the client pretty much just has to deal with one company that has the majority of the supply chain in-house.”

Talking about the design of the villas, done by Naga Architects, Hasan reveals: “They will come with home automation features and a contemporary style with [a large amount] of glazing and glass. There will be floor-to-ceiling glass windows.”

According to Hasan, the glass windows will offer residents “impressive views” of the sea, but they have also made the project a challenge to construct, since the villas will be missing “the typical beams found in regular precast developments”.

He elaborates: “With precast, you need certain beams for support, but the design for this project doesn’t allow for that, so we have to use out-of-the-box engineering [approaches] to make everything happen without impacting the design.”

READ: Sharjah, Ajman remain most affordable property markets in UAE

One such approach is the use of steel delta beams manufactured by the Finnish company, Peikko, he says: “We’re using Finnish technology to provide support to the cantilevered elements of the villas. [This will] facilitate the aesthetical appearance [of the project] by avoiding [the use] of any drop beams for full-height windows or curtain walls.

“The designs [are being] carried out in line with local regulations and industry best practices. These include the safety factor considerations for structural stability, seismic loads, and island and waterfront structures.”

In addition to ensuring that the project meets safety regulations, Tech Group is said to be following green building guidelines on water-flow control rates, building thermal insulation, and U-values of materials like glass, and cutting its carbon footprint by sourcing materials for finishing works within a 500km range of the project site.

These, explains Hasan, are on top of green elements that Sharjah Oasis will incorporate into its waterfront master-planned community, and are measures that Tech Group typically implements in its projects, which at present include a 27-storey tower that it is building in Ajman for its own development portfolio. The company is also in the handover phase for City Life Mall, also located in Ajman, where the company is based – for now, at least.

“Tech Group is planning to move its head office to Dubai,” reveals Hasan. “We are also looking to expand our portfolio of projects into the development of healthcare and sports facilities, [and] there are certain things on the table like desalination and waste-to-energy projects.

“We don’t have an interest in being the largest company, but we [do] have an interest in being the best-quality construction company out there, and we are expanding into Dubai very rapidly,” concludes Hasan.

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