Sowwah Island

Sowwah island is being built to be the city's business district

Work is proceeding on several jobs, including the Rosewood Hotel and the stock exchange.
Work is proceeding on several jobs, including the Rosewood Hotel and the stock exchange.
Abdullah Al-Shamsi, a senior architect at Mubadala, explained the role of the master developer.
Abdullah Al-Shamsi, a senior architect at Mubadala, explained the role of the master developer.

RELATED ARTICLES: Site report: Sowwah Island | Mubadala plans first JV projectPlan Abu Dhabi 2030

Abu Dhabi is in the process of building itself a brand new central business district. The district is billed as an integral part of the Urban Planning Council’s vision for the city in 2030 and as been located on Sowwah Island.

Connected to the city’s existing urban grid by a growing array of bridges, the concept is to create a pedestrian-friendly business zone, blending residential and commercial properties into a business-focused development.

Officially it is classified as an investment zone, enabling UAE and GCC nationals to make freehold purchases, while international investors can get long-term musataha rights and usufruct rights over the land on the island.

Developers Mubadala Real Estate & Hospitality (MREH) is predicting a future working population of 75,000 and roughly 30,000 residents, but right now the island’s population is comprised of the thousands of construction workers who are tackling a combination of the infrastructure and some of the early building projects.

The most advanced of these initial building efforts is the island’s flagship development, Sowwah Square. This has rocketed up since work by Oger Abu Dhabi, the local arm of construction giant Saudi Oger, started in 2008.

Three of the four commercial office towers have reached their final heights, and large portions of the façade are now installed.

Ranging between 30 and 37 storeys high the four towers, which will provide 180,000m2 of commercial space, are focused around the emerging new headquarters of the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange. There the steel installation is complete and the distinctive shape of the building has become clear.

Meanwhile, construction work on the 260,000m2 Cleveland Clinic hospital has begun. Main contractor Sixco-Samsung has workers laying the foundations of the building after enabling works were completed earlier this year. Final completion on the hospital project is expected in 2012.

The core of the Rosewood Hotel – the third site on the island with work underway – currently juts out in the site on the other side of Sowwah Square.

ACC is working as the main contractor in what will be the first completed hotel on the site. Doka formwork is a prominent feature of the site as the structural work proceeds. MEP works for the project were awarded to Drake and Scull in February.

Four other developments have been confirmed for phase one of the three phase development of Sowwah, although construction work has not yet started.

These include two more hotels, the Four Seasons and the Viceroy and two commercial towers planned by the National Bank of Abu Dhabi and Al Hilal Bank. The tender for the enabling works on the Four Seasons is expected to be released during Q3 2010 and is likely to be the next contract awarded too.

As for phase two and three, they are still very much in the planning stage. Phase two will eventually feature residential and commercial buildings as well as community facilities and parks while phase three, in the north of the island, will be home to Sowwah’s transit centre.

RELATED ARTICLES: Site report: Sowwah Island | Mubadala plans first JV projectPlan Abu Dhabi 2030

Elevated position
The entire island is being built on a 14.25 metre podium, with roads, pavements, lobbies and pedestrian access above ground and utilities, storage and maintenance access below.

Much of the infrastructure, including a number of bridges and main thoroughfares, have now been completed, and work is underway on the utilities and substructure below ground.

Eventually the low level will include pedestrian walkways and retail outlets, providing access to other parts of the island.

MREH is working hand in hand with the UPC to create a public realm that is pedestrian friendly and links well with future transport infrastructure developments, particularly those that are focused on mass transit.

The UPC approves the development control regulations, outlining the podium and massing of the buildings. It’s a process which is helping to guarantee connectivity with other parts of the city.

In terms of design, Abdullah Al-Shamsi, a senior architect at Mubadala, is tasked with ensuring that the individual buildings – which were planned and developed by the site owners – match the overall master plan for the site.

Mubadala require individual designers to follow a set of architectural guidelines, which tackle the style of design and include requirements for sustainable initiatives.

“We’re going through the process of developing an architectural guidelines manual set which essentially goes from plot to plot and maintains base guidelines for the developer. When they buy the plot or they bring somebody else in to develop a plot, the guidelines allow for cohesion to happen,” he said.

“Within every site the environment is going to be different, the orientation of the buildings is different, the reaction of one building to the ones adjacent to it is different.

We’re not limiting the material use but we’re limiting the greater material so that the design is relative, and can have a flair to it without losing touch with its direct surroundings.”

For example, while they are not dictating the type of façade used, but they may proscribe details such as a 30% opacity to the façade.

“By doing that we’re not saying what the glass has to be, or that you have to use glass,” said Al Shamsi.

“But we are saying that because of the orientation of the building that it’s going to react a certain way to the sun, and because we know the raw massing of the building next door, we understand how the shadow will lay on it and we’re providing for a certain standard that needs to be met.”

Al-Shamsi said that the imposing such guidelines on developers in designers is nothing new, plenty of cities set out detailed master plans to ensure that buildings relate to their neighbours.

RELATED ARTICLES: Site report: Sowwah Island | Mubadala plans first JV projectPlan Abu Dhabi 2030

This is all the more true when considering sustainability, a hallmark of the design so far and an important factor for Abu Dhabi’s green conscious government.

The three buildings currently under construction on the site were designed before the onset of Abu Dhabi’s ‘Estidama’ framework, but Al Shamsi said that Sowwah Square building is likely to get a two or three pearl rating when completed. It has also been LEED gold pre-certified.

“Because there were no (Estidama) standards at that time we took it upon ourselves to bring on the best standards that we knew out there, which was the LEED system, and apply that on Sowwah Island,” he said.

The Sowwah Square towers feature a double glazing system with a built in air pocket that allows for a reduction of heat transfer from the exterior.

It also has condensation units in between the panes, so any condensation runs into a collection system, which is used as gray water within the development as a whole.

Floor to ceiling glass allows more light to come in, and shades on the western elevation reduce the heat gain of the building.

“The idea is that these architects coming in will have a base standard that is of great quality, and then they can expand upon that as much as their respective developers would want,” Al-Shamsi said.

Despite the pace of development of phase one, Al-Shamsi said there is little worry that phase two and three will lag behind, leaving a half finished development.

Mubadala has clauses written into the contracts that stipulate a strict timeline of planning, design, construction and completion for developers.

“In general, within the sale of every plot we’re given the owner or developer a five-year life span, to start working, get things on the ground. So there is not situation where you left with empty lots,” Al-Shamsi said.

“We won’t sell the land to somebody and have them wait to see whether the price will improve, we’re doing it the other way around. We take longer to sell and reach an agreement, until we know that they want to build. We’ve learned from some of the master developments in the UAE that went wrong, and are working very hard to prevent that happening,” he said.

This has been a process requiring greater due diligence, but also one intended to gather up companies capable of following ideas of international best practice and with a real long-term interest in investing in the GCC region.

The Sowwah Square buildings are expected to start handover at the end of this year and the team at Mubadala are also predicting a flurry of further activity at the same time. With plenty still to be done it is reasonable to expect there will be more contracts to bid for in the near future.

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