“Building an appetite” for Europe in Dubai

CW tours The Heart of Europe at The World and discusses “the most sustainable project on the planet” with the chairman of the Kleindienst Group, Josef Kleindienst

The Heart of Europe project is being developed by Kleindienst Group 4km off the coast of Dubai
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The Heart of Europe project is being developed by Kleindienst Group 4km off the coast of Dubai

Take a moment to digest this: The Viking essence of Sweden; the flamboyant fests of German lagoons; the nature-infused villa chalets of Switzerland; the floating Lido of Venice; the parties of Ibiza; and more – the very Heart of Europe – will now be a 10-minute holiday away from the coast of Dubai.

Touted as “the most sustainable project on the planet”, the $5bn (AED18.3bn) master-planned hospitality and second home island destination The Heart of Europe is being built by The Kleindienst Group, under master developer Nakheel, 4km off Dubai’s shores.

The Heart of Europe is a group of six man-made islands and is part of “The World” – a cluster of 300 islands that make up a miniature version of a world map.

In an exclusive conversation with Construction Week, the chairman of Kleindienst Group, Josef Kleindienst, says: “When this project was first introduced to us, I knew that this masterplan of 300 islands – the idea of The World – was a one-time idea that has never been done before, and will never be done again.

“We relate everything back to the Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s vision for The World – an archipelago of 300 private islands in the shape of the globe.

“Part of the Dubai Ruler’s vision was for The World to follow the idea of the Maldives islands, with the presence of sand, ocean, coral reefs, and tropical vegetation. This inspired the landscaping and ‘sea-scaping’ for these islands.”

Forgetting the feel of Dubai

With white sandy beaches and more than 500,000m2 of coral reefs, The Heart of Europe aims to “build an appetite” for Europe by bringing the best representations of the continent’s culture, cuisine, way of life, flora, fauna, as well as “never-seen-before” entertainment and sports attractions closer to Dubai.

Kleindienst says: “One of the three prime rules that we look at when we invest in real estate is location. There is no better location in the world than right here.

“We are far enough from the Dubai coast for people to unlock the secret of a true holiday. People will need to pack their bags, change currencies to the euro, ensure they have a few days leave, book a boat trip, and finally make the trip out of Dubai. This ‘preparation’ is key to feeling like you’re on holiday.

“For The Heart of Europe to be a true holiday destination, everything needs to be different from the place you’re coming from. For instance, you will not find a single date palm tree – the signature tree of Dubai – on any of our islands. Our guests will know that they’re on a holiday when they arrive here.

“The islands that make up The Heart of Europe may belong to Dubai, but everything from the foliage, to the smells, the experiences, the culture, the food, the architecture, and the feel of the place showcases the beating heart of Europe. We will help our customers forget that they are in Dubai.”

Constructing on man-made islands

The Heart of Europe has become synonymous with underwater rooms offering views of corals and marine life in their natural habitat; floating houses and hotels; hanging gardens; and micro-jungles that attract migratory birds, yet there’s much more to it than that.

Commenting on the start of construction, Kleindienst says: “Each of the islands was formed by reclaimed sand from the ocean.

“When these islands were handed over to us from the master developer Nakheel, the sand was still loose; it was not compacted.

“This was because the master developers could not possibly know how I wanted to shape the island or where I wanted to build the villas and hotels. This is why we had to start with compacting the island.”

Dubai regulations state that each island needs to be compacted in order to achieve a load-bearing capacity of 150 kilopascals, wherein a maximum settlement under the weight of a villa is approximately 25 millimetres in 50 years.

“Since we aimed to be sustainable and construct buildings with lifetimes of more than 100 years, we compacted the island three times – even though after the first compacting, it was tested and fulfilled all the requirements,” Kleindienst explains.

“In addition, we built our properties on rafts, based on expert advice, as such properties are much safer in case of an earthquake.”

The Heart of Europe comprises seven islands, including the 43,758m2 Sweden Island; the 22,358m2 Germany Island; and the 213,677m2 Europe Island – which combines two islands into one.

The destination also includes the St Petersburg “Honeymoon” Island, the Switzerland Island, and the Venice “Floating Lido” Island.

Once complete, The Heart of Europe will deliver 4,000 keys – comprising luxury guestrooms, hotel suites, and bedrooms that will cater to local, regional, and international tourists.

“We are building in phases. Phase 1 of the project will witness the construction of 10 luxury beach villas called Sweden Beach Palaces on the Sweden Island; 32 luxury villas on the Germany island; restaurants on the Honeymoon Island; as well as the soft opening of the 489-key Portofino hotel, and the first phase of the Côte D’Azur resort on the main Europe Island,” Kleindienst confirms.

Currently, 600 units are being built as part of Phase 1 of the project. The 131 Floating Seahorse Villas, best known for their underwater bedrooms, will be delivered in Phase 2.

Villas on the Water

The Floating Seahorse Villas – which are located in four colonies around the islands – provide the world’s first underwater experience as homes that float on the water, comprising three floors or “decks”, including an underwater deck.

The sky deck in the Floating Seahorse villa includes a dining area with a kitchen; a glass-bottom private jacuzzi; a sun lounge space; and a guest toilet.

The sea deck comprises a 76m2 outdoor front private deck for sunbathing; an outdoor back private deck; a built-in water hammock; a coral garden; an above ground in-sea ladder; a 76m2 living room; a fully furnished kitchen; and a bathroom.

The underwater deck includes a mini-kitchen; a 61m2 coral garden; two bathrooms; and rooms that can be customised into either a bedroom or a living room with an underwater view of the sea, coral reefs, and marine life.

“We don’t innovate for the sake of innovation. Every bit of innovation in The Heart of Europe has a service touchpoint; every innovation in construction adds something special to the tourists’ experience,” Kleindienst says.

“For instance, in the underwater room of a Floating Seahorse Villa, the guest is not staring at an aquarium. Instead, a 7cm-thick floor-to-ceiling glass wall provides a below-surface view of the sea, corals, fish, and active marine life in their natural habitat.

This means that – in a manner of speaking – the people residing in the underwater deck are inside an “aquarium” as the fish swim past from the comfort of their coral homes.

In lighter vein, Kleindienst adds: “Each concrete-built Floating Seahorse unit weighs approximately 350 tonnes. We have had engineers who can’t understand how something that weighs 350 tonnes can float on the water. We joke about this saying that it’s our secret, when the fact is that it’s simple physics.”

Slices of European Hospitality

The Europe Island, which will be The Heart of Europe’s main hospitality hub, will be home to 14 five-star hotels, including the Portofino, the region’s very first family-only hotel; the Côte d’Azur resort; Marbella, a Spanish flamenco-inspired hotel; four city hotels – London, Munich, Hygge, and Amsterdam – Dubai’s first pet hotel; Ibiza – the region’s first 24/7 party hotel; Tzar, Ikaria, and Empress Elisabeth – a one-key, 7-star hotel located at The Gate.

“Each hotel and each island will target a different group of visitors,” Kleindienst explains. “The Portofino hotel will be a family-only hotel. If visitors come as singles, they will not be permitted to check-in at the Portofino.

“Similarly, we are also building the Ibiza hotel on the main Europe Island, which will be a 24/7 party hotel. The minimum age for check-in at the Ibiza hotel is going to be 21 – no children allowed. As it’s intended to be a place for parties, it will attract a party crowd.

“Honeymooners across the planet prefer islands to celebrate the start of their journey together. The Honeymoon Island will be the first honeymoon-focused island destination in Dubai.”

The 94,022m2 Côte d’Azur resort, located on the main Europe Island, will reflect the French Riviera, and will therefore comprise of four boutique hotels, including Monaco, Nice, Cannes, and Saint-Tropez, which will open doors in that order.

The Côte d’Azur resort will showcase more than 200 colours with Monaco in shades of red, Nice in shades of green, Cannes in shades of blue, and Saint-Tropez in shades of yellow – creating the likeness of a rainbow – which conveniently connects to The Heart of Europe’s 1km-long sustainable “Rainy Street,” where it will rain on command to bring temperatures down to 27 degree Celsius, even during the summer.

“The Rainy Street – inspired by Austrian architect Camillo Sitte’s proposal to the Austrian emperor 150 years ago – aims to connect everything a visitor needs within walking distance,” Kleindienst says.

“Yet, how can a guest walk in the Dubai summer heat? Temperatures here can rise above 40 degrees Celsius in the summer, and it can get humid and uncomfortable. We didn’t want to close the street like a mall; we wanted to keep it open.

As a result, we found a scientific partner in Europe’s largest application-oriented research organisation, the Fraunhofer Institute, which made the year-round Rainy Street possible. Now, visitors can walk from their hotel room to the bar, to the pool, to the shop, to the cinema, and to the art gallery, even in summer.”

Viking Visits and German Gatherings

The 43,758m2 Sweden Island includes upland area of 19,894m2 and submerged areas ranging from 668m2 to 6,695m2 situated around the 10 Sweden Beach Palaces – all of which are sold out.

With a built-up area of approximately 2,015m2, each beach palace is topped off with a roof resembling the upturned hull of a Viking ship on top of which sits a customised dragon head.

The narrative built around each beach palace is that the Vikings visited the islands hundreds of years ago, but left some ships behind, which have now been used to construct the roofs.

Comprising six other floors, each beach palace comprises Bentley furniture; a fitness centre; a massage room with an indoor Aurora Borealis – also known as the Northern Lights – on its roof; a sauna; and a snow room, which is functional all through the year –irrespective of the temperature.

The Sweden Island is surrounded by a self-sustaining micro-jungle landscape, which attracts migratory birds, and provides shade and privacy.

The 22,358m2 Germany Island – which is constructed in the shape of a horseshoe – comprises 33,301m2 of submerged area; a 4,500m2 lagoon; and 32 independent villas with an “extreme waterfront” that brings water to the front porch.

The architecture of the villas is inspired by the German Bauhaus designs. The villas comprise four or five bedrooms, a maid’s quarters, a roof terrace, and a lounge area.

Kleindienst says: “Everyone knows about the engineering expertise of the Germans, so we aren’t going to focus too much on that. We intend to showcase the social side of the Germans in terms of the colour in their gatherings and celebrations, especially in the lagoon. The German Island will celebrate the Oktoberfest, as well as the German carnivals, every year.”

In Phase 3 of construction, 77 chalets will be constructed on the Switzerland Island, and a hotel with 400 rooms and underwater attractions will be built on the Venice “Floating Lido” Island. Phase 1 is due for delivery in Q4 2020, and Phase 2 is scheduled for completion in 2021.

“The Most Sustainable Project”

Dubai’s green buildings regulations requires all developers to work toward a greener tomorrow, safeguarding future generations, without having any negative impact on the building occupant’s health.

“The future success of tourism relies heavily on sustainable construction and sustainable destinations. A place, an island, a hotel, a city, or a country that is not sustainable will be emptied of visitors in the near future,” Kleindienst says.

“In 2008, we had less than 10% of the younger generation searching for sustainability as a criterion to decide on their getaway destination. In 2020 – within 12 years – that has jumped to 70%.

“This shows that sustainability has gone beyond a trend to become a mega-trend in the industry. This is why building sustainably has become a key pillar of our brand and our business.”

One of the key tenets of sustainable construction is the lifetime of a building. The Heart of Europe has raised the bar on that front.

“The building codes of Dubai require a minimum lifetime of 25 years. We have more than quadrupled that requirement. This is a major achievement in terms of our building sustainability,” he explains.

“We have the capability to construct a building that can last more than 100 years instead of 25 years. We might have used a better concrete mix; bigger dimensions of steel; slightly different designs; but we will definitely achieve a lifetime of more than 100 years for a building. This has been our focus from the start.”

In addition, The Heart of Europe has also incorporated sustainability in terms of solar sources of energy, desalinated water, wastewater treatment, and most importantly – adhering to the zero-discharge policy.

“The issue we faced initially was that we don’t have sufficient space for solar panels on the island, so we needed to find a way to have them floating in the sea. Right now, we have floated an inquiry for a solar tender, and are reviewing proposals from companies capable of handling the engineering and build for the entire electricity demand of  this project.”

The Heart of Europe also has two desalination plants that are able to produce potable water out of seawater, in addition to a plant that improves the quality of the water into drinking water.

“What makes The Heart of Europe unique is the zero-discharge policy that we have adopted based on the mandate of the Dubai government to achieve sustainability on the island.

“To be clear, the zero-discharge policy makes this a project of the future. This is the highest standard of sustainability in construction that is possible,” he adds.

The zero-discharge policy and zero micro-plastics policy – which ensure the protection of the Arabian Gulf, the corals, and the marine life that reside around the seven islands – prohibits any discharge of any sort into the ocean.

“We cannot even discharge temperature into the ocean as that can have a detrimental effect on the marine ecosystem. For instance, it could have been easy for us to use seawater-cooled chiller systems, but we have chosen not to do this because it can increase the temperature of the ocean water.

“There is no rule in any country at the moment that is as strict as the zero-discharge regulation for these islands. Even if we’re taking more time than expected to build these islands, we are creating the most sustainable project on the planet. To watch such a project come to life is worth the wait.”

Even during the construction phase, all the wastewater from the drainage system goes into a sewage treatment plant – which has a capacity of 750 cubic metres a day – and approximately 97% of the wastewater is recycled into treated water that is used for landscaping.

“If you walk through our micro-jungles or through the tropical vegetation, you will not see any pipes. These pipes are underground. We feed the treated water directly to the roots of the plants. This prevents water wastage from evaporation and also lowers the mosquitoes and flies in the eco-system as the sand is always dry.”

Additionally, the island is committed to being totally car-free and will eventually offer sustainable water transportation.

“If you think you’ve seen something different, you haven’t seen much yet.Wait for what is coming,” Kleindienst concludes with a smile.

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