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Construction site tour with Meydan One Mall's architect in Dubai

AE7's principal explains how a 'cross-pollination' of skills is helping to build the $1.5bn mall within Meydan One

Thirty-seven cranes are deployed on the site of the Meydan One mall.
© ITP Media Group / Richard Hall
Thirty-seven cranes are deployed on the site of the Meydan One mall.

In keeping with Dubai’s penchant for breaking records, the Meydan One Mall is set to become one of the emirate’s biggest and grandest retail spaces to date.

With a multipurpose sports facility, space for 669 retail outlets – including two department stores and one 13,200m² hypermarket – and a 2.58ha dancing fountain, the project also features the world’s longest ski slope, spanning a whole kilometre; and a 60m by 400m retractable skylight, which will be retracted during Dubai’s cooler months to offer an al-fresco shopping experience.

Aiming to be fully operational before Expo 2020 Dubai opens its doors in October 2020, Meydan One is being built in three phases, the first of which includes the mall itself, and various major water features on its north and south sides. Set to eventually host 580 shops, including 30 anchor and 80 flagship stores, the project will also serve as the cornerstone of the Meydan One residential community, part of the planned Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum City mixed-use development.

“The goal of Meydan One is for it to be fully operational in time for Expo 2020 Dubai. This is the deadline that everyone needs to meet,” says Erik Hokanson, principal and design director at AE7, the global architecture and engineering consultancy tasked with ensuring the mall is up and running on time.

Meydan One Mall is worth $1.5bn [© ITP Media Group].

“At the moment, we are focused mainly on Phase 1 – comprised of the mall itself, the crystal lagoon that runs along the south side of the mall, the large fountain on the north side of the project, as well as three integrated towers that include an office building and two hotels,” he tells Construction Week during a tour of the site. “The ski slope and the Winter Village will form the main features of phase 2, but our focus for the moment is fully on the first phase.”

Construction of the mall’s first phase is being carried out by main contractor Salini Impregilo after the Italian firm signed a $435m (AED1.6bn) deal with the Meydan Group in March 2017. Six months later, it secured a $300m loan from Italy’s National Promotional Institution, the CGP Group, to carry out phase 1. The entire Meydan One Mall project will be worth $1.5bn, with the mall forming the focal point of a much larger initiative involving the construction of residential, commercial, and touristic complexes.

“We have a total of 12,000 workers on site – 8,000 in the morning, 4,000 at night,” Hokanson explains.

“This [workforce] figure is increasing. They are working 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As the consultant, we have two shifts, morning and night – as does the contractor. Sixty percent of the structural work is now complete and we are aiming for this to be finished within five or six months.

Having this ‘cross-pollination’ of different skills, and continuity of the design team at the construction site, is invaluable.

“We have 37 cranes on site, with our labour force having completed 25 million working hours,” he adds. “We have [installed] 6,000 piles already and are casting approximately 20,000m² of concrete per week. All the concrete work should be completed by June [2019], and finishing works should extend for another nine months after that.”

While Salini Impregilo controls how many construction workers are deployed on the project, Hokanson says AE7 “continues to push for appropriate resources from the contractor to meet project deadlines”.

Erik Hokanson, principal and design director at AE7 [© ITP Media Group].

“[We] have a diverse, multidisciplinary team of roughly 700 employees, so we have a lot of push,” he says. “Given Meydan One’s scale, [AE7 has] many different teams working on it at any given time. For example, our on-site construction team – almost 60 people – is there to deal with any construction issues, while in parallel we have a team dedicated to supporting Meydan’s leasing efforts.”

The project’s scale means that a variety of skill sets are required, and AE7 has adopted what it claims is a unique approach to the deployment of its design team at Meydan One. “What we have done, with the help of Meydan, is to move members of the design team – whether they are engineers, interior designers, or architects – full time on to the construction site,” Hokanson explains.

“Based on our experience around the world, we have found that having this ‘cross-pollination’ of different skills, and continuity of the design team at the construction site, is invaluable to the client and the project. It helps us maintain the design vision’s key details, reduce errors on site, and coordinate more efficiently between teams. Company-wide, we are beginning to implement this approach on all of our projects.”

Hokanson says that this set-up also gives employees the ability to “engage and contribute at the construction site, in turn making them more valuable to the clients that AE7 works for”.

Workers are casting about 20,000m² of concrete per week [© ITP Media Group].

“It also helps to make our employees more well-rounded and experienced,” he adds. “You could have a great designer or engineer who can do amazing designs on paper or on a computer, but they may not understand how the design is implemented in the field.”

There are now eight people from the AE7 design team that work full-time on the Meydan One site. They will all remain deployed there until the project is finished.

Given Meydan One’s scale, [AE7 has] many different teams working on it at any time.

Looking ahead, the next construction milestone will be the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) work. This will be followed by fit-out preparation, which will take place during the second quarter of 2019.

Hokanson says that some MEP and heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning work has been coordinated with the structural works, but fit-out work has not yet begun. While a contractor has not yet been selected for the fountain – which is described by Meydan as being the world’s largest – Hokanson says he expects construction on its foundations to begin soon.

When asked about the biggest hurdle during the project so far, Hokanson says: “The biggest challenge and opportunity has been the fast-track construction process for the structure package. It has been essential to stay ahead of the contractor while completing the remaining design of the project.”

The project’s next milestone will be the completion of MEP works [© ITP Media Group].

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