George Kenich interview: Master developer

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George Kenich

George Kenich

Construction Week spoke speaks to Aldar head of infrastructure and MEP George Kenich about the developer’s role in the Abu Dhabi Vision 2030, and the challenges facing sustainability in the region

The term ‘master developer’ is a woefully inadequate description of Aldar’s remit and responsibilities, says head of infrastructure and MEP George Kenich. It is a major challenge to create new urban communities from scratch, he says, as these are constantly evolving developments that need to grow and adapt as their populations increase.

“I prefer the term ‘live city creator’ rather than master developer,” says Kenich. “A developer is someone who can build a 100-villa compound, for example. However, when you are talking about creating a live city and all the accompanying infrastructure from the barren desert, it is different completely different.”

Aldar is behind some of the most recognisable developments in Abu Dhabi, and indeed the entire region, from the landmark Yas Island, and its distinctive Ferrari World theme park; to Central Market, the new urban heart of Abu Dhabi; the Al Raha Beach mixed-use project; the Trust Tower, designed by Sir Norman Foster; and a range of social infrastructure from Cleveland Clinic to the Al Falah national housing development. Equally distinctive is the circular Aldar headquarters building near Al Raha Beach, which seems a fitting emblem of the company’s innovative drive.

Aldar CEO Sami Asad has said that the developer’s “immediate focus is on delivering our existing projects.” These range from the completion of schools in Al Bateen and Al Ain to the first residents moving into Al Zeina. Towards the end of last year, the public beach at Yas Island was opened to the public, while the Al Falah national housing project is on track to have 1,000 villas for Emiratis completed by Q1 2012.

Construction is ongoing at the 382m-high, 88-storey Domain residential building, part of the Central Market development, which will have a total floor area of 80,000m2 and 474 one- to five-bedroom apartments. The 1,407 villas of Al Raha Gardens are on track for an August 2012 handover. The 364-bed, 22-storey Cleveland Clinic on Sowwah Island is expected to open in 2013, while the 296 apartments and 75 villas and townhouses of Al Bateen park will be handed over in Q4 2012.

Aldar’s novel approach to its role as master developer is rooted in a particular understanding of sustainability – which is all the rage in the construction industry at present, along with ‘green’ building, but the concept is defined too narrowly and reduced to a narrow specialism, which reduces both its effectiveness and applicability, argues Kenich.

“When it comes to sustainability, everybody involved talks about saving water resources and energy. However, this is only a small portion of sustainability. The social and communal aspect is entirely separate. Saving energy and water is not enough, and neither is it the main focus – it is but a single element of the overall goals of sustainability,” argues Kenich.

Asked to define his ideal community, Kenich points to the high-rise towers of Dubai Marina and Jumeirah Beach Residence in Dubai as examples of modern master-planned developments that have valiantly attempted, but ultimately failed, to reconcile the social and built environments. Indeed, he goes so far as to say that the predominant community-development style favoured by Dubai hearkens back to the Eastern European trend of tall buildings with narrow windows and imposing façades.

Abu Dhabi, on the other hand, has been eminently conscious of its role as “a sustainable Arab capital city,” and has carefully aligned its 2030 Vision with this ambitious goal. At the vanguard of the Emirate’s developments has been strategic players like Aldar, which “focuses on the creation, ownership and operation of sustainable communities, delivering quality residential, commercial, retail, leisure, hospitality, medical and educational facilities for the people of Abu Dhabi.”

Kenich defines Aldar’s mandate as the creation of “attractive, modern, efficient and sustainable built-environment communities to high quality standards that balance the needs and well-being of users with the sustainability of the environment, while maintaining the unique heritage and culture of the UAE.”

He comments that the 2030 Vision aims “to change the face of the city itself. The broad aim of this urban transformation is to increase the prevalence of green spaces within the larger urban framework, as well as to integrate communal and social spaces with transportation and related infrastructure like schools, healthcare, mosques, shopping and entertainment. Kenich argues that, in the benchmark sustainable Arab capital that Abu Dhabi is striving to become, all residents should enjoy easy access to all the facilities they need to live and prosper. It is an ambitious goal, but the Emirate has already made significant strides in this direction.

“Masdar City is automatically associated with sustainability, and has been a great success for the Emirate and the region. The next step was to establish the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) headquarters there. That was another big success. Also, Estidama and its Pearl rating system will ensure Abu Dhabi retains its leading role in sustainability for the forseeable future, as well as helping it realise its 2030 Vision,” says Kenich. For example, all new government buildings have to have a Two Pearl rating.

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