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Sat 6 Nov 2010 12:00 AM

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Arise, i-Rise

Dubai’s newest office building is close to the finish line, with construction unbowed by market circumstances. By Ben Roberts

Arise, i-Rise
Finishing touches The i-Rise tower is in the final stages of construction.

Dubai’s newest office building is close to the finish line, with construction unbowed by market circumstances.

Realty Capital and Al Naboodah are currently on a high in TECOM, the Dubai free zone. The developer and main contractor are closing in on the completion of the 36-storey i-Rise tower, on schedule to neatly round off, three years after it started in November 2007.

For a project that has straddled a global economic downturn, it has been resilient; and the unique S-shaped structure that comprises corporate and executive offices harks back to some of the more striking projects that were planned in the emirate in the boom years.

“From day one we’ve been very hands-on, with a clear and structured approach, including how we’ve carefully selected the service providers, which are the best-in-class to bring the best knowledge and expertise,” says Manwar Mansour, CEO of Realty Capital. Hands-on may well have been the correct approach given that the tower is the flagship project for the company. Indeed, Realty Capital uses the site as its base, and has an extensive office around 200 metres from the imposing structure.

The tower, which covers around two million ft2, aims to create a competitive offering for businesses to set up their offices and hub for retail and other services.

One curve of the ‘S’ is what the company intends to be the corporate offices, which will contain 12 lifts; the second curve will be the executive offices, which will contain two on each floor, complete with a pantry and six super-fast lifts moving at four metres per second. On the ground floor, in the podium, there will be retail outlets, and the seventh floor – which contains an expansive landscaped area – will house what Mansour calls “special services”, which includes a gym and a nursery.

Mansour adds that the initial design aimed to bring in as many value engineering elements as possible, such as to integrate columns with the walls of the corridors helping to ensure the  largest of floor space possible to the tenant – “to be aesthetically pleasing”.

“This is either the largest, or near the largest, office in Dubai,” he says, casting his eye up and down the structure. “Few developments pay as much attention to the architectural side of a podium, but this project has. We’ve correlated the vertical with the horizontal.

“On the retail side there are renowned retailers as well as a coffee shop, serving the needs of the institutions and the people within them. It will have a bank, restaurant, dry cleaners, and with the landscaping it gives a boutique feel.

Its utilities are spread out he adds, with a water tank on the rooftop, a reservoir in the third basement and the base for electricity base in the first basement.

“This is so they don’t interrupt the building in the middle,” he says.

“What we like is the fact that it is near the Saudi-German hospital and the American University of Dubai, along with having prominent views of the Palm Jumeirah and Burj Khalifa. There are 200 store rooms - so the offices will not need to make space - and we have ample parking, with 2,300 spaces.”

With the structure complete, he says, the contractor is working on the complete fit-out.

The ‘S’ shape is the structural marvel of the building, and is already one of the most striking in TECOM. Mohammed Aboubakr, general foreman at Al Naboodah, says close to 900 men in all were needed to achieve the unique shape.

“The whole team working on it is 400, including 300 labourers and 100 masons. It takes about 900 people for all the formwork and steel work and concrete casting,” he said.

Travelling up the lift onto the seventh floor and striding over wooden panels and rubble onto what will be a landscaped terrace, he says: “It took a long time to create the slab and the curve of the whole thing. This was done through a special shutter, which the concrete was then poured into and had to be designed specifically for this shape. You need a good carpenter for that. You will see all the columns and each slab are curved, as well as the tiles.”

Steel from Emirates Rebars was provided for the columns and beams, with aluminium provided by Al Fayha Aluminium Factory.  Aboubakr says all the material supplied arrived on time, meaning the project has continued without a hitch in the last year.

Indeed, this has been a significant part of the success of the project, and an example of where Realty Capital had to stay flexible to ensure a smooth operation.

“When some prices inflated we acquired most of the material for months ahead, so we paid some advances to contractor to make sure it has enough liquidity – we knew there would be an upward pressure on prices,” says Mansour. “During the last few years there has been inflation, with prices going up and a scarcity of some materials. But we have not had to stop. During the crisis we managed to sustain continuity; a lot of work went into proper financial modelling for the upside and the downside.”

On the seventh floor terrace, spaces have been designated for the strategically-placed trees. Waterproofing is being laid by labourers, a 4mm covering that will make the floor tar-black before it is covered. However, men are also building what looks like a shallow dam across the floor. Aboubakr explains that they are cornering off an area of the floor to test the waterproofing: the area is filled with water, and left for 48 hours. Then the water is drained.

In his office opposite that of Realty Capital, Aboubakr takes numerous calls surrounded by an endless amount of reports and other updates. He explains that he organises his troops and keeps the project on schedule by asking all involved what they will be doing the next day. He hands a form to the workers, asking them to document all relevant details: which sub-contractors will be delivering on site, what the specific tasks will be, how many workers each job will require. This form is submitted to him by 8am the following morning, where he might make adjustments.

“This means I can coordinate everything: cladding, aluminium and all finishing, air conditioners, drainage, timber, electric works, firefighting.”

He adds that there is a very fluid correspondence between Al Naboodah, as main contractor, Projacs, the project manager, and Realty Capital.

In Realty Capital’s office – which contains a dramatic, flashing, white-on-black painting of the eventual tower, provided by a Parisian artist – the chief executive says the experience of working in a volatile wider market has been rewarding. The contractor and the developer have been able to help each other out financially, he says.

“It’s been good to work on an uptrend as well as a downtrend. Very few professions have this and it feels good to deliver.

“Fifty percent of the property is sold,” he says, “and our investors are our partners on this. There have been very little sales in the last year or so – 2007 was when the sales occurred. But today there’s a lot of interest, as people look and see that we are making sure this is being completed.

And indeed, there is more to come – Mansour explains that at a later date there will be shuttle buses that will ferry visitors and workers to the Dubai Metro station.

“We’ve been working around the clock to meet our delivery date,” he adds.

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