Cities in the sand

City of Arabia is self-described as the ‘heart of Dubailand'. CW takes a closer look at how work is progessing on site.
Cities in the sand
(ITP Images)
By James Boley
Sat 10 Oct 2009 04:00 AM

City of Arabia is self-described as the ‘heart of Dubailand'. CW takes a closer look at how work is progessing on site.

Much has been made of the progress (or otherwise) at Dubailand, and it's fair to say that the unassuming patch of sand along Emirates Road does little to deflect those concerns for the average driver charging down the highway.

Yet, taking a slight detour behind the hoardings reveals a somewhat different story.

Ilyas and Mustafa Galadari Group's City of Arabia was always one of the more ambitious projects planned for the overall Dubailand development, and in typical Dubai style carried its fair degree of hyperbole. After all, who could fail to be stunned by a project that promised the world's largest mall, a canal in the middle of the desert, and most memorably of all, a Jurassic Park style theme park with animatronic dinosaurs?

As with all site tours, the intricately detailed and carefully crafted model you'll see in the visitor centre bears little resemblance to what you'll see on the ground - concrete piles and workers scurrying around from task to task. However, deputy director for projects Alex Vacha remains confident.

"The challenge is that people can see and understand buildings. Infrastructure isn't as visible. But the whole place is practically ready for development now," he says, overlooking Wadi Walk, the mixed use development to be located on an 8km-long canal.

According to Vacha, 98% of the infrastructure work has been completed since Dhabi Contracting began construction five months ago. Electrical and water works are essentially complete, with the Wadi Walk substation ready and the remainder of works awaiting connection with Dubai's main grid.

Meanwhile, the four bridges that span the Wadi are also structurally complete, although lacking facades. "We'll be installing those closer to the completion date to ensure they're in good condition for handover," says Vacha.

Concrete pouring also began in September, with a series of night pours aimed at getting the site ready for subdevelopers.

Vacha is keen to emphasise the importance of completing the infrastructure. "All the infrastructure will be delivered at the same time," he says. "This way, it allows sub-developers to build without worrying whether parts of the project won't be ready for them."

Vacha suggests that work on Wadi Walk will be finished by the end of 2010 but declines to set any definite timetables for the subdevelopers planning their own work on site. "Our responsibility is for the infrastructure; it's up to the subdevelopers when they choose to build here," he says.

Ensuring water quality is a particular concern for Wadi Walk - after all, the desert is hardly a conducive environment for an artificial body of water.

"Water treatment is very important because if it remains stagnant, it will obviously start to smell bad," says Vacha. He explains that the canal will be sustained by those living in Wadi Walk, with Dutch firm Aqua Teknik providing water treatment duties at the development.

"The water will be treated waste water, so effectively yes, it will be TSE (treated sewage effluent)," says Vacha. "However, the water is going to be treated to such a degree that it is pretty much potable water." Mulling the mall

The other crucial part of City of Arabia, Phase One, is the Mall of Arabia. Around 9200 piles have been laid in preparation for what will be the largest mall in the world when fully complete.

The first phase consists of 371,612m² of leasable area and is expected to be delivered during 2011. Much like rest of Dubailand, this indicates a considerable delay - the mall was originally scheduled for completion around late 2009.  However 89% of the mall has already been leased out in preparation for the later opening. Meanwhile, Phase Two will see the mall expand by a further 55,741m².

Work on the superstructure of the mall has now begun, and the scale of the site is clear once we move to a higher vantage point. Located adjacent to Wadi Walk, the Mall of Arabia is linked by the same canal, which will allow water taxis to ferry shoppers to and from their homes.

One of the major changes the project has seen has been the change from using precast concrete to post-tensioned concrete. The site has a concrete batching plant and Vacha explains the changing cost of materials has made it more economical to switch from precast. "Market conditions have now changed, and post-tensioned concrete is a more cost-effective solution," he says.

Getting restless

Of course, one for the key ‘hooks' for the Mall of Arabia, aside from its obvious size, is the dinosaur area of Restless Planet. Designed by US theme park experts Jack Rouse Associates, Restless Planet will feature 100 animatronic dinosaurs developed in conjunction with London's Natural History Museum, and built by Japanese firm Konoko.

Construction work has yet to begin on the actual site of the theme park area, which at present, is simply a large pile of excavated sand that provides an excellent vantage point over the rest of Mall of Arabia.

However, Vacha assures that the site will be ready at the same time as the rest of the mall, pointing out that 70 of the dinosaurs are now ready and in storage, waiting to be set loose.

The next phase

Although the future of the project is closely tied in with that of Dubailand, Vacha makes it clear that City of Arabia is capable of standing alone in its own right. Clearly the mall will depend on the footfall it receives. Vacha feels that there won't be a shortage of people coming from the wider Dubai area, whatever happens with the overall real estate plans for Dubailand.

"We're going to build two interchanges that will link up with Sheikh Zayed Road, so access will be significantly improved," he says. "Also, the Dubai Metro Purple line will have a station here." Estimates from RTA suggest that City of Arabia will be less than 10 minutes' drive from Dubai's main artery, Sheikh Zayed Road.

Phase Two of City of Arabia, despite forming the bulk of the project, is looking less clear. "Phase Two will be built back to back after Phase One," says senior vice president of sales Nooman Khan. However, what form this will take is uncertain. "We may start work in 2012 but it depends on market interest. We know people have been leaving Dubai, but investors are interested and things for the market overall are looking up."

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