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Sat 19 Jan 2008 04:00 AM

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Festival City: the latest

Despite logistical challenges including labour shortages, the DFC is on schedule.

All across Dubai, there seems to be another ‘city' development being announced or built.

The idea is to create a series of small, self-contained communities where people will live, work, shop and play.

And as anyone who was caught in the traffic gridlock which engulfed the city this week will testify, the plan is crucial to the development of Dubai as a thriving, modern metropolis.

The strategically excellent location of the site, bounded by busy arterial roads, Dubai Creek and various Creek crossings does bring unique challenges

One of the most high-profile of these projects is the Dubai Festival City, located on Dubai Creek.

Its location, at a prime waterfront spot and close to the hub of the city, means that it becoming a viable community is pivotal to the success of the city.

The US $5 billion (AED 18.4 billion) project is being developed by the Al Futtaim Group Real Estate (AFGRE).

It has almost been a year since Construction Week last visited the site and in that time it has seen a huge amount of progress.

Despite the project only being a third complete, the scheme has already captured the public's imagination.

Thousands of shoppers use the completed Festival Power Centre shopping centre to get their hands on cheap, flat-pack furniture at Ikea or visit the world's largest Marks & Spencer outside of the UK.

The Marsa Plaza and Intercontinental & Crowne Plaza hotels are open for business; boat owners are mooring their vessels at the Festival Marina; golfers are playing a leisurely 18 holes at the Al Badia Golf Course; and youngsters are being educated at the two onsite schools.

And despite being affected by labour shortages and rising costs of materials, managers of the project insist it is still on schedule.

At present, the site still partly resembles a building site, with huge tracts of land given over to teams of construction workers.

But the project is moving forward at great pace, with the desert area rapidly becoming something which resembles a livable community.

Still, some of the major projects are yet to get under way and the project will not be fully finished until 2020.

This year, the Dubai Festival City Office Park business centre and the Dubai Gold Marketplace are due to open.
Perhaps the centerpiece of the development will be the Four Seasons Hotel, with its distinctive square-shaped design.

Ground work has started on the 400-room hotel and it should be open by 2010.

Alan Crawford, director of commercial management services, AFGRE, says there are numerous challenges of building such a high-profile site.

"The strategically excellent location of the site, bounded by busy arterial roads, Dubai Creek and various Creek crossings, together with its close proximity to Dubai International Airport does bring unique challenges," he says.

"These are not only in terms of logistical access for construction materials and plant, but also with regard to the highly-visible nature of all the ongoing construction work and the finished buildings themselves."

He says the fact that shoppers, hotel guests and residents could see the site, excellent worker safety and construction procedures were needed.

"Al Futtaim Group Real Estate is setting extremely high standards of design and construction quality in all the components of this unique waterfront community, and these standards are there to be seen and maintained throughout the entire development," he says.

Yet he said the shortage of skilled labour in Dubai, rising inflation and high costs of materials were putting pressure on the project management team.

"This is a privately-owned development that is managed along strictly business-led principles, which means that each individual project within the overall masterplan must satisfy measurable investment objectives and produce acceptable economic returns.

"In an inflationary climate, where human and material resources are in limited supply, this inevitably puts pressure on achieving such returns, while at the same time maintaining the high quality and reputation for which Al Futtain is renowned."

At the peak of construction last year, there were 4,500 workers on site.

This has now been reduced to 2,000 before it rises again this year as the next phase of work begins.

Despite the setbacks, Crawford insists everything is on track.

He says: "In common with every large construction project, we are continuously dealing with numerous challenges that inevitably result in some deviations from our planned construction programme.

"However, we have largely been successful in managing these challenges and I am happy to be able to report that by and large we are maintaining our overall programme objectives."
Perhaps the most distinctive feature of the project is the Al Badia Hillside Village, which is built in the style of an ancient Arabic town.

Phase one of the scheme has now opened and apartments are already being snapped up by homebuyers looking for somewhere which differs from the usual villa or high-rise apartment block.

Al Badia Hillside Village was built with a novel construction method known as ‘form blocks', which reduced the time to build the villas.

The village, although Arabic in influence, takes its inspiration from the traditional hillside communities of France or Italy.

It aims to recreate community living by placing high-density living along the steep edge of a hill to create a kind of city wall.

The town houses are staggered along the sides of the hill to give them interrupted views.

The building work features a number of unique challenges because building on slopes is almost unheard of in Dubai.

The man-made hill was partly created using spoil from the Al Maktoum Airport project, with the remainder being brought in from elsewhere. Construction teams then had to ensure that enough pressure was being created on the loose granular hillside by the buildings to avoid subsidence.

This meant that even on the small build developments, two or three test piles were required.

Another issue which has affected construction is providing the infrastructure so that workers and residents can access the site.

The project is being staggered, so that as the next range of buildings is started, attention will be paid to the sequencing of utilities and services.

In the past year, the Festival City brand has been expanded across the region.

Work has already begun on Cairo Festival City, which is located in an area near the Egyptian capital's airport known as New Cairo.

At 1.8 million m2, the project is about half the size of Dubai's, and lower in density. It will be a villa estate complete with mixed-use areas.

So, as the project moves into its next phase observers from across the Middle East will be paying close attention to the Dubai Festival City project.

As lifestyle demands evolve in the city, its success could see developers move away from creating giant skyscrapers to idiosyncratic mixed-use developments.

Dubai Festival City factfileThe development covers 3.3 million m2 of land, which stretches 3km along Dubai Creek.

The self-contained metropolis, which is due for completion in 2020, will contain schools, car showrooms, hotels, a business park, hotels, apartments, shopping centres, a golf course and conference centre.

It takes its name from the Dubai Shopping Festival, which was based on the site for three years from 2002.

The project's masterplan took two years to finalise.

Dubai Festival City has three distinct districts - Marsa Al Khor, Festival City and Al Badia.

The project was inspired by a number of renowned international destinations, including St Mark's Square in Venice, Darling Harbour in Sidney and Covent Garden in London.

A number of infrastructure projects have already been completed, including the Business Bay Crossing, which has three designated lanes leading to Dubai Festival City.

The scheme will have a dedicated Metro station and an abra water taxi station.

When finished, Dubai Festival City will be able to accommodate 50,000 residents in 20,000 homes.

The Festival Power Centre and Festival Waterfront shopping centres will include 600 shops, with 25 anchor stores and 100 restaurants and cafes.

The Al Badia Golf Course was designed by world-famous golf course designer Robert Trent Jones II.

The 344,000 sq m course is the first in the region to make use of paspalum grass, which is tolerant to salt water and thus can be irrigated with water from Dubai Creek.

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