By Christopher Sell
As developers pursue more conceptual designs, the building process invariably takes on a greater challenge. Christopher Sell visits the sites of the Jewels Towers, where Cayan explains how it has overcome numerous construction hurdles.
While not dominated by super high-rise developments in the mould of Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai Marina has its fair share of creative projects and it is no surprise that those working on new buildings are applying conceptual designs to give them the best chance of retaining a sense of individuality and uniqueness.
At a cost of US $68 million (AED 250 million), the Jewels Towers represent another example of the new tranche of eye-catching buildings that are emerging within this part of the city. Situated on a 52,524m
plot, the 20-storey twin towers, designed by RMJM - the company responsible for the Emirates Towers and recently launched West Wharf in Business Bay, is to be built by the Saudi Arabian construction company, El Seif Engineer Contracting Company (ESEC), who was the main contractor on the Kingdom Tower project in Riyadh, which at 302m is the tallest building in Saudi Arabia. Projacs is project managing the development.
Ahmad Kasem, development director, Cayan, explains that the desire to stand out and be noticed is what drove this particular design: "The intent was for an iconic and distinguished building. Basically, it is very important to the person who lives in a building for it to stand out from its surroundings," he says. And is this even more important in a city like Dubai? "That is absolutely correct, it is essential in Dubai to have a product that is distinguished and has an identity," he adds.
Jewels Towers emerged through a competition that saw eight international consultants, from the US to Europe, invited to respond to a design brief. In the end, the company awarded the design to RMJM as they delivered the most attractive brief. "The concept was what we liked. We had a budget to suit the design and what we received from RMJM was the best design suitable, and we felt we got the most for our money," says Kasem. The twin concept also served a dual purpose - it met the criteria of the site and to have twin towers connected by a single podium, as is the case with Jewels Towers, would be more cost effective and allow for a greater range of facilities as opposed to two separate towers. There were also height limitations to be considered as Dubai Marina is split into distinct districts of high, mid and low-rise towers to ensure control of the density of development and traffic flow. The Jewels Towers are located in district six, which allows mid-rise towers.
Aesthetical aspirations, however, don't come easily and the curved design has presented some unique challenges, which required a novel approach to the construction process to be overcome. "The designer provided a unique shape, where you have curved slabs, curved columns and even a curved core," Kasem explains. "You can imagine how problematic that was to build, bearing in mind the shuttering and formwork, and we quickly realised that if we followed the normal routine for building a tower, it would never get finished in time. So to overcome this, when we started in January last year, we sat together, brainstormed and segregated the people working on the building into teams."
The approach decided upon saw one team allocated a specific task, which they would remain on throughout the duration of construction; one for the curved columns, one for the core and one for the slabs. Yet within this set-up, each team still had challenges to overcome, primarily involving the formwork. "It was challenging, but we used a Peri system for the core and for the curved columns - Wisa, a Scandinavian system - which gives you longer life and saves money." This cost effectiveness, Kasem explains, comes from the durability of the high-quality system, which rather than being used just once or twice, the same form can be used as the building goes up, as some sections further up the building have the same form requirements as lower down the structure. So successful was the team approach, that 20 days, which had been lost through delays, were recovered.
Further issues were faced by the team concentrating on the slabs, who had to contend with the floor sizes altering as the building shape changed in accordance with the design. The result being that they were faced with different room sizes and dimensions as the building progressed.
Kasem adds that steel forms were considered but were ruled out in place of high-density polystyrene, which is lightweight and allows a smaller column size, whereas steel would mean greater weight, hence larger columns to support. This therefore gave the rooms more space, and architecturally a more appealing design for the building.
Despite these challenges, both towers were up within eight and a half months - the skeleton was complete by December last year - which, as Kasem points out, is the equivalent of 46 floors. These figures are more impressive bearing in mind before the team concept had been introduced on the site, they were working to 20-day cycles on the initial floors. However, once this method had been implemented the cycle was brought down to between five and six days.
Surely overcoming potential obstacles on a building site to produce a special building makes such a project more enjoyable than working on a generic tower block? "That is true," concedes Kasem. "But it is also difficult and costly, for instance they did not allow for wastage from forming. We had to sit down and work out ways of using the waste." The result was the contractor ESEC modified the form system to ensure any wasted material - from the floor slabs for example, could be used later on in the build, thereby delivering cost savings.
Kasem also adapted the original plans of the building, believing correctly that it had been over-designed. Consequently, the depth of the raft was reduced from 2.2m to 1.85m; the thickness of the slab was reduced from 27cm to 22cm and the quantity of steel was also reduced. "Most places in town have been over-designed and a lot of developers will bring in third parties to double-check, we do it on most of our projects," says Kasem, who adds that Dubai Municipality and the project consultant both agreed with the new figures enabling them to make some cost savings.
The towers will house 120 units and five villas, which will be accompanied by high-end finishes - a Jacuzzi in the master bedroom is combined with an executive lounge, gym and cigar room. To add another layer of complexity, the buildings will feature 17 swimming pools, with some being elevated above the slabs, while others are embedded into the structure.
Cayan, whose other high-profile project in Dubai Marina is the Infinity Tower, revealed they are planning a twin tower development in the Middle East, which will be five times the size of the Emirates Towers. The project will be launched soon and as yet, there are no further details.
Due to be completed by the 15 June this year, it will be interesting to note whether in the future, the Jewels Towers will retain its sense of freshness. But to recognise potential hurdles early and deal with them in a clear manner, is an impressive and sure demonstration that a strong design, while possibly problematic can be overcome.
"To have curved columns, curved slabs and a curved core is not an easy thing to do, and it doesn't lend itself to easy installation of facilities," says Kasem. "To do it in five or six days is hectic, and that is why we sat down, came up with a strategy and said this is the way we are going to do it and it worked perfectly.
"I consider it a challenge, the designer could have done something else rather than curved structural columns, which are challenging but this way the building stands out," he adds.