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Sat 17 Jul 2010 04:00 AM

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High prospects

91 storeys and complete with a crown - Elite Residence aims to be one of Dubai's most prestigious residential projects. CW went on site to check on construction progress.

High prospects
lEVEL 64: Arabian Construction Company has built the core of the tower up to level 64, with another 20 floors to go until the last residential level will be completed.
High prospects
PANORAMIC VIEWS: The developer distinguishes Elite from other projects partly because of location.
High prospects
Tameer’s current big projects:

Elite Residence, Dubai. Princess Tower, Dubai. The Imperial Residence, Dubai. Silver Tower, Business Bay, Dubai. Regal Tower, Business Bay, Dubai. Tameer Towers, Reem Island, Abu Dhabi.
High prospects
A vertical climbing of trades.The tower is being built floor by floor, with kitchen fit outs already complete on some of the lower levels.

91 storeys and complete with a crown - Elite Residence aims to be one of Dubai's most prestigious residential projects. CW went on site to check on construction progress.

It is, one of several high-profile residential projects in Dubai to get back on its feet this year, but Elite Residence is by far among the fastest-progressing. Constructed as far up as the 64th floor with just 20 residential levels and a roof still to go, the tower, quite literally, has high prospects. Advancing quickly and efficiently alongside its sister project The Princess Tower, (located just metres away), Tameer's second-tallest, quickest-moving development is a clear indication that Dubai is looking forward to an upturn.

"The recession has had an impact on the Elite, I would be lying if I said otherwise," says Tameer's chief development officer John Zwets. "Although we had sold the majority of the [residential] units at that time, the financial crisis impacted on how people deployed their capital and paid their bills. One of those bills was to satisfy their agreements with the developer. It became more labour intensive to get people to make payments."

He goes on to say how, as a result, it became more difficult to pay the main contractor Arabian Construction Company, which in turn slowed construction down and delayed the project by as long as six months (though he reiterates that the scheduled completion date has not changed since the project received RERA approval in August 2009).

And yet today, it is almost as if the downturn never happened. Up on the 64th floor, a level which so far consists of just the lift shaft or ‘core' of the building, workers are preparing steel for concrete casting, and ‘jumpform' formwork is in place ready to be deployed for further upward excursions.

Luckily for the workers, safety seems to be a priority for the developer. As well as being equipped with safety hats, the men are enclosed by what looks like a rather secure fencing structure. "We are very focused on safety," says Tameer's development director Darren Ingram, adding: "as a result, we have had no major incidents on site."

Valued somewhere between US $250million and US $299million, with a total built-up area of 135,760m2, the project involves construction of a 380m tower located close to Dubai Marina, facing The Palm Jumeirah - the aim being to provide panoramic views of one of Dubai's most prestigious stretches. When finished, it will have a total of 91 floors, including four basements, the ground floor and an additional 86 floors above ground level, with four parking decks and 82 residential levels. It will offer 697 residential units to wealthy investors, with amenities such as temperature-controlled swimming pools, high speed elevators, a ballroom and a billiards hall.

With this in mind, it becomes difficult to see how Elite Residence is any different to the large number of other prestigious, residential developments that are back in business this year now that the worst of the downturn has passed. According to the developers, it's all about architecture.

"If you look at the shape and the formation of the building, it could probably be described as an interesting blend of what people consider to be modern architecture and what obviously is a remarkable building that really drove the emergence of technologies and architectural expression," says Zwets. "You can't call Elite a traditional building, because it is simply not. I think what the architect was trying to do was give it a ‘Dubai flavour.' And by this, I mean something different to the bland sky scrapers you would see in another metropolis like Hong Kong, or New York. I think he tried to give it a bit of soul."

This so-called ‘Elite theme' is perhaps better depicted by reference to the project's unique features. According to Ingram, the colour scheme is particularly important, as are the finishes and structural idiosyncrasies. "Among the things that distinguish Elite Residence from other developments are the location and the unique design attributes," he says. "The façade system will provide a superior external finish, quite unlike some other residential buildings, and for this particular tower, there is a very unique roof feature."

Otherwise known as the ‘crown', the roof, as explained by project manager Frank Zaid, is a key part of the Elite theme, and will be fitted with 400 small lights that will change colour at night. These lights are in addition to lighting down the mast and sides of the building. Customised by a specialist lighting consultant, the external lighting for the tower is itself another fundamental element of the design, which according to Ingram, highlights Elite's unique architectural features.

With the tower standing at 380m high however, it is important to consider how the roof will be constructed, and indeed how the lights will be fitted safely. "The roof will be pre-fabricated at ground level, and lifted up to the top of the building in stages and installed by crane," explains Arabian Construction Company's (ACC's) project director Bill Parker. "The light fittings will be pre-installed into the cladding at the cladding factory, to avoid having to fit the lights at height and ensure safety."

But the developers are keen to stress that Elite as a project is "not a pre-fabricated development but a built building", which may explain why lower levels of the project are at different stages to those higher up. The first floors for example, are complete with plastered walls, windows and kitchen furnishings, in sharp contrast to level 64 which remains an open air space. Parker explains why.
"The construction of Elite is all being done in a planned sequence. Effectively what you have is a vertical climbing of trades, which is an efficient way of constructing this kind of building. The nature of high rise demands a vertical progression based on the structural plans." He adds: "What we like to talk about is a typical ‘floor cycle' where each trade is trying to meet its own target within that cycle."

In the case of Elite, the first stage in the cycle is the structural works, followed immediately by the cladding to enclose the building quickly and maintain safety, and additionally because the walls and ceilings act as a buffer for the skin of the building.

The block work, plaster work and tiling is next, followed by the MEP works, joinery, ceiling grids, ceiling plaster, paint work and finally the fit outs. The whole process takes approximately nine months, suggesting that the structural works for the last main floor must be completed by early 2011, should the tower be constructed in time for its scheduled completion date - the end of Q3/October next year. The question is: are the time schedules feasible?

"I think it is a reasonable programme," confirms Parker. "We're working steadily towards completion." To achieve it however, he suggests that coordination between the main contractor and subcontractors is critical, which at Elite, is being well managed by the site engineers.

Certainly the developer seems happy with the site's progress. Speaking about the structural works, Zwets says: "The project is currently progressing at around four, sometimes five floors a month, so that's a five to seven-day cycle per floor. The contractor, ACC, is doing remarkably well, so we're very happy with them. We hadn't used them before except for The Princess Tower [also under construction] and we've had a similar experience there. They are a very good contractor."

Subcontractors include MEP firm Reliance Electro-Mechanical Contracting (REMCO), lifts provider Kone and cladding expert Cladtech. The steel is being supplied by three different contractors, including Cicon (which is providing the rebar), Freyssinet (which is supplying the steel for post-tensioning) and Tiger Steel, which was only recently awarded the contract to provide the fabricated steel for the roof feature. Concrete is being supplied by Universal Concrete Products Limited Company. The developer anticipates that the project will require 17,900 tonnes of steel and 75m3 of concrete to complete.

To reduce the volume of steel and concrete used however, and minimise material handling on-site, not to mention the time and costs of the overall project, post-tension reinforcement technology has been incorporated into the structural design for the floor slabs in the place of traditional reinforced concrete. "Post-tension concrete slabs are leaner so your building gets lighter and you need less traditional reinforcement," explains Zwets. "This reduces the mass of the building, and means you can construct faster because the slabs require less steel and less steel fixing, therefore less action by the workforce, so there is a reduction in time as well as costs.

"It is also means the floors are lower and around 5cm thinner than traditional concrete, which makes quite a difference when you're building a 91-storey tower, with 5m less to build to achieve the same number of floors."

Time and efficiency certainly seem to be of the essence with the completion date little more than 12 months away. "The structure is reinforced steel because this is more efficient for the vertical structure, but the floor slabs will rely on post-tension reinforcement as it carries the load better," adds Parker.

Efficiency seems to be important for Tameer both in terms of the construction of the building and its long-term operation. Though they maintain that "Tameer's objective is to be a developer and not an asset manager," executives at the firm are keen to emphasise their consideration for the building's long-term maintenance. According to Zwets, an example of this was when they employed an internal facilities management team to carry out a comprehensive service review at the beginning of the project, which meant that managers were able to rule out any concerns over how the building would be managed and operated efficiently in the long term.

To encourage environmentally-friendly living, Tameer has also installed a central chilled water system on site for the air conditioning of the building (with a view to reducing energy costs). This system will be in addition to relying on a high-tech cladding system that will maximise insulation. "The cladding system consists of unitised panels which are manufactured in  the quality-controlled factory situation and then installed on site as complete panels," says Ingram. "This provides excellent thermal insulation and acoustic properties, as well as minimising the amount of work on site."

As it stands there is a significant amount of work currently taking place at Elite, all the major contracts having been awarded to subcontractors and as many as 1,400 workers on site at any one time. As the tower grows in height, Tameer expects an increase in man power, with a peak of around 2,400 workers as the project draws closer to completion.

Thus, the only outstanding concern is how a 697-capacity residential building will manage to fill its units in the context of Dubai's housing surplus. Zwets is quick to answer. "The easiest thing to say is that this building was designed and started a few years ago before the recession. To date we are 95% sold out." he says.  Perhaps then, there is room for more residential projects after all? Maybe another Elite-themed tower - continuing the brand name? "It's an idea," he says, "but not something we'll be doing right now. I don't know if the market is ready for new buildings at the moment. Like all developers in the region, and probably across the world, Tameer is focusing on delivering its existing projects, rather than starting new ones." He's not wrong there.

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