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Sat 20 Jan 2007 12:00 AM

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History rising in the desert

Christopher Sell on a development that echoes Regency, Georgian and Victorian London - all in the middle of the desert.

Situated south of Jebel Ali in Dubai Investments Park, work has begun on transforming a barren patch of Dubai soil into a regal living space echoing Regency, Georgian and Victorian London at its most opulent. That is the task facing NCC, the main contractor on The Palisades, a residential complex that will create Dubai's largest area of urban landscaped parkland.

Comprising a total investment of between US $2.2 billion (AED8 billion) and $2.7 billion, the development, which represents the Middle East's largest, privately funded mixed-use real estate development, will also create Dubai's largest premier private landscaped garden estate. Once completed, the 4.5 million m
2

complex will house a population of 55,000.

According to Mohammed Hasan, operations manager at NCC, the site will be built in three phases. The first phase will be mobilisation works, which includes fencing of the plot and establishing a site office. Following this, grading work needs to be undertaken for phase two, which will see profiling work and plot laid out in accordance with the design. This should take six months, after which the final phase will see the main infrastructure being constructed, including the residential areas, roads, bridges, lakes and lagoons, which is estimated to take 18 months. According to Hasan, the build should take two years with a construction budget of $272 million.

Despite a seemingly short time frame, Hasan is confident that the work will be completed on schedule. "This is a fast-track project," he says. "We are using specialist scrapers - these are self-cutting, self-loading and self-hauling, which will speed up the grading works." Such a machine, claims Hasan, is capable of doing the work of four and will cut the time taken by 25-30%.

NCC also has available a patented cellular system that will provide a more efficient process to manufacture the various buildings within the development. Hasan explains that steel formwork will be fabricated to match the building design - with the relevant room dimensions, wiring points and windows - and then filled with concrete. After three days the formwork can be dismantled, the structure is ready and the windows and various internal properties can be fitted.

"It is very easy to do with steel formwork, you can do an entire villa this way, and specialist contractors can do the finishing works," says Hasan.

Keen to avoid the "hybrid of repetition with no strength of character" that afflicts various developments within Dubai, Barry Swayn, lead architect with UAE-based Storm Associates, which has been appointed as master planner on the project - delivering both the urban design and its landscaping - explains further how the architectural styles will be delivered. "There are some strategic techniques used in developing design that provides variety," he says. "We have an interesting number of elements that have been used in composition of the architectural design in various areas to improve the build ability of the development.

"One of the things about this type of architecture is that cost budgeting is not really understood at the time of the original concept and when it comes to detailed design, the cost of the project is undervalued. What we are looking at providing is straightforward, practical structural design - a façade that is built up of a composition of elements that will allow for mass production and repetition," explains Swayn.

Although Hasan explains that from a contractor's cost-effective point of view, incorporating a plethora of styles renders it slightly uneconomical, as he cannot use the same formwork on the contrasting style of buildings.

Such concerns typically stem from the well-documented price rises that are impacting on construction sites across the city.

As has been written about at length, contractors may budget for a certain price of material, but the aggressive nature of the materials market renders such estimates inaccurate further down the line. Hassan says that NCC is well aware of the problems this may cause and as a result is currently in negotiation with a number of major suppliers to see whether they can agree on a fixed price for the duration of the build. "We are currently in discussion and we hope to find out in three months whether this was successful," he says.

A central park forms the heart of The Palisades and from this will stem an expanse of green; in total more than 35% of the entire area will be landscaped. Swayn explains that to stay within Dubai Municipality directives of development and building height, superplots were conceived - large plots of land that minimise roads and allowed for yield of development, with car parking and surfacing below ground, which would therefore allow for large open spaces and maximum distances between buildings so that people do not overlook each other. "Open lifestyle within and around buildings are probably far more important in terms of quality of lifestyle and character of the development than anything else," says Swayn. Such open spaces afford opportunities for vistas and long viewing sightlines that are not generally present on typical Dubai developments.

While the landscaping of the development offers a unique challenge for the contractor and architect, it also represents an opportunity to employ environmentally sound practices into the build and understand the responsibility that comes with it. Swayn says they are looking at the options available in the design to integrate features such as water capture and increasing the amount of recycled water into the residential plots. "In the future, water is going to become the most valuable commodity in society and it is going to be what our daily existence will focus on.

"With a project like this, which is configured around such a rich landscaped environment, it needs to be considered in a way that looks at sustainability and maintenance of the landscape, so waste management and recycling must form an intrinsic part of the development, looking at sustainability and responsibility for the future," he says. Further options include sewage treatment and recycling, solar heat-gain control, air conditioning load control and water management.

The Palisades represents a new type of development for Dubai and its standard of living, and an emphasis on parkland and period-style architecture offers a departure from a contemporary city. It is a bold statement of just how far the emirate is willing to go to meet or even surpass peoples ever increasing expectations.

"This project is a very unique opportunity. It's a single development on a massive scale that exceeds almost every other development in Dubai. The residential apartments alone are almost three times the size of the Jumeirah Beach Residence and the landscaped area at the minimum will be twice that of Zabeel Park - that is the largest park in Dubai and we are talking about one urban development for a community. There is a scale and magnitude for this project that is truly unique," concludes Swayn.

The Palisades – Site Team

Main contractor

NCC

Master planner

Storm Associates

Client

Pearl Properties and Aristocrate Holdings

Progress on the development of green land

After two years of master planning, work began on The Palisades in the last week of September and now 90% of fencing for the site is complete. Together with residential and landscaped area, the master plan also includes a major retail zone, adhering to Victorian design principles with an arcade and colonnades under glass ceilings. Furthermore, a 5.5km greenbelt will surround the perimeter of the gated community. The landscaped gardens will include sculptured water features and undulating waterways with stone-effect bridges. The Palisades is expected to be completed in 2011.

“This is a fast-track project. We are using specialist scrapers – these are self-cutting, self-loading and self-hauling, which will speed up the grading works.” - Mohammed Hasan, operations manager, NCC

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