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Sat 12 Nov 2005 04:00 AM

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Raffles ‘pyramid’ hotel is set to make a point at Wafi City

Themed architecture is common in Dubai, and Wafi City boasts a strong Egyptian connection. Zoe Naylor goes on site to witness Dubai’s first pyramid hotel in the early construction stages.

architectural complexity meets ancient egypt as work pushes on to bring the raffles hotel brand to dubai|~|95proj200.gif|~|Work in progress: Upon completion in February 2007, the new hotel will complement the current architecture at the Egyptian-themed Wafi City mall.|~|Dubai isn’t one to shy away from borrowing architectural designs from around the world. From the Indian and Chinese-themed courts of Ibn Battuta mall to the French and Italian-inspired developments at International City, Dubai’s architecture reflects its multi-cultural background.

Back in the early 1990s a pyramid-shaped hotel was planned to complement Wafi City’s Egyptian-themed mall. Work began on the piling for the structure but was stopped due to the outbreak of the first Gulf War.

But 15 years later, construction work has recommenced on the Wafi site, in the form of Dubai’s first Raffles hotel.The US $140 million luxury hotel will stand 19 floors high and will just top the 100 m mark. With a total area of 165 000 m2 the structure is designed around three legs, which then go up to form a pyramid.

Construction work began on 1st May 2005 and is scheduled for completion by February 2007. The hotel is due to open in mid-2007.

Approximately 18 different consultants are involved in the project: Khansaheb is the main contractor, with the structure being developed by structural engineers RJ Crocker & Partners. Sovis is main quantity surveyor and cost-consultant. “The two levels of the basement are completed and work is underway to lift the central core, which has just reached the fourth floor,” says Michael Warr, project director at Arif & Bintoak, the project’s lead architects.

The first two levels will have car parking for over 1000 cars and then there will be two floors of retail space. “Wafi’s retail area is currently 46 450 m2; we’re now adding on another 23 225 m2,” says Warr. This will comprise about 90 units, one of which will be an 8360 m2 department store. Two acres of gardens will be located 15 m up, on top of the retail space. Sixteen floors of hotel space will offer 240 rooms comprising 188 standard rooms (60 m2 each); 46 suites of varying size (110 to 150 m2); four presidential suites (230 m2) and two royal suites of 460 m2.

Above the hotel rooms will be three levels of glass-enclosed nightclubs topped by the pièce de resistance — a 10 m-high gold diamond which, in true Dubai style, will be back-lit at night-time with flashing, oscillating lights.

“One of the biggest challenges we are facing is maintaining the quality and speed of construction,” says Warr. “We’re working seven days a week, 24 hours a day to achieve our target of finishing the construction by the end of February [2007].”

He says that technology is another challenge, especially in terms of energy conservation: “We’re building a district cooling plant to reduce the cost of air conditioning in the hotel, This will be housed in a massive building just behind the site and is being built by MKM and Khansaheb. We’re also developing ways to recycle and recollect the water that will be used for the irrigation of the gardens.”

The type of glass used on the project is thought to be a first for Dubai: graduated fritted glass is being used to try to reduce the heat gain by increasing the reflectivity of the glass.

“We’re using an 80% frit down to a 20% frit,” explains Warr. “The top space of the hotel will be clear glass, but further down the structure the reflectivity will become deeper and denser. You do see fritted glass in other structures but it’s usually just one single pattern.” The glass will be produced in Dubai but the manufacturer is still to be decided upon.

The project will also use natural materials, including limestone, similar to that which is on the existing Wafi mall. “The stone will be brought in from Egypt where a lot of it will be carved with the hieroglyphics,” says Warr. Such is the attention to detail that the project even has its own Egyptologist on board — Dr Mahmoud Mabrook, a senior member of the archaeological museum in Cairo. He is being consulted on the hieroglyphics on the project, which all have an authentic meaning.

In situ concrete beams and columns will be used for all the floor planks and these will all be pre-cast in Dubai. Many of them are being insulated to improve the sound and thermal insulation between the floors, the retail area and the car parking. Unimix and Readymix are supplying the concrete, with Swissboring and Middle East Foundations doing the piling.One of the most technical parts of the construction process is the lifting of the main core. This is being lifted up using slip form construction and is being carried out by BRM.

“It’s a much more complicated core than normal. Rather than being a square series of lift shafts it has a grouping of staircases, three escape staircases and nine lifts,” explains Warr.

The core is being raised in two halves: one half goes up one night, then the other is raised the other night. “It’s going up in alternate sections by roughly 1.5 m at a time — it has to go up slowly or it could start to fragment.”

The cladding is made up of the fritted glass and limestone. There will be vertical shafts of fritted glass containing two high-speed lifts which go directly from the hotel lobby to the nightclub, without stopping. On the other side there will be two panoramic lifts that will stop at each floor of the hotel.

Another major challenge is building upon a city centre site with no periphery — the site is very compact and there is no spare capacity in terms of operating since it is bordered on all sides by buildings or main roads. As a result, the construction work is being carefully executed in phases.

“It is very tight and the material and equipment delivery is having to be scheduled in very carefully,” says Warr. “The main problem at the moment is getting in the precast concrete beams because they’re on low loaders. It’s not helped by fact that Dewa (Dubai Electricity and Water Authority) has just dug up the road in front of the hotel access site to put in some cables for electricity for the hotel.”

Services were re-routed well before the construction process began. The services consultant is Hyder, with Cansult as the roads and highways consultant. The excavated material is being taken to another site on the Al Ain Road where it is being used to raise the site level.

“Having the Raffles brand will be a great asset to Wafi and to Dubai,” says Moira Billington, marketing director, Wafi Group. “One of the reasons the project did go to Raffles was that the two brands have a great synergy. The hotel will target high-end business travelers — 70% of visitors will be business users,” she adds.

With new hotel projects announced on a daily basis, Dubai’s developers have to work hard to make their projects stand out from crowd. A 19-storey pyramid-shaped structure, topped with a 10 m-high gold diamond, is sure to do the trick.||**||

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