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Sat 1 Mar 2008 04:00 AM

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Standards bearers

Relatively soon, a lot of the mega-projects in Dubai will be finished. Hugo Berger visits a company that is urging developers to take steps to increase a buildings' longevity.

Relatively soon, a lot of the mega-projects in Dubai will be finished. Hugo Berger visits a company that is urging developers to take steps to increase a buildings' longevity.

It’s only once you go above the ceilings and into the service floors, and when you review the drawing footprints that you determine the construction quality of the building.

When visiting construction sites, it is often hard to envisage that the seemingly chaotic scenes will one day resemble the luxurious developments depicted in the artist's impressions.

But within a few years, more and more projects will have been topped out and be ready for the end-users to move in.

As often explored in this magazine, the construction process is fraught with logistical difficulties.

But there are some who argue that the real problems will occur once the developers have handed over the keys to the tenants and buyers.

Some say that the rush to construct buildings will lead to a host of problems which will be evident throughout the building's lifetime.

At last November's Construction Week conference, property developer Anwer Sher sparked controversy by claiming that only 15% of all new-builds in the region were built to a decent standard. He said he had heard horror stories of heavy rains causing a whole outside wall to collapse.

And if his estimation is in any way accurate, tenants and owners of new properties could find themselves in similar situations.

Recently, CW visited the new Jewellery and Gemplex complex at the Dubai Multi-Commodity Centre (DMCC), off Sheikh Zayed Road. The centre was built to act as the city's commodity marketplace for precious metals and jewels.

Being a site where the world's most luxurious goods are traded, it is imperative that the buildings are of the highest standard.

The Jewellery and Gemplex complex comprises of three 12-storey buildings, each with four residential wings and one workshop.

The building is now being maintained by Gentech, which was formed in 2004 to offer maintenance services for buildings.

Engineer Samir A. Jassim, project manager, believes that there would be dire consequences if developers did not take proper care of the building during and after the construction process.

He says that unless the building was maintained after construction had finished it would be just as harmful as using poor materials during construction.

"For the owner of a building, failing to consider the service maintenance of a building properly is both foolhardy and wasteful of an asset and, in the long-run, expensive," he says.

He added that overall, developers were willing to pay more for good quality workmanship. But the speed of development was the reason why many buildings failed to meet high standards.

"Given the rush to complete jobs and meet impossible deadlines, the developers tend to ally with the contractor more than the consultant whose role is to supervise the construction and ensure that quality equipment is being used.
Therefore, you will find in many projects today the focus is on completing the property in order to sell or lease so that the developer can maximise his return on the investment.

Jassim adds that there are indications that service maintenance of buildings was beginning to achieve closer attention in Dubai than in previous years.

He says: "The effective management of maintenance can bring about many benefits such as efficient and profitable buildings.

"Maintenance is a controllable cost, not a fixed overhead, and can be managed to reduce this large sum of money yet at the same time improving the performance of the building.

"This is very much allied to the cost of energy, which is rising rapidly.

At the Jewellery and Gemplex complex, Gentech's facilities maintenance division is using techniques to increase the life of the building.

Each piece of equipment, whether it be air-conditioning or fire safety units, is regularly tested for reliability and safety.

Jassim says: "The maintenance optimisation process effectively blends predictive, preventive, proactive and corrective maintenance strategies, often through the use of reliability-centered maintenance techniques.

This will allow the system's maintenance program to move from a reactive approach, or a preventive approach, to a planned approach.

"The planned approach conducts maintenance at the most optimum time, which is often before the equipment fails, whereas the reactive approach performs maintenance as a result of unexpected failures, and the preventive approach performs maintenance strictly on a scheduled basis.

Jassim says some companies are not interested in these techniques because of the high costs. "Most companies are less concerned about the services maintenance because it is costly; the cost of services maintenance should demonstrate to represent a considerable proportion of the total building operating costs.

"The building services profession must put much greater emphasis on planning of operation and maintenance."

Jassim says that the quality of the build depends on the consultant and the main contractor for the project.

But he claims some of the less reputed companies are not putting the emphasis on fitting out the building to a high standard.

He adds: "The reason behind this varies, but ultimately the key is that contractors usually succeed in hiding issues as they focus on the exposed areas only.

"It's only once you go above the ceilings and into the service floors, and when you review the drawing footprints that you determine the construction quality of the building.
As DMCC was a mixed-use development, this was adding to the challenges.

Jassim says: "In my opinion, the diversity of the development's categories as residential, commercial and industrial has required expert staff to run the buildings without a problem.

"Gentech staff are involved in the operation and maintenance of three buildings.

"That means each building has air-conditioning, electrical, generators, plumbing, civil work, fire protection, lifts, garbage chutes, CCTV, access doors, Intercom, and SMATV systems.

"In addition, there are special industrial systems like air compressors, a fume extract system, a wastewater treatment plant, and LP gas.

"The major challenges include the understanding, studying and application of the thousands of papers and drawings of maintenance and operation manuals for all the above mentioned systems.

"Furthermore, significant training has been given to many of our staff involved in the operation and maintenance of DMCC buildings.

At present, 18 staff work on the DMCC buildings, carrying out preventative checks on all the facilities.

And Jassim believes that if buildings are not given this level of care, then owners and tenants will be leaving themselves open for a string of problems.

He says: "This will definitely affect the property/real estate sector in the sense of how much investors are willing to spend on the property.

"With time, investors will realise that the property may have several flaws; from leaks during the winter season to cracks in the walls, peeling paint and air-conditioning issues.

"All of which will impact their purchase price or will ensure the investor will evaluate the property in-depth prior to purchasing new property in the future.

"Ultimately, this will also put more pressure on contractors and consultants to ensure higher quality of materials and higher construction standards in projects."

Without the gift of hindsight, it is impossible to tell whether Dubai's buildings stand the test of time.

It could be that the intense rush to complete projects will be seen as foolhardy with the possibility of many of them falling into a run-down state.

However, as Jassim urges, in the meantime developers can take steps to ensure those who have predicted the worst are not proven correct.

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