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Sat 12 May 2007 12:00 AM

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Time for dynamic architecture?

Dubai's rotating Time Residences: a new concept in design, or is it all just a gimmick?

In the pages of
Construction Week

recently, a reader's letter lamented the lack of innovation and desire to implement the latest construction techniques in Dubai. But is this fair? The emirate certainly has its fair share of typical high-rise developments but so does any major city. And on the flip side of the coin, the Burj Al Arab, Emirates Towers and the under construction Burj Dubai are some of the world's most recognisable and iconic buildings.

Just three weeks ago,

announced the launch of a project that will see an entire tower being assembled using precast concrete in order to cut down on build time and labour costs. The US $330 million (AED1.2 billion) rotating tower has been designed by Italian architect and chairman of Rotating Tower Technology International, David Fisher, and is set to be the first prefabricated skyscraper in the world.

Each floor of the tower will consist of 12 modules that will arrive at the site completely finished, with electrical, plumbing and air conditioning systems ready to use. The modules will then be assembled at the rate of one floor every seven days.

And a few weeks prior to this launch, the unique concept of Time Residences, which will be the world's first fully rotating tower, took a step closer to fruition when Nick Cooper, rotation engineer for the Dubailand development, presented final plans for the project - specifically the rotating mechanisms - to Abdullah Abdul Rahim, director general of the planning and survey department, Dubai Municipality.

These developments and others, such as Atkins' Iris Bay, which is being built in Dubai's Business Bay, suggest there is more innovation taking place in the emirate than might be perceived. The phrase ‘dynamic architecture' is being mentioned more frequently, suggesting that Dubai is a melting pot of innovation rather than a sterile construction environment.

"Today, Dubai is a symbol of progress and development, and I think it may be the best location for what can become a world landmark. In fact, many other cities will follow, such as London, Milan, Chicago, Berlin and others," says Fisher.

Cooper believes the term is an accurate description of the city: "There is real competition here, and these people want to do more than just have a static image of a building."

A $109 million, 175m-high tower that will rotate 360° in seven days, Time Residences will comprise 200 apartments. The concept of the building is that it will be a franchise, and 24 towers will be built across the 24 time zones of the world. Talks have been held with potential developers, but typically, Dubai is the first one.

"I think Dubai has the determination to accept this sort of thing. If it was somewhere else, people would be deliberately putting up barriers or reasons as to why you shouldn't. There is a ‘can do' attitude rather than a ‘can not'," adds Cooper.

Technically, Time Residences incorporates a raft of different technologies to ensure the tower rotates seamlessly. The base slab has to maintain absolute flatness as it cannot have distortion. Structurally, a concrete foundation is laid down, followed by a concrete sub-base, and the bearings then follow before the building sits on top. In all, the mechanism is no more than 150mm in depth. Regarding safety concerns, Cooper is effusive that he has met expected safety demands and more, giving the tower an additional safety factor of two above what is required.

Fitting all the MEP and services is simply dealt with. Borrowing technology seen in rig platforms, a solid core will allow pipes to run up the middle of the building to deliver the relevant services. "The building combines the rotary joining technology of deep sub-sea equipment with the polymer bearing technology that is coming onto the market, and the simplicity of conventional hydraulics," adds Cooper. "With this, one can create a modular system that enables buildings to rotate."

The basic principles are out to tender at the moment, although a contractor has not yet been signed. In this particular instance, to make sure it is done right, the contractor chosen will not necessarily be one with the lowest bid, but the one that satisfies all of the criteria required, according to Cooper.

Furthermore, it is important not to view the development as a gimmick, as the pace of rotation is too slow to be seen as entertainment.

"We are very conscious of this," adds Cooper. "Think of the Burj Dubai; its rooms are going to look out on a mass of towers. That would be ok, if you knew the day after you were looking out onto something else."

While ‘dynamic architecture' may be a current phrase being used in the sector, Cooper questions whether this is simply a smoke screen for some projects that display little in the way of new technological application.

On Fisher's rotating tower, he is sceptical: "It's an idea, but they haven't actually solved an issue - there are a lot of technical considerations involved."

And John Hanke, project director, Woods Bagot, says that despite all the progress taking place in the city, the systems used demonstrate a reliance on unskilled labour. "The first time I came here, I was asking why they weren't using prefabricated systems. It is cheaper and saves a lot of time," he says.

"I guess they don't have the skills on the site; it is a big problem here." Nevertheless, Hanke points out that incorporating prefab techniques is not a novel concept, and has been used in the west for decades. "To use prefabrication for a skyscraper isn't new; even the steel structures in the US are a kind of prefab," he adds.

Hanke adds that the reason why there is such an emphasis on concrete-led construction is because it is the easiest way to build, following the routine of formwork, iron and concrete. "With this method you are in the range of centimetres, whereas if you are working with steel, you have to be in the range of millimetres. And I guess there aren't the skilled workers for this."

Woods Bagot is involved in a number of projects within the UAE including the Multiplex Tower and the Burj Residences. Hanke is working on the $2.47 billion Mina Al Arab project in Ras Al Khaimah - a new city development for a population of 15,000. According to Hanke the masterplan has been complete, with work already commenced on the harbour. RAK Properties is the client.

It may be the case that Dubai is relying on more conventional construction techniques, but, as Cooper testifies, it at least presents a healthy climate for developers to showcase projects that will make the rest of the world sit up and take notice. "Dubai's got the imagination and the drive, willingness, the vision and can-do attitude that will allow this sort of building to not just be trialled but built."

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