By Hugo Berger
As Dubai pushes its reputation as the Middle East's premier shopping destination, new malls are springing up.
Dubai Marina Mall is rapidly taking shape, but the challenges of building a mall are even more complex when the site is surrounded by water. Hugo Berger tries not to get his feet wet as he finds out more.
Dubai Mall and Mirdiff Mall are soon to add to the host of vast shopping complexes which already exist.
So any developer looking to build a new mall has to come up with a design concept which offers shoppers something different.
Building on water has produced a number of challenges. You have to make sure everything is clean and dry and then you have to waterproof it before dewatering
This is one of the reasons why Dubai Marina Mall And Hotel aims to offer residents and visitors a variety of consumer experiences.
Construction Week took a tour of the site with Hercu Viljoen, the senior contract manager for ALEC, the main contractor for the Emaar development.
The $680 million (AED2.5 billion) mall is nearing completion, with much of its structure having been finished.
At present there are almost 6,000 workers on site, putting the finishing touches to the structure and the MEP facilities before the retail fitters move in.
But as well as 180 shops, the project includes a 40-storey hotel and apartment block, cinema, a six-floor gourmet restaurant tower and an office block.
Construction work started on the mall in May 2006 and it is due to finish later this year.
But, as with any large project, Viljoen says there were difficulties which needed overcoming. But he was keen to point out that, although the mall will be the centerpiece of the development, it was more than just a shopping precinct.
"This is not just a mall; it's a multi-use facility, with parking, podium levels with hotel and cafes, swimming pools and conference facilities.
This presents a challenge, because building a shopping centre is different to building a hotel or an office.
With any shopping centre, you have to manage your logistics very carefully because you have direct contractors coming in finishing the mall off."
One of the major challenges, which has been a universal problem across Dubai's construction sector, was shortage of labour, especially after last year's visa amnesty.
"The amnesty affected every single contractor in Dubai, I am sure," says Viljoen.
"There was a phase we went through when our sub-contractors were struggling to get the right numbers of labourers required.
"Because we employ our own people with legal visas and proper accommodation, our own tradesmen were not affected as much, but obviously we are only as good as our sub-contractors.
"But there has been a generally good relationship between us and our sub-contractors.
"There have been issues, but we have dealt with them. At times it has been heated, but we have always found a solution.
"Our philosophy is to get off the job as soon as we can so our aim is to resolve the issues and resolve them quickly and efficiently."
The actual scale of the mall, its complicated curved design and the fact that parts of it are surrounded by water also presented challenges.
One leg of the hotel and the gourmet restaurant tower will sit in the marina's water when it is finished.
The structures have been completed by reclaiming a large tract of land from the water. Workers then bolted the buildings into the land with piles up to 30m deep.
Once the towers are complete, the land around them will be excavated, leaving the buildings completely encircled by water.
And because the basement levels are adjacent to the marina, extra care was needed when building these to keep them water-free.
Building on water has produced a number of challenges," says Viljoen.
"You have to make sure everything is clean and dry and then you have to waterproof it before you start the dewatering.
"You have to make sure your dewatering pumps are working all the time, because if they fail the area will fill up but we have managed to achieve this.
The sheer size of the buildings footprint was also an issue for the contractors.
Viljoen says: "We had eight heavy-duty cranes which we bought from Germany and put them in strategic positions across the site.
"These cranes were key to the success of the job because logistically it's a very big footprint and you can't drive into the site.
"We had to move the equipment with cranes. On a normal-sized footprint you can usually reach all the areas by truck.
"But as the footprint was so big, some of the cranes are inside the building and you can't get to the centre of the job."
As well as a large footprint, the mall differs from other builds by the fact much of it is built along curved dimensions.
Viljoen says: "It is a lot easier for us to build square, but the mall itself is a big drum and everything is curved.
"This is a feature which has made the construction a bit more difficult.
There is nothing specific, you just have to spend a bit more time and attention making the curves right."
On the tour of the building, it is possible to see the two main features of the mall, its linear and circular atriums, beginning to take shape.
The circular atrium has a spherical roof made out of glass and steel.
The glass has not been placed in as yet, but the steel framework has already been built.
It was built by placing a large support in the middle and then fixing the steel structure outwards from the middle ring.
After some well-publicised accidents at other projects in Dubai, Viljoen believes worker safety was of prime concern to ALEC.
"We put a huge amount of focus on safety at ALEC," he says. "We have a whole team of people looking after our safety and then if an incident happens we use it as a training tool, so the workers can learn from to prevent a similar incident.
"We have a very proud safety record. At one stage we had an excess of 11 million hours without a lost-time injury.
"Then we had a couple of minor lacerations, but our record is very, very good."
Viljoen adds that all aspects of worker welfare are important to ALEC, which was one of the reasons it picked up the Supreme Judges Award at this year's Construction Week Awards.
"We have focused a huge amount on training with this project," he says.
"We had to employ approximately 2,000 additional people on this project and they went through extensive training.
Apart from a safety induction, we form groups of them to teach them scaffolding, carpentry and masonry.
"Building these models helps us to do the training, it shows us if we have a specific problem. Let's say, for example, we have a problem in achieving the right radius in the circular carpark, then we focus on that as a specific training issue.
"As a company, training and looking after our people is one of our key performance indicators. Obviously, safety, quality and giving the client what he wants on time go without saying. But our people are very important and we focus on that.
"I have been in the industry more than 20 years and the amount of training which goes on here is more than I have seen before."
So overall, Viljoen believes the construction of the Dubai Marina Mall is one of the most successful projects he has worked on.
When you start a job without a final user finally tied up, you are going to have some changes in the process to accommodate the final end users," he says.
"Developers, consultants and contractors tend to have different agendas. The architects want the thing designed to as high a standard as possible, the contractor wants to get it built and the client has the right to change his mind, so there is always a bit of disagreement.
"For a job of this size, to be in the state that it is, is a real achievement and we are very proud of our work.
"It's very easy for jobs to get delayed in Dubai, so it takes special effort to continuously address issues and find solutions.
When finished, the Dubai Marina area aims to accommodate 75,000 residents.
Viljoen believes that the success of the mall as a project was essential to whether the development will thrive as a community.
"I think Dubai Marina will be fantastic when it is finished. It's not great now, because it is a construction site, but the whole layout is very advanced," he says.
"Once the construction is finished and the marina is open on both sides, it will be one of the most spoken-about marinas in the world.
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