First major project approved in the financial district since 2008
The Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) district is home to some of the city’s most prestigious and distinctive buildings, such as the instantly recognisable The Gate, which is situated at the entrance of the 110 acre space. Seemingly taking their cue from the landmark building, a number of internationally renowned architects and engineers have created structures that are visually stunning and also showcase Dubai as the financial hub of the Middle East.
Complementing these impressive structures are high-end restaurants, art galleries and retail outlets, along with the one hotel in the DIFC area – the Ritz-Carlton, a visually arresting five-star property reminiscent of the towering canyons of Wall Street in New York City.
Given the exacting standards set by such a location, a new entrant into the DIFC has a considerable amount of measuring up to do, especially if it is the first construction project in the area since 2008. Luckily, the partners forming the joint venture ICD Brookfield, which will manage the ICD Brookfield Place mixed-use development, know a thing or two about setting the standard.
The Investment Corporation of Dubai (ICD) is the principal investment arm of the Government of Dubai, while Brookfield Property Partners is one of the world’s largest commercial real estate companies, with more than $65 billion in total assets. Its projects include award-winning programmes in Brookfield Place New York, Toronto and Perth, Australia.
Suffice to say, then, that the $1 billion project, which held its ground-breaking ceremony on January 20, is in very good hands. Designed by Foster + Partners, the development is a 53-storey tower with more than 83,612sqm of grade A office space, with an adjacent five-storey retail centre that offers 13,935sqm of best-in-class shopping, dining, fitness and private club facilities spread along multiple terraces, along with an open garden on the top level.
The office tower and retail building will be connected by pedestrian walkways, while the development will also offer seven underground levels of car parking to accommodate 2,700 vehicles. Finally, the project will also feature a 31m high, 1,672sqm landscaped public area, framed by fine dining restaurants and a chef-driven food emporium.
This aspect of the development will also showcase a range of arts and cultural events that are a feature of Brookfield Places around the world. A new retail connection and public garden will link the food emporium and public realm at ICD Brookfield Place to the existing DIFC gate precinct, the joint venture partnership behind the project says in a statement.
“ICD Brookfield Place is a truly inspirational building that will meet demand from the world’s leading corporations seeking a location in the heart of the city,” says Khalid Al Bakhit, chairman of ICD Brookfield. “The world-class design combines office, retail and lifestyle offerings that will create a truly unique space, both inside and out, and position ICD Brookfield Place at the forefront for urban office design.”
Grant Brooks, senior executive partner at Fosters + Partners, adds that he believes the project will become a new social focus for Dubai, as it will combine world-class office space with a major civic plaza. “Our aim is to enhance the urban character of the DIFC, putting public spaces at the very heart of the design. The new office tower is also on target to achieve a LEED Gold rating, and is shaped to reflect the sunlight. It is surrounded by a rich mix of easily accessible terraced spaces, that will create a vibrant and lively extension to the DIFC,” Brooks explains.
The British firm was appointed as architect for the ICD Brookfield Place project after it won an architectural competition between five architectural firms. The choice was made about a year and 13 months before the ground-breaking ceremony, executives said. In addition, an internal design team from Brookfield worked closely with the architect for about 13 months, to ensure that they had a beautifully designed building that was also commercially efficient.
With the ground-breaking ceremony completed, Big Project ME tracked down Douglas Kirkman, CEO of ICD Brookfield, for a quick chat about the impact of the project and how the team behind it is preparing a construction programme to ensure it will meet its 2018 completion date.
“I think it’s important to note that the northern campus of the DIFC has almost a 0% vacancy rate, and there are large multinational tenants who continue to grow year over year, and they need expansion space,” says Kirkman. “So I think that the first thing this project is going to do is help the DIFC accommodate its tenants, who need space to grow.
“I think it also helps to begin the connection between the rest of the DIFC and the Southern End,” he adds, pointing out the development’s proximity to the likes of Burj Khalifa, Dubai Mall and the Dubai Fountain, which he believes will be an added attraction to corporates looking to set up shop in DIFC.
“I think this is the best financial district throughout the Gulf, or even the Middle East and Africa for that matter. This project will continue to enhance that, even more so.”
However, he remains mindful of the fact that there are exacting standards to live up to, and is quick to assert that with Brookfield’s name now formally attached to the project, the contractors, consultants and suppliers involved will be expected to be at the top of their game.
“In order for Brookfield to put its name onto a project, the building requires a certain level of quality throughout the technical specification of the building, to the lifting of the building, to the MEP and loading of the building, and this project meets those quality criteria that we would stipulate.”
This care and attention to detail is reflected in the time it took to get the project ready to break ground. Work on the joint venture began four years ago, with the first year spent working together to evaluate and consider the best and most interesting investment options in Dubai.
“Speaking candidly, it took us almost a year to decide that this would be a very interesting investment opportunity. The overall average vacancy rate for all office space throughout Dubai was sitting at north of 25%. When the total market has that level of vacancy, it takes a bit of time to get investors comfortable with the fact that it would be a good idea to develop 83,612sqm of office facilities into what could be seen as an oversupplied market.
“But that missed the real point, which was that while the overall market may have that level of vacancy, the submarket that is the DIFC does not. The Northern Campus of the DIFC has pretty much zero vacancy, while the total DIFC lies at less than 10%,” he explains.
Groundwork has begun on the site, with an early works package for hoarding, excavation, dewatering and shoring and piling handed to Swiss-Boring. Ahead of construction work commencing, a joint venture between Brookfield Multiplex and South Korean contractor Ssangyong Engineering and Construction has been appointed as main contractor.
“Both main contractors have significant experience here in Dubai,” says Kirkman. “Actually, they were the two contractors who built the Emirates Financial Towers. In addition, Brookfield Multiplex built The Gate and adjacent buildings. They probably have the most depth of experience in high-rise towers within Dubai, and that’s very important.
“Also, one of the points that was critical to the ICD Brookfield joint venture was time to completion. After going through a very long procurement strategy analysis, we decided that the best way to complete the project quickly was to go through an open-book negotiation, with design and build main contractors,” he says.
The next step in the process will be the tendering of the subcontracts for the project, with Kirkman explaining that the main contractors will be required to involve no fewer than four companies for each tender released. In fact, some tenders will have as many as eight companies applying for certain contracts.
This approach brings with it some additional benefits, he asserts. “Because of the tendering and the sub-contracts, [having design and build main contractors] still gives us strong price transparency across 85% of the contract. As for the remaining, at the main contractor level, the open-book process again ensures transparency and best pricing. But also, going down the design and build route has realistically saved us 12 months in total development time, and that’s critical because it meant that it became a three-year process, which will be advantageous to the owners and the joint leasing agents [Jones Lang LaSalle and CBRE] of the company.”
“It means that it becomes a three-year process rather than a four-year process, and it’s in a market where quite a few of the leases are for three years. This works perfectly for talking to potential tenants today, while having it ready in four years would have also been a problem.
“The end of 2018 [is the scheduled completed construction date]. Just knowing how construction works, there’s definitely programme and construction milestones. Our cost consultant and project manager, which is AECOM, will be overseeing on a daily basis. They’re the main line of defence for us as investors to make sure that timeline is being adhered to,” Kirkman says.
With an expected 2,500 workers on-site at peak construction, having such safeguards in place will be vital for the successful completion of the project, especially given the congested area in which the site lies. Situated on Al Sa’ada Street, the ICD Brookfield Place site is bordered by the five-star Ritz-Carlton DIFC and Al Fattan Currency House, which means planning and logistics will need to be spot-on.
While Kirkman is no expert on construction logistics, he’s confident that the construction leadership team of AECOM, Brookfield Multiplex and Ssangyong will be able to effectively manage the on-site logistics with minimal disturbance to neighbouring occupants.
“We’ll work very carefully and with sensitivity to our surroundings, and to all our neighbours. The site is obviously very close to Mr Al Fattan’s building, so we’re going to have to make sure that we don’t disturb tenants. I live in the Ritz-Carlton as well, which is right behind the site, so rest assured, if there are any problems, I’ll be feeling them as much as anyone else!”
As the interview comes to a close, Kirkman makes a point of highlighting the role played by an entity that might be dubbed a silent partner in the entire enterprise, without whom this massive and distinctive project wouldn’t have even got off the ground.
“The DIFC has been an invaluable partner in helping this project come to fruition. We’ve already reached an agreement with them to have a laydown area immediately adjacent to the site during the early works package for the project. (I have to say) they’ve been incredibly helpful and flexible in dealing with these sorts of issues,” he concludes.
Office floors: 51
Total floors: 54 (Ground + 53)
Below-grade car parking levels: 7
Net internal area (office): 87146.5sqm
Net internal area (retail): 12,764.8sqm
Net internal area (total): 99,911.45sqm
Three podium floors of 2,787sqm each
Three executive floors on Levels 51, 52 and 53, with floor to ceiling height of 6.3m
Podium floor to ceiling height of 3.5m
Typical floor to ceiling height of 3m