Site Visit 1/JBR: Why “It’s not for everyone”

Big Project ME joins designers EDGE on site at Dubai Properties’ 1/JBR

Last December, social media in Dubai was abuzz about a 30-second advertisement that poked fun at the stereotypical representation of luxury property developments in the city, which tend to veer towards the ostentatious and over-the-top. Speaking in a clipped English accent, the star of the video – a mid-30s Daniel Craig lookalike – tells viewers that if they’re looking for dancing fountains to Instagram or chandeliers dripping with diamonds, then they’re looking at the wrong building.

Boldly proclaiming that “it’s not for everyone”, the advert for the 1/JBR project racked up more than two million views within five days of being uploaded to YouTube. At the time of writing, it currently sits at close to five million views, with the local real estate market keeping a keen eye on its progress.

Developed by Dubai Properties, 1/JBR is branded as an “exclusive luxury sea-front tower” with views stretching along the Arabian Gulf, taking in other high-profile destinations and attractions such as BlueWater, Dubai Eye, Skydive Dubai and Palm Jumeirah, among others.

Scheduled to be completed by the fourth quarter of 2019, the 46-storey tower is being built by Dubai Contracting Company as the main contractor, while Edge is the design architect and lead consultant for the project, working alongside WSP, the structural and MEP engineer and architect of record. Overseeing operations on-site as the project management consultant is North25.

With construction progressing rapidly, Big Project ME was invited by EDGE to tour the site and gain a deeper understanding of how the project is taking shape and offering a fresh take on the concept of luxury, high-end residential developments.

Situated at the top of Jumeriah Beach Residences and flanked by five-star hotels like the Ritz-Carlton Dubai and Le Royal Meridien Beach Resort and Spa, 1/JBR has a gross floor area of 45,096sqm and a total built-up area of 73,756sqm. Despite the size of the project, EDGE faced a number of interesting challenges when it came to the design of the structure, given the surroundings and the limited space it had to work with, says Ivar Krasinki, founding partner and design director at the firm.

“We wanted an iconic presence in JBR that is like no other. There are a lot of complex buildings around here, and this one is exactly the opposite of that. It stands out because it’s not trying too hard, and that makes all the difference. The whole project is defined by clarity and simplicity. We don’t want unnecessarily complex details and materials changes.”

The initial design for 1/JBR was created by EDGE as part of a competition to develop a building concept that would provide a fresh and distinctive experience for residents, Dubai Properties adds in a statement to Big Project ME.

“After various design options and proposals, EDGE was selected as the winner and awarded the complete design of the flagship project. The design principles behind the building are guided by two main goals – waterfront views and spatial clarity. The minimalist aesthetic is seen in every part of the building and its interior design.

“As a result, each space conveys a sense of serenity not commonly found in residential buildings. The rooms are designed to be well-lit, with ideal views and uncluttered volumes. Luxury building occupants are generally more concerned about privacy than the average person.”

The developer said one thing that sealed the deal in EDGE’s favour was that the consultancy had conducted studies that proved conclusively that a private lift lobby for each tenant was achievable without compromising on floor plate and overall building efficiency, creating added value.

Krasinski says the building was initially planned to be a G+1 structure, as that was all Dubai Municipality allowed at the time. However, the potential of the site was too obvious to ignore, which necessitated a change in plans.

“This site would have been really under-utilised if they had kept it at G+1. It would have been a huge waste of this prime land. Through negotiating with Dubai Municipality, we now have G+46,” he says, adding that 1/JBR has been enhanced to ensure that each aspect of the building provides a luxury experience for residents, with any changes to design being done with the utmost care so as to provide future owners with a finished property that is distinctive across all its attributes.

Martin Baerschmidt, founding partner and managing director at EDGE, also chimes in, pointing out that the firm spent nearly a full year winning the project and spent most of 2014 coming up with schemes for the CEO of Dubai Properties to consider.

“The building, as Ivar mentions, was quite a different shape. We thought that the Palm Jumeirah was a very strong design generator, and also BlueWater, which is now a Meraas/North25 project. We actually had a V-shaped tower, but we then went to a single loaded and straight-against-the-beach design that was right up against our plot limits. We think it’s a great solution. It’s very elegant, simple and clean.”

From an engineering and design point of view, Krasinski says the design of the building was a major challenge.

“The building is very thin in one direction, so we had to work very hard to get the beams right, to keep it from swaying back and forth, which was quite difficult because you also have to keep the ceilings as high as possible. You also have to keep your pipes up there, so the lower the beam goes, the fatter it becomes, and the worse it is for the rest of the project,” he explains.

Baerschmidt adds that while nothing major will be changed in terms of design at this stage of construction – with the building at level 10 for the core, and the floor slabs at level six, it’s a little late for that – there is still scope for minor adjustments and tweaks to be made.

“We’re not going to add any lift shafts or anything major at this stage, but there has been talk of a little change in one of the loft floors, which was a double height, but we’re now talking of turning it into two typical floors. That’s on level 31 at the moment, and as we’re at level 10, we need to manage that quickly if necessary. We would have to go back to the wind tunnel, which is done in Canada, and re-structurally engineer that, while also making sure that the MEP and everything is right when they’re doing the castings on-site.

“Even till today, we have meetings with Dubai Properties regarding some of the frontal elements of the project, the canopy, the lobby. They are still tweaking these elements because they want to be the best at market in 2019, not best at market when we won the competition in 2014.”

This is a continuous two-way dialogue between the EDGE and DP teams, he explains, with both sides continuing to do research and studies into how to improve every element of the tower, from wall materials through to furniture and fittings. The biggest challenge by far, though, has been to manage the location. Baerschmidt says the construction team knew from day one that they would be working with two very prestigious hotels on either side of the project. Therefore, it was essential to work with them from the start of construction.

“Dubai Contracting Company has been very good in doing the site set-up that we’re standing in right now, and logistically everyone sees JBR as this busy place, but during the working week, it’s actually not so busy. It’s very busy at nights, obviously, and in construction that’s sometimes an issue, but we have managed around the problem. I think it’s what most contractors have to deal with in most cities, to be honest.

“I’ve been in Dubai for nearly 21 years, it’s been a place where you can always find a lay-down area next door – but now, more and more, you’re crowded in between two other buildings and I think that’s starting to become the norm. You just have to get used to it,” he asserts.

Dubai Properties adds that it closely monitored the logistical challenges around the site, with schedules run tightly to ensure minimal disruption to the public and surrounding businesses.

“The contractor has had to pay close attention to the deliveries of materials, to keep noise to a minimum as well as not to increase the traffic in the area,” the developer says, adding that it was crucial for the team to find a balance around the construction site that would allow constant progress on the development while also taking into account the challenge of having only one main entrance/exit point.

“It was really difficult, actually,” Krasinki says. “It took us quite a while to even decide where we wanted to put the trailers [for the site offices]. But we got it resolved. It’s not the most elegant entry, but it works.”

Work on the 1/JBR site has been ongoing for the last two years, since the start of excavation and piling works with other subcontractors. When the programme was originally set, the original tender was for 900 days. That has since been extended to 960 days following discussions with all the tendering parties, says Baerschmidt.

This remains the target for DCC, and Dubai Properties asserts that the project remains on schedule for a finish in Q4 2019, adding that the contractor was chosen for its proven ability in following and meeting project schedules while also meeting expected industry standards. Furthermore, Baerschmidt expresses complete confidence in the contractor, highlighting that the constructions schedule has been well maintained, with workloads being closely managed.

“The contractor works what they believe are the right number of hours per week. They’re doing a good job; the team is here six days a week. Obviously, they need a little rest on public holidays and at times they inform us that they won’t be working – for instance, on January 1 they sent us a notice saying they wouldn’t be working due to the fireworks and other activities happening in JBR. But in general, they’re here early morning till late at night.”

Before the project even broke ground, management from Dubai Properties sat down with local authorities and neighbouring hotel management to explain the situation that could arise from the project and the effect it could have on the construction phase. By taking various stakeholders through the sequence of construction, work times and methodology and making them more aware of the project, the 1/JBR team are able to maintain communications with residents and hotel management, allowing advance notice to be given when heavy construction works are planned.

As part of this commitment to make as little impact as possible on the community and not cause too much traffic disruption, the team has ensured that most materials are stored on-site.

“Using state-of-the-art construction techniques and tools also allows Dubai Properties to self-monitor during the construction phase,” the developer says. “Noise monitoring sensors were installed around the site so that we could ensure that any work done at night would cause a minimal amount of noise. The hotels and residents were also given the ability to contact the project management team if the work on the site was too noisy during the night or during an event being held at the hotel.”

In order to ensure that the expected completion date is met, EDGE has also been playing an active role in leading the coordination and collaboration on-site, say Baerschmidt and Krasinki.

“It’s been quite smooth. There are always coordination issues, but we get them resolved quite quickly. We did the entire building in BIM, so there are far fewer clashes than there would be in a normal project. BIM is something that we use extensively. We adopted it five or six years ago and felt that we were early adopters. In fact, we made WSP work on this project in BIM. At that stage, in 2014, some firms were quite reluctant or not used to working with it,” the duo reveal.

“But I always recall the best meeting I had, where I saw nearly a thousand MEP drawings and walked through them with the DP management. The MEP manager walked through the BIM model and said, ‘We’re okay. We can see from the BIM model in one hour that a thousand drawings are coordinated and that we have no clashes,’” says Baerschmidt.

“That’s how we work on the design side. On the site, there’s a lot more hard copy which is still hand marked up, and we’re okay with that. The process works, the product is getting built and to the end user, there’s no difference whether it’s hard copy or BIM.”

In addition to the use of construction technology, a strong emphasis is put on communication and collaboration between all stakeholders. In order to achieve this, the developer has assigned a project management team to 1/JBR, to create a detailed target schedule of construction, it tells Big Project ME.

“This work is done before the contractor is active on-site, as it gives the team time to set up and to track the progress of the project. The project management team is an important and necessary component to each Dubai Property building, and it ensures that contractors and consultants are all up to date on a project.”

The developer also worked with Dubai Municipality and the RTA to help alleviate the risk of traffic problems by creating an extra exit from Mamsha Street to allow trucks to head straight back towards Dubai Media City, rather than along JBR.

“The relationship with DCC is fantastic. We have telephone conversations with their management regularly, and we go to meetings with them, Dubai Properties and North25, as well,” Baerschmidt adds, citing an example of when DCC were coming up out of the ground and they felt they could make some column and wall thickness changes that suited them for their construction. By allowing the contractor the freedom to make these changes, the lead consultant ensured that everybody would benefit – from either a time saving or cost perspective – and that the project would continue to progress smoothly.

As the tour comes to a close, both Baerschmidt and Krasinki reflect on the impact 1/JBR will have once completed. Calling it a labour of love, both insist that from a professional and personal point of view, this project is the pinnacle of their careers.

“This is definitely the top project for me right now. We started off with the concept of clarity, minimalism and peace, and we still have that,” Krasinki says. “We like to do things in a minimalist way, and that leads to all sorts of other things. It’s a reflection of my own philosophy. You need to be calm. Situations change and we duck left and right, we go wherever we need to go. We work it out.”


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