Site visit: Viceroy Dubai Jumeirah Village

A tour of the under-construction mixed-use project by SKAI Real Estate Development

PHOTO: BIM was used to build the entire model of the Viceroy Dubai Jumeirah Village project. Credit:

“Do you know what the most precious thing in Dubai is?” asks Nabil Akiki as he settles down for a chat with Big Project ME in his offices at the construction site for the Viceroy Dubai Jumeirah Village project. “It’s the sun. We’re living in a city in which the most precious thing is the sun. This is something a European friend of mine told me. Imagine how simple this is. But to see and enjoy the sun, you need to have an outdoor space.”

This simple observation reveals the inspiration behind the SKAI Real Estate Development project in Dubai, which is impressive for its sheer audacity, if nothing else. Envisioned as a 60-storey tower that will house serviced apartments, residences and a five-star luxury hotel run by the Viceroy Hotel Group, what really makes the project stand out is its extraordinary design.

IN PICTURES: Viceroy Dubai Jumeirah Village under construction

As Akiki, a trained architect and the CEO of SKAI Real Estate Development, explains, the concept comes from his desire to create a building that marries the functionality of a city apartment with the sense of freedom and space of a countryside villa.

“I was brought up in a mountain village in Lebanon. I used to live there for three months of the year, during the summertime. It was an outdoor space. We used to entertain, cook, sleep and play outdoors. You had the horizon open to you, mountains to climb and beautiful views. From there, I could even see the Mediterranean.

“But from September each year, we would have to go back to Beirut and live in an apartment, so that we could go to university, to school. We had to live there, because the mountain was very tough to live on in winter,” he recollects.

“I had both experiences, and the contrast between having that open space in the summer, and an enclosed space in a congested city like Beirut, made me ask myself how I could compensate and have the same luxury of an outdoor space that would allow me to enjoy the sun and the weather in a city. That was my motivation and inspiration behind this concept.”

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Of course, it wasn’t easy to do, as Akiki freely acknowledges. Having envisioned a tower that rotates by 30 degrees on each floor, integrates sky gardens and offers all-around views, while making use of natural ventilation and cooling, he and his team at SKAI Real Estate Development were now faced with the task of actually building it.

“I remember the first time I did the model, it was just on a small piece of cardboard so that I could explain what was on my mind. When I showed it to a consultant, they said, ‘That’s impossible. We can’t do this!’ “They were telling me that while they fully respected what I wanted to do, it was very challenging and that it wasn’t possible, and so on.”

Undeterred, he and his team went back to the drawing board, refining the concept through many rounds of revision, figuring out how to resolve mechanical, electrical and plumbing issues and actually make it a viable project. To assist, SKAI Holdings, parent company of SKAI Real Estate Development, eventually appointed renowned global consultancy Atkins as lead designer of the project.

IN PICTURES: Viceroy Dubai Jumeirah Village under construction

“In a normal building, you have your shaft and all your bathrooms one on top of the other. This is the conventional way of doing things. But when you have a rotating and revolving apartment, then you don’t have bathrooms in the same location, nor do you have the kitchens [aligned]. You don’t even have the shaft.

“That’s why we had to convert them to the core – to the centre – of the building, where we have the staircase and the elevators. Then we run them vertically, but from there to the apartment it’s horizontal, below the slabs. There were challenges, but with the efforts of the consultant and our in-house team, we’ve managed to overcome all of this, and you can now see the beauty of the concept.”

In fact, SKAI is so confident about the viability and success of the design and concept, they have had it globally patented in 168 countries.

The tower consists of 234 hotel rooms, with 13 suites. It also has 117 two-bedroom apartments and 104 one-bed apartments, and 33 larger units with four bedrooms each. These are spread across the top 11 floors of the building, and come with a large garden area and a terrace. In total, the building will have 45,450sqm of landscaped gardens, with a total of 271 swimming pools.

In addition, deep soil beds will be placed in every apartment, allowing trees to be grown at a height of 270m. Ground and podium levels will have dining venues and all the required amenities of a five-star hotel. The building has been designed with a distinctive ‘star-wing’ design, with the floor plans consisting of three wings. The total area of the site is 6,000sqm, and the total built-up area, once complete, will be 150,000sqm.

IN PICTURES: Viceroy Dubai Jumeirah Village under construction

With consensus reached on the design and engineering of the building, appointing the right contractor for the project was the next crucial step. Luckily, this was easily resolved through the appointment of China State Construction Engineering Corporation (Middle East), the developer’s longstanding partner on several projects in Dubai. Having worked together on the Viceroy Dubai Palm Jumeirah, the two companies have a close relationship and mutual trust, which made the contractor the perfect partner for such a complex and demand construction project.

“For China State, this is our second investment in a project. The first one was the Viceroy Palm Jumeirah. We joined this project not just as a contractor, but as a partner. We’ve also invested in this project and we’re actually shareholders. We’re partners with the client for this project, we’re not just working as a contractor,” says Andy Zhao, China State’s project director for the Suites in the SKAI project.

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Working on a similar basis to the Viceroy Palm Jumeirah project, China State Construction Engineering Corp (Middle East) has come on board as a key investor and contractor. The contractor has a small percentage of equity stake, with SKAI holding the majority of the equity stake for the development.

As Akiki explains it, the decision to bring China State on board as an investment partner was an easy one, as it meant the developer had a contractor whose interests were perfectly aligned with its own – the minimisation of costs.

Zhao adds that coming on board is part of China State’s development strategy. With tourism in Dubai continuing to have a positive outlook, the contractor believes that investing in high-profile and high-quality projects will garner significant rewards.

“The company believes that this is a very good project and we believe that Jumeriah Village Circle has a lot of potential as an upcoming area,” he says. “We have a very close relationship with SKAI Holdings from the Viceroy Palm Jumeriah.

“That project was very good, and as far as I know, the sales have been very good in the market. So that’s good for both China State and SKAI Holdings. This is why we decided to continue the relationship to finance this second project.”

IN PICTURES: Viceroy Dubai Jumeirah Village under construction

China State’s stake in the project also helped secure the necessary funding for the project, says Akiki. With construction expected to cost $150 million, financing was obtained through a consortium of banks, including three from China.

“For Chinese government banks, they have a lot more trust in dealing with a Chinese company that is well established and also a governmental company,” he points out. “This formula was very beneficial for all parties and puts us all in an aligned interest perspective to do not only this project, but we’ve also started two other buildings in Jumeirah Village together. They’re the contractor on them. The prospects are open for many more projects to come in the near future. It’s still under discussion, but we have very promising developments in the pipeline, which we’ll announce in time.”

For now, though, the focus is firmly on the Viceroy Dubai Jumeirah Village project. When Big Project ME visited the site, construction work was in full swing, with the raft having been completed and work on the first above-ground levels begun.

“Piling work had already started at the end of last year. But for structural work, as China State, we came on board in early June. As part of the current plan, we’re looking at the end of 2017 for only this tower,” says Andy Zhao.

“The challenging points for this project, from a construction point of view, is first of all the time schedule. It’s very tight. We roughly calculate that there’s less than 20 months for structural work. That’s just over one and a half years. You need to finish the big raft, plus complete the entire structure, in less than 20 months. That’s a very tight schedule.

“The end date of 2017 includes everything. It’s 20 months for the structure, and another 10 months for MEP, interiors and fit-out. But that overlaps, and it’s very challenging work.”

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The raft was completed successfully early in September 2015, and in many ways it was a spectacular feat of engineering and planning by the entire construction team. Not only did they have a single pour of 11,000m3, they also cast for almost 32 hours continuously.

The raft itself included 16 layers of rebar, amounting to 3,500 tonnes, and at certain points had a thickness of up to 9 metres, Zhao says. And that wasn’t even the most challenging part of the job.

“When we cast the raft, there was not a lot of wiggle room. We had every truck coordinated from the entrance of Jumeriah Village Circle, not even the entrance of the site. It was coordinated from the point where it had to arrive. Every truck had a number, so it would know where it was going,” relates Youssef Romanos, technical manager – Engineering Department for CSCEC (ME).

“Every pump, every truck was coordinated, and we knew exactly where each one was, and at what location. We had to know their every move, because there was no space [around the site]. This was planned months ahead, so we had no surprises. We were casting 11,000 cubic metres, we couldn’t afford to have any surprises!

“We planned it to the minute. Unibeton was the supplier, so we coordinated with them, we had people on every crossing of the rounds – this truck goes there, this truck goes there and so on. We had, in total, nine pumps around the site.”

IN PICTURES: Viceroy Dubai Jumeirah Village under construction

To carry out such a complex task on time, the contractor had to get night work permits to carry out two shifts per day. They also used two luffing cranes and mobile cranes to help shift material, in addition to 650 labourers working around the clock.

With work on the ground levels in progress, Zhao and his team have already begun mapping out the construction of the higher levels, in collaboration with Atkins and the SKAI Real Estate in-house team.

“Another challenge is the design complexity. This tower is a special design. Mr Akiki initiated the idea – each floor rotates 30 degrees. Each unit has a fantastic view. In a traditional building, the view is usually from one or at the most two sides. Here, every unit has a view from three sides. It’s really fantastic,” Zhao enthuses.

“But this design causes much complexity for construction. Because it’s turning, even the so called typical floor is not the same design for each floor. Also, the levels are different, so you have unique designed table formwork for each floor. Usually, for traditional towers, the back propping is not more than two floors, but we have to have it at four floors, because there are openings due to the turning of the floor slab.”

In order to achieve the design of the building, the engineers on the project have decided to use a central core with outrigger beams protruding, taking the weight of the units being built and allowing the construction of Akiki’s vision, as Romanos explains.

“You’ve seen the slab rotating 30 degrees on every floor. When it’s rotating, there are outrigger beams that are rotating with it. There are slabs that are rotating. So the formwork of the core itself, at every level, the formwork is turning.

“At the connection between the outrigger beams and the core walls, you’ve got a deep column. That’s also changing, and that’s only on one level. If you look at the 3D model of the core itself, you have a cylinder with columns protruding out and rotating every floor, so the jumping form of the core is extremely difficult.

“Then you have the challenge of reinforcement of the outrigger beams, which are changing at every level, and then you have the slab itself. The formwork of the slab, because it’s rotating, the key is to find a typical form that – even when it’s changing – can cope with it.”

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MEP systems are another major challenge, as Akiki has alluded to earlier. Given the rotation of the building, Atkins’ engineers have already done the coordination between the MEP systems and the structure, says the China State duo.

“It’s extremely hard, even the slabs have, in some places, 15-metre spans, and it’s very shallow post-tensioning. You can’t just put an opening wherever you want for the MEP. Atkins have already done the coordination themselves, and have assigned MEP openings, so we’ll have to trust that at this point, and hope that we won’t have any problems.”

Understandably, given the complexity and time sensitivity of the project, CSCEC (ME) is keen to avoid costly errors during the construction process. As a result, the team has invested heavily in Building Information Modelling (BIM), to exactly map out and plan the entirety of the project.

“[Having the rotating floors] is why we have BIM technology on this project,” says Andy Zhao. “At the beginning we built a 3D model, and to assist us we built a formwork system, and also a system that designs the MEP, the architecture and the structural coordination. It’s quite important!”

“We used BIM to build the entire model of the project, and now we can identify any discrepancies. It also helps us visualise [the construction]. Otherwise, it would have been difficult. But now we can visualise it on the computer and design the formwork and other systems.”

“For every floor, we put in the framework and started rotating it,” chimes in Romanos. “And with every rotation, we found the adjustment it needs to carry the double height and triple height floors. In some places, the openings are turning, and in other places, they’re not turning enough. So you’ve got double and triple heights, and we ended up having tables on four or five levels. This was really a challenge.”

Despite the numerous challenges and technical difficulties this project poses, Nabil Akiki has no doubt about its importance, not just as a business venture for SKAI Real Estate Development, but for the wider construction industry in Dubai.

IN PICTURES: Viceroy Dubai Jumeirah Village under construction

For all its complexity, the project’s design has a number of sustainable and environmental benefits. Having received permits to build without height limitations, Akiki and his team were able to expand the construction vertically and create a building that he likens to a “breathing sponge”.

“We’ve done, in collaboration with the consultant, a lot of studies for the air circulation – how the ventilation is happening all over this rotating void. The results are amazing. The temperature is cooled by one to two degrees by the natural ventilation of the building.

“Lighting is another benefit. There’s natural lighting coming in. You have daylight, but it’s not direct sunlight. [Look at] the benefits of these elements – natural light, ventilation and also the quantity of the gardens. If you take the sum of all the gardens in the building and you spread them out, it’s bigger than a park! It’s a vertical park that has been built into a building. It’s like merging conventional residential apartments into a park. That’s what the green regulations everywhere look for,” he asserts.

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Given the odds faced by the entire team in bringing this hugely impressive project to life, it’s fair to ask if at any point they ever thought it would not actually come to fruition.

“No, never,” is the categorical response from Akiki. “I was fully convinced – from the first moment – that it was doable, being a developer and an architect with more than 20 years of experience.”

“This is not the first time we’re exploring the outdoor space. If you see the project on the Palm, the outdoor space is very visible and it constitutes a major part of the design. Also, in Jumeriah Village, there are three or four buildings that are purely residential, and the optimisation of the outdoor space is there as well.

“It’s always been on my mind, and I’ve carried it through all the designs that we do as developers. But with this concept, I felt that ‘Yes, I’ve done it’. Before, it was like they were trials, but in this one, it’s happened. When I saw it materialised in a small model in my hands, I was pretty sure about it!”

Project stats

Project Name: Viceroy Dubai Jumeirah Village
Project Developer: SKAI Real Estate Development
Project Contractor: China State Construction Engineering Corporation (ME)
Construction cost: $150 million
Total area: 6,000sqm
Total built-up area: 150,000sqm
Height: 60 storeys
Project Type: Mixed-use hospitality and residential

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