Site visit: One Central, Dubai

Big Project ME takes an exclusive tour of phase two of the Dubai World Trade Centre expansion project

Back in the 1970s, Dubai was far from the bustling metropolis it is today. The city was centred around the creek that sustained its trade and livelihood, with the majority of business and commercial activities taking place in the neighbourhoods of Deira and Bur Dubai.

However, the late Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, realised that in order for the emirate to grow and become a major centre for the regional and international economy, as he envisioned, there needed to be more than what existed. Thus, he commissioned the building of the city’s very first major high-rise business centre – the Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC) building – hoping to attract international businesses to a free zone that offered the best commercial and business services in the region.

Inaugurated in 1979 by the visiting Queen Elizabeth, the tower was initially met with scepticism, as many early residents and observers doubted whether companies and organisations would see the value in relocating to an area that had literally nothing around it.

Despite these early doubts, the 149m, 39-storey tower – in later years renamed the Sheikh Rashid Tower – very quickly became a symbol of Dubai’s ambitions, with a number of overseas businesses setting up shop within its premises, starting with British oil giant BP.

In the years since that humble beginning, DWTC and the area around it has grown in size and significance to become more than just a place for companies to operate out of. Sheikh Zayed Road is now one of the most recognisable thoroughfares in the world, while the DIFC and Emirates Towers are iconic landmarks in their own right.

As Dubai continued to grow, so did DWTC. Over time, the single tower complex expanded to become the city’s premier exhibition and trade show venue, with exhibitors and organisations using the space to bring the world to Dubai, and vice versa. Over the years, there have been numerous additions and inclusions, with exhibition halls and arenas being built, along with several commercial buildings to accommodate the growing demand.


In 2006, however, that expansion stepped up a notch, with DWTC appointing Hopkins Architects and WSP (now WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff) to draw up plans for an expansion of the complex, comprising 2,000 apartments and 250,000sqm of office space with shops and car parks. The overall development would have a total gross floor area of 535,000sqm, DWTC said at the time.

Plans for the expansion were progressing well, with ALEC being awarded a $925.7 million contract in 2008, but with the financial crisis hitting the Dubai economy, things went awry rather suddenly, with the contractor told to stop work on the project in 2009.

However, this was never a long-term solution, since groundworks and construction on the lower levels were already underway. As such, in 2014 DWTC awarded Al Futtaim Carillion (AFC) a $115.3 million contract to build the first phase of the expansion, now named One Central.

Phase one of the development involved the construction of an office block and a hotel. Work on this contract was completed in 2015, with DWTC saying the office tower has had a very positive reception from the market, as it is almost at full occupancy within a year of opening. Blue-chip tenants include law firm Pinsent Masons and oilfield services firm Schlumberger.

Work on phase two of the project is now underway, with AFC awarded the $196.3 million contract to build two office blocks by the third or fourth quarter of 2017. With construction progressing rapidly, Big Project Middle East was invited to tour the site and see how work is progressing on this prestige project.

“The whole development is named as One Central. We have delivered phase one on time in 2015 December, which is the 588-room hotel operated by IBIS and a LEED Gold status A grade office space, which also incorporates retail and F&B outlets, with a total built-up area of 126,000 sqm,” says Anil Kumar, project director for Al Futtaim Carillion, speaking at the contractor’s site offices.

“We have also negotiated and been awarded phase two in 2015 November, which is two buildings called C2 and C4 and a link building between C2 and C4 offices at ground floor. C2 comprises of five basements, ground floor, 12 office floors and two plant rooms at roof (19 floors), while C4 will have eight office floors with other similar arrangements of C2 (15 floors). This is an overall area of 176,000 sqm.”

Kumar adds that the project is being financed through a loan arranged by Deutsche Bank, backed by UK Export Finance (UKEF), a British government branch that aims to boost exports. This loan was the first made by UKEF through a direct lending initiative launched by the British government.

He adds that phase three of the project – buildings C3 and C5 – is currently tendering, with AFC having submitted its documents for the project.

“The C3 and C5 buildings are similar to C2 and C4. C5 includes four basements and 19 floors, while C3 is 15 floors. Together, they are over 183,000sqm, which is slightly larger than phase two. The reason for that is because phase three has a car park extension which comes together and joins with the buildings.”

While phase two is expected to finish late in 2017, phase three is pencilled in to be finished by December 2018.

Also in the planning is a theatre and residential apartments.

“The location of this place is key to Dubai,” says Gary White, director at Hopkins Architects. “It’s a highly sought after place, as we’re located between Emirates Towers and one of the biggest exhibition venues in the Middle East. So the location, location, location thing is very important, and it is used as one of the drivers to stimulate the development.”

“It becomes a destination. It’s not just an office, but a place to live and work, whilst also offering leisure activity from the restaurants and retail outlets being offered. The pending theatre is part of the master development as well and offers further leisure and entertainment opportunities. It therefore becomes a 24-hour destination, not just a place to go and work for eight to ten hours a day.

“For the future, it is anticipated that there will be provision for apartments and further hotels, so that will enrich the current mixed-use offerings.

“There are key views within the design that allow links to Emirates Towers, for example. We’ve designed it in such a way that the buildings step up from the front, because we have to maintain the view corridor from the DIFC Gate to Sheikh Rashid Tower. It has been very well thought out and it has gone through various stages and iterations to get it right.”


White adds that once complete, the development’s buildings will be in scale with the surrounding areas, with the space between the buildings creating well thought out walkways, landscaped areas and naturally shaded spaces to encourage the smooth flow of pedestrians and the continued use of the spaces.

All of this is in the future, however. The focus for now is on the construction of phase two – buildings C2 and C4 – says Kumar. “We have completed 35% of the project, as per the schedule. Actually, we’re at 38%, which is ahead of the programme. For phase two, we have completed the structure two months ahead of the programme.”

Kumar puts this rapid pace of progress down to the strong culture of collaboration on the project. With more than 2,000 workers on-site, working around the clock in two shifts, he explains that all the project stakeholders also make sure they’re available 24/7.

“The good thing with the client and the consultant on this project is that they’re approachable 24 hours a day. There’s no restriction on us contacting them. We can call at any time, and they’re very keen to sort out [the issue]. The client [DWTC] and consultant were always one step ahead, compared to some of the other projects I’ve worked on.”

While the buildings themselves do not pose significant engineering challenges, both White and Kumar say issues needed to be overcome. They credit the early establishment of communication channels and a detailed planning process for being able to overcome these challenges, as Kumar explains.

“There is restricted traffic on the roads between 6:30am and 8:30am in the morning, and 6:30pm and 8:30pm in the evening, so at these times we aren’t able to do any concreting works or delivery of materials, because the road is blocked. So we’ve very clearly planned around these times, while our deliveries are also adjusted. We have a weekly projection for our deliveries, and we have daily coordination with our suppliers and subcontractors to make sure that there won’t be any impact on their vehicles or on the project.”

All of this is coordinated with the logistics controller for the project, Kumar says, adding that AFC has actually allocated a specialist coordinator to manage these things on a day-to-day basis, a lesson learnt from phase one.

Another challenge was the pre-existing work done prior to construction being halted. Both White and Kumar explain that not only did they have to ensure it was up to the mark when it came to strength and engineering requirements, they also had to make sure it met current standards.

“One of the main challenges we faced when we restarted again in 2014 were the changes to various regulations, particularly relating to MEP, Dubai Municipality and Civil Defence, since 2009. That proved very difficult to accommodate in certain elements because we already had large parts of the basements built, and fitting new requirements into already constructed headroom spaces became a big challenge,” White says.

Kumar adds that phase two construction also had to deal with the issue of noise restrictions, due to the presence of an operating hotel right next to the site. Furthermore, with exhibitions and events going on year-round, care has to be taken to ensure minimal disruption of operations at the venue.

White affirms that there has been a strong sense of collaboration throughout the project, and says that as the architect and lead consultant of the project, Hopkins considers it vital to work with the stakeholders to ensure a successful outcome for the project, while also making sure the client’s vision is fulfilled.

“What we didn’t want to do was change too many things. That would have opened up a different can of worms. The first phase was a big learning curve for all of us. We all learnt from that. Phase two is slightly different because we don’t have a hotel, but that brings with it a different set of challenges and parameters,” he tells Big Project ME.

“But everything is going well and on time. The quality of the workmanship is better and it is better planned in the contractor’s approach, in terms of how they are sequencing things. It’s not just the main contractor, but the subcontractors also, which is good. It is really a whole collaborative thing.

“That doesn’t mean that AFC won’t come and ask us if they can do something differently. If we think that it can help us, the contractor and the project, then we have no problems with it. But equally, we’re very precious about what we want to see. So it’s part of the process that we have to go through, but generally, overall, the learning curve we’ve gone through on phase one has stood us in good stead, and you can see the result of that now,” he asserts.

One engineering challenge was the development of the formwork systems. With the buildings changing in profile from level six upwards, the team realised they would need to change it at every level as they went higher. In order to resolve the issue before it became something to worry about, Kumar says that AFC approached Peri, the formwork supplier, to finalise a formwork system – along with the support of AFC’s temporary works design team – suitable for the team on-site to alter as they ascended.

“The design information was forwarded to Peri, who is the main designer [of the formwork], and we had a collaborative workshop in the beginning, to plan out how we can avoid the issues that cause additional time, rework and so on. This worked really well, and it was because of the long relationship we’ve had with Peri. That made our life a little bit easier, and the lessons learned will be utilised by us when and if we go to phase three.”

Another engineering challenge was that there are four atrium skylight beams to construct in the project, Kumar says. This meant the contractor had to work with Carillion’s UK-based design team, who have a temporary works department to check all the Class ‘A’ (high risk) temporary work design and approve it to assure its safety, while other Class ‘B’ and ‘C’ design (medium and low risk) were checked and approved by the temporary work department at the Dubai office.

“We have a good design team in the UK and Dubai, which has a temporary works department. They were very involved with us, together with the site team. We initially had two or three workshops to design a cost-effective design solution to build the atriums.

“Also, we had to consider that the primary objective was safety – more than anything. The team worked with us to develop a system without compromising on any of the safety aspects. We changed the design in two stages to make it work. We have four atriums [to build], and we’ve built two of them. We’ve planned it in such a way that we’ll build two atriums first, then the same materials will be used for the remaining two.

“The planning was well thought out from the beginning, and we’ve achieved that perfectly on-site by doing the exact thing that we planned. Plus, we’ve got a very good planning and construction team, whose inputs are considered, along with the temporary works design team,” Kumar relates.

It’s no surprise to hear that Kumar and his team place health and safety at the top of their priority list. Al Futtaim Carillion has worked hard to establish a reputation as a contractor that views safety as paramount.

With more than 2,000 operatives on-site, along with 50 to 60 engineers (working across two shifts on a 24-hour cycle), Kumar says HSE is taken very seriously indeed on the One Central project, as it is on any AFC site.

“Health and safety has always remained a primary objective for AFC. Voltas who were our nominated MEP sub contractor in DWTC phase one works were again nominated by DWTC for carrying out phase two works. The experience and knowledge gained by Voltas while working under AFC’s Health & Safety policies were quite useful in managing them for phase two works.

“Kumar explains that AFC works with its subcontractors as a team. With quality job delivery and good safety culture depending on all parties collaborating, it makes sense to support subcontractors. “If they have a failure, then there’s an open discussion and we sort it out” he insists.

“We’ve had a few subcontractors in the past that are not up to the level in terms of Health & Safety so we have not used them for phase two,” he says. “We’ve not considered the ones we could not improve. Most of the subcontractors – those who are keen on safety and who work with us – they are considered and we give them training.

“It’s all about their involvement and intention, if their intention is good, then we’re happy to train them. If their intention is not to follow our safety procedures, then we can’t (work with them),” Kumar states bluntly.

“Of course, sometimes, if a new contractor comes in, we’ll face some difficulties. But we have an in-house training system for safety, plus we train subcontractors for any specific tasks or oriented works. Because of that, it takes a while for them to settle in with us, but after a couple of months, it goes smoothly, he says, concluding the tour.

Clearly then, DWTC’s expansion plans for the One Central development are in very safe hands.

Project Value: $196.3 million (phase two only)
Project Start: November 2015
Project Finish: September 2017
Scheduled Duration: 98 Weeks
Main Contractor: Al Futtaim Carillion
Lead Consultant and Architect: Hopkins Architects
Consultant: WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff
Client: Dubai World Trade Centre
Project Area: 176,000sqm (Phase Two only)
Current Status: Phase two under construction
MEP contractor: Voltas Limited
Formwork: Peri
Cost Management Consultant: Mace

Gurjit Singh, senior vice-president – Real Estate at Dubai World Trade Centre, sits down for a brief chat with Big Project Middle East:

What are your thoughts about the overall impact of the One Central expansion?
This is a destination. The Dubai World Trade Centre itself is a key component of the overall GDP contribution to Dubai and a major economic multiplier.

Our development here – the One Central development – is mixed-use in nature and it will bring across both commercial entities, as well as hospitality and residential entities, to complement the entire CBD destination positioning.

What has the response to the expansion been like from the market?
The impact of phase one has been very positive. Phase two is following up with that positive impact quite nicely. It is currently ahead of schedule, and we’re targeting completion in the fourth quarter of 2017.

We’re in active participation with the market to lease the property out as well. There is a growing interest in phase two as there is a dearth of grade A office property, with only few locations able to offer that. The fact that we’re part of this very strong CBD location means that it’s a choice location for people to be here.

Why did you choose Al Futtaim Carillion as the main contractor for this project?
We needed an entity that would be able to deliver for us a product that is of very high quality. That is what we find in AFC.

The phase one project that was delivered was of a very high standard. That in turn translates into the attractiveness of the property for office tenants that have come, for a lot of the guests who stay in the IBIS at One Central.

Our involvement on an ongoing basis at the property relates a lot to the health and safety aspects, and we’re very happy with the fact that there is an inclusive approach by AFC to involve its operatives to take ownership of the development by awarding or recognising them for the health and safety work that they do. That is an extremely important thing, and it is sometimes a rarity with big contractors and their delivery partners.

Furthermore, they have – together with us – taken the lead with regards to efforts related to sustainability. There are a number of sustainability efforts on-site and that provides a tick for us every time we talk about sustainability – whether it’s pre-project, during construction or after it’s completed. It all adds up to the LEED Gold rating that we’re looking for.

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