An exclusive tour of Deira Islands with Shatha Al Suwaidi, director of Infrastructure Projects at Nakheel
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Earlier this year, Nakheel, a Dubai-based master developer, released its financial results for the first quarter of 2018. Chairman Ali Rashid Lootah hailed an impressive start to the year, with a net profit of $420 million.
Since the start of the year, the company has signed construction contracts worth $1.36bn, including a $1.14bn contract for Deira Mall at Deira Islands and a $105m contract for its first joint venture on the same project – an 800-room beachfront hotel and waterpark with Spain’s RIU Hotels and Resorts.
Deira Islands figures prominently in the developer’s thoughts, with the massive master project seeing numerous multi-million-dollar contracts awarded over the course of the last year. These included four contracts worth a collective $117m for infrastructure projects around Islands A and B: a sewage treatment plant, a district cooling plant, a substation and piling work for the resort. At the time, Nakheel said it had invested more than $2bn in infrastructure and construction contracts for Deira Islands.
Almost a year down the line, work on these infrastructure projects is now in full swing, and Big Project ME was invited on an exclusive tour of the works with Shatha Al Suwaidi, director of Infrastructure Projects at Nakheel Projects Construction.
“We’ve completed Stage One of infrastructure works, which is two lanes of the main road around the island and the successful completion of the sewage network,” she relates during a drive around the various projects. “Stage Two has started already. We’re progressing a lot on this side. We’ve had the asphalt laying done, and our milestone is to finish the infrastructure near the Night Market first, since it’s the first retail project to be launched – it’s due for completion towards the end of this year.”
She explains that as master developer, Nakheel has been involved with the infrastructure works project right from the beginning, taking it from planning to design with the infrastructure consultants, all the way through to the tender process and the hiring of the contractor.
“Our role is to monitor and supervise the construction activities on the site and manage the coordination with the authorities involved, and to make sure that the right specifications are used, along with monitoring quality assurance. We also coordinate with other departments in Nakheel.”
“There’s a lot of construction happening now, and a lot of contractors involved. The coordination with these people has increased on a technical level. That’s because we’re doing the infrastructure work, and the infrastructure is going all around the island”
On a day-to-day basis, Suwaidi explains that Nakheel has to deal with the contractors and the ongoing projects around the island, while also ensuring that the crucial infrastructure work continues without hindrance.
“For Stage Two, there are a lot of people on-site. There’s a lot of construction happening now, and a lot of contractors involved. The coordination with these people has increased on a technical level. That’s because we’re doing the infrastructure work, and the infrastructure is going all around the island. Because of that, there’s a lot of coordination happening with the Nakheel team and the hired contractors from the third-party developers.
“You need to face these people and coordinate with them. Sometimes we close roads and have to do diversions around the island, so we need to inform them, for example. There’s a lot of coordination that has to happen around us, that’s the main challenge for us.”
Given the developer’s strong background in building communities, Suwaidi asserts that Nakheel will leverage this experience on the project works at Deira Islands, pointing to the company’s track record over the years.
“We’re used to building communities, we have this relationship with people and with residents around projects. Most of our projects are in communities where people are living and working. We’re used to having this coordination with different stakeholders around, as well as coordination with third-party developers. We’re open to suggestions, and we try to make sure that everything is in line without disturbing whoever is around.
“With Deira Islands specifically, there are still no residents around, it’s only developers and construction crews, so it’ll be a little bit easier than our other projects,” she states confidently.
From a personal point of view, Suwaidi sees this project as an important milestone in her career with Nakheel. Having started out seven years ago as a road engineer, she has progressed through the ranks to her present role. However, despite her rapid rise, she says the Deira Island project has taught her many valuable lessons along the way.
“I started as a road engineer with Deira Islands. Then when it stopped (and subsequently restarted), I felt that this was a new challenge and that I had to prove myself all over again. I was very happy to be a part of the team working on Deira Islands again, it felt like my own project coming back to life!
“That was on a personal level, but career-wise, it was a new challenge and it was a new Nakheel project. I had to prove myself and make sure that everything was delivered on time. That’s exactly what happened with Stage One of the infrastructure works. We delivered it ahead of time, and we’re now trying to do the same with Stage Two, despite the challenges we’re facing.”
Combining both labourer and staff figures across the master development, Suwaidi says there are more than 4,000 people on-site, with numbers increasing by the day as projects pick up pace and come online. As such, a key component of the project management been the logistical management of the site, she explains.
“We have a security point at the entrance – this is under Nakheel’s security and logistics department. We coordinate with them to facilitate the way construction trucks move in and out, as well as the timings and the gate passes, in case of anyone visiting the site. We have regular coordination meetings, processes, forms and such to be filled out, so as to make sure that everything is manoeuvring in the right direction.”
Furthermore, with the summer work restrictions in place and ongoing Ramadan regulations, the team has had to manage the construction programme so as to ensure that work continues according to schedule while also respecting the worker health and safety laws in place.
“We plan for it from early on, while doing the programme of construction. There’s a plan that’s been previously done and studied, in order to compensate for all these phases in the timing of the schedule. We try to overcome it later, after all these restrictions have eased. Sometimes we’ll need to do a night shift to overcome these delays, but it depends on the urgency of the project. Sometimes we’ll do two shifts, and sometimes it’s just one.
“It also depends on the contractor, about how he plans to recover later. If he thinks it’s fine, then it’s fine. But if he feels that we’re going to be short on time or delayed, then we’ll do it in two shifts,” she outlines.
Health and safety is also an important aspect of the project for Suwaidi and her six-person Nakheel team, and their responsibilities on-site include constant monitoring and management of worker welfare.
“We do daily visits and daily reports. What we do is, even when we’re driving around in the car, if we see something – like if the workers aren’t wearing safety gear, or if there isn’t enough shade or water supply – then we have to check it. We check on break timings, we discuss that and other things on a weekly basis during our progress meetings.
“We also have the Nakheel safety department, who come and manoeuvre around all the construction sites. If there’s something we didn’t see or highlight, they’ll report back to us. We take this very seriously. We work in a very hot and humid climate, and we have to make sure that everything is covered, from water supply through to shade – whether it’s mini shades or the main resting hubs for the labourers, which are fully equipped with ACs. In cases of emergency, we have ambulances around (for a quick response).”
Finally, with regard to technology, Suwaidi admits that while software such as BIM isn’t used on the project, they do use Primavera in conjunction with the consultant. From an engineering point of view, however, she reveals that vibro-compaction has played a big part in the preparation work on-site.
At present, groundwork and vibro-compaction is underway for Deira Mall, Deira Towers, and the two resorts, she adds.
“Vibro-compaction is because we’re on an island and it’s a way of improving the soil. It’s done to avoid cracks and things like that. There are some tests that usually happen prior to construction, and depending on the soil test results, it tells you what type of measures need to be taken. This is why there are some areas that need to be vibro-compacted more than others. It depends on the nature of the soil.
“[Once excavation works begin], we do dewatering, just to make sure that such things like water ingress don’t happen on-site. We take that into consideration while tendering is happening, that this is an island and that there might be some challenges. That’s why we hire professional people to take care of such things. And in case these challenges show up on-site while construction is happening, we take certain measures to handle them,” she concludes.