ASGC and HPBS on creating and building Dubai’s new state-of-the-art multi-purpose arena
Dubai has always strived to position itself as a city where the world’s biggest stars come to perform and showcase their talents. Whether it’s Ed Sheeran, Elton John or Maroon 5, or a range of sub-continental and Arab artists, the city has offered them venues for packed-out shows and performances.
However, rather unusually, while the number of concerts and events in the city has continued to grow, there remains a lack of suitable venues to host large numbers of people. Concerts and shows have been most commonly held in makeshift spaces with temporary stages and stands, often out in the open and exposed to the elements.
This is clearly unsustainable, particularly with the costs and risks associated with such ad-hoc measures. For years, shows featuring some of the biggest entertainers in the world have been held in hastily erected temporary structures, or in modified auditoriums and exhibition halls.
Given these limitations, it came as no surprise when Meraas, a Dubai-based real estate developer, announced that it would be developing a state-of-the-art multi-purpose arena in its newly developed CityWalk neighbourhood.
Spanning half a million square metres, the Coca-Cola Arena, as it is now known following a naming rights deal with the soft-drink giant, is Dubai’s first indoor multi-purpose arena. Capable of holding 17,000 people, the arena had its launch event on June 6, with Canadian comedian Russell Peters bringing his Deported world tour to Dubai. A week later, the venue hosted its first musical concert, with US rock band Maroon 5 playing to a full house.
With the two events firmly establishing the Coca-Cola Arena as the city’s most impressive event space, Big Project ME spoke with the contractor, ASGC, to understand how such a complex project was delivered on time, despite the many challenges encountered along the way.
“Doing a design and build project is always exciting for us at ASGC. It allows us to really utilise our full breadth of talent and capabilities,” says Raouf Ezzat, operations director at ASGC. “Moreover, by doing both the design and build, we were able to achieve a major time reduction in the project’s realisation.
“Of course, that also brings with it a major challenge – building while designing. In the case of the Coca-Cola Arena, we had to work simultaneously on designing this city landmark while also building the project.”
This of course created a challenge around estimating and allocating resources, time, materials and costs for the overall project, much of which needed to be set at the very beginning, Ezzat explains. While this required considerable amounts of coordination and focus, he asserts that it paid off.
“Generally you would do this by dividing the project into steps, in which once the design is finished for one step, you start building it, all the while continuing to design the next step. We followed this process for the enabling package, sub-structure, super structure/steel structure, the façade and the MEP. Thankfully, because of our experienced team, this challenge was overcome successfully.”
He explains that the ASGC team worked closely with the design consultant for design review, and that the contractor made sure to engage all peer review parties, both internal and external, in full-day workshops to map out design development steps.
“We also maintained early engagements with the relevant authorities to facilitate design permits, allowing for relevant site works to commence quickly and smoothly. During the design preparation and project planning, advanced technologies, such as BIM and 4D simulation technologies, were also adopted,” he reveals.
One of the key indicators from the client was facility operation compatibility, for which the project team engaged the operator team in the design review, handover and commission stages. Ezzat points out that Meraas was also aiming for quality and safety excellence on the project, and as part of these efforts, the contractor deployed its own ASGC Standards, which are implemented on all its projects and are related to quality, safety, sustainability and time management.
“HSE is always a focus in every single project that we have at ASGC. We look at HSE as an opportunity to make sure that we keep increasing our standards for the safety and security of our workforce, as well as the environment around us,” Ezzat says.
“We had more than eight million labour force man hours spent on the Coca-Cola Arena. For the first time in the region, we conducted a unique steel truss lift of such magnitude, and we had to work at great heights for the steel structure installation works. We also had overlapping project works that, if not handled responsibly, would have increased the risk of incidents,” he explains, highlighting that regular training and HSE protocols were always applied, while extra measures were taken in some instances to ensure the alignment of policies across all the active teams.
With the Coca-Cola Arena designed to host a variety of events, it has to have the flexibility to adapt to different formats quickly, easily and with minimal investment of time and additional resources. The show systems and space configurations have all been designed with this in mind, with movable and adaptable infrastructure – from lighting, to the seating, to the access ways – all envisioned with the goal of serving multiple purposes over a long-term lifecycle.
This was only possible because the contractor was appointed on a design and build contract, says Moheb Mounir, project manager at ASGC.
“Being a design and build project, we were able to decrease the overall project cycle by approximately 16 months, which is a huge amount of time in our field. In addition to the D&B, we utilised techniques and processes to refine efficiency on-site, such as the utilisation of precast, prefabricated and preassembled elements. We also specially designed and produced oversized panels for the façade. These not only accentuated the outer beauty of the arena, but also enabled the project timelines to be accelerated by three to four months,” Mounir says.
“Moreover, we had several milestones to consider that could have drastically affected the building processes. We were thus very careful to study, assess and evaluate all processes before time, so as to be fully ready. We also committed to detailed and periodic reviews of all our processes and put in place methodologies that would enable our team to act fast and efficiently in case of any unforeseen incidents.”
With a huge number of MEP systems – including HVAC, electrical, mechanical, IT and show packages – essential throughout the design, engineering and installation stages, managing and ensuring coordination between all stakeholders and parties involved with the project was a key factor in its success, says Mounir.
“There were six subsidiaries and around 40 subcontractors and suppliers on the Coca-Cola Arena project. We used a variety of technologies and planning tools to closely monitor the work of all parties, including subcontractors and suppliers, during all stages of the project. As mentioned earlier, technologies like BIM and 4D simulations helped us to also clearly coordinate with these diverse stakeholders, ensuring that we were all working towards the same goals with the same information.
“There was also a great deal of installation work on MEP systems attached to the centre bowl roof steel structure and the related logistical challenges, such as scaffolding, access, equipment and HSE. On the roof, we successfully navigated congested MEP works and interfaced with other civil works entities,” he explains, adding that this included managing infrastructure works and house connections for all service entries.
One of the subsidiaries involved in the project was Hard Precast Building Systems (HPBS), an ASGC Group company regarded as one of the leading precast companies in the UAE. Bashar Abou-Mayaleh, managing director of HPBS, tells Big Project ME that his company’s brief covered all architectural requirements to be produced in precast for the Coca-Cola Arena.
“HPBS was involved in all close discussions with ASGC and the design consultants, as early as the concept stage,” he relates. “Moreover, HPBS teams spent close to six months studying the project before the final design was approved and work began.
“The Coca-Cola Arena is a unique and ambitious project, not only for Dubai, but for the region. We thus wanted to be bold in our work, and as such we looked at how we could challenge conventional models to deliver added value to the project.
“For example, there’s a pretty complex design of the structure in terms of height, wall thickness and the different types of precast elements – starting from huge circular columns to complicated raker beams and bleacher slabs. This combination of materials and structures made the project even more exciting to work on, but also required a great deal of planning, coordination among the various stakeholders, detailed site reports and optimisation of all available resources, in order to achieve success.”
Because these elements were able to be manufactured off-site, transported to site and installed, the project team had greater control over the entire efficiency and effectiveness of the project, he says.
“With off-site production, we were able to improve production flows to the project, increase flexibility in construction processes and site operations, minimise reworks, enhance multidisciplinary collaborations and ultimately lead an efficient planning method. Of course, the safety of the team is also better controlled in the factory than on a construction site, which is in line with our wider health and safety practices,” he adds.
“For the Coca-Cola Arena specifically, the majority of elements were required to be in a final finish (i.e. no painting above), which required stringent quality control measures during production and installation so as to ensure proper finishing and matching the natural concrete colour, which was only possible in the controlled environment of a factory.”
Abou-Mayaleh points out that the six months the HPBS team spent studying the project before the final design was approved ensured that the team was able to pore over the minute details of the plans and come up with several time- and cost-saving solutions.
“We spent an enormous amount of time designing and redesigning the elements to ensure structural and architectural specifications were met, as per the specifications from the different parties, with optimisations made wherever possible. We also consulted independent parties as part of our process of standard and quality assurance, and we sought independent parties for this task to ensure their unbiased and objective expert opinion,” he explains.
“Project teams needed to frequently evaluate and compare different engineering solutions to optimise performance measures. Regular site meetings between project teams from all concerned units were carried out regularly every week. There was also a resident engineer from the consultant available in the HPBS factory on a 24/7 basis.
“The implementation of building information modelling (BIM) works as a facilitator to support production flows in construction. Everything goes through BIM. All the fabrication drawings were produced in 3D. All the BOQs came directly from the workshop drawings.”
He explains that this approach helps with overall sustainability and waste management.
“The carefully designed precast structural elements used less material than products built on-site. Hence less material was used and there was less material to dispose of once the construction lifecycle was over. The HPBS factory environment also greatly reduces waste – that includes waste from excessive concrete, formwork and bracing, packaging and debris that accumulates on cast-in-situ sites. Plus, we recycle waste material. This results in less material sent to landfills or dumped into the environment.
“Furthermore, our plant conditions create less dust, to ensure a better environment for HPBS’s team. Dust reduction is achieved by a well-controlled batching plant and covered silos, as well as a de-dusting system using suction fans and ventilation ducts to keep the air clean. In addition, the team is provided with personal protective equipment like respirators.
“Precast construction reduces the need for on-site labour by up to 30% from the traditional system, thereby leading to a lower carbon footprint by using fewer vehicles to transport labour and fewer labour facilities on site, hence consuming less electricity and cooling systems, thereby emitting less CO2 in the environment.”
With the Coca-Cola Arena now open and operating smoothly, what stands out is the consummate work and effort that all the stakeholders have put in to make the project a landmark for Dubai. Not only has its successful delivery been a testament to extraordinary levels of cooperation between the teams involved, but it has also brought with it opportunities to rethink how traditional workflows and practices can be shaken up, with new innovations and initiatives applied to materials, site and workforce management.
“We are extremely excited and grateful to have been a part of yet another record-breaking project in Dubai, delivering a stunning structure from both a design and build approach. The Coca-Cola Arena’s unique 4,000-ton roof is just one example of the incredible ambition of the project. From the roof to the façade exterior, the VIP suites and to the sustainable landscaping, the project is also testament to the benefits of owning the entire project value chain, bringing together the full force of ASGC Group’s capabilities and subsidiaries,” concludes Mounir.
The key challenges
Bashar Abou-Mayaleh, managing director of HPBS, discusses the key challenges the precast concrete supplier encountered on the Coca-Cola Arena Project.
Design and build
Because the project was a design and build project, construction was done simultaneously with the design development. The architectural design was therefore continuously evolving, and that demanded very close cooperation between design, production and site teams on a daily basis, to ensure the maximum efficiency of our work.
The construction works were inter-related between different subcontractors and parties. In the Coca-Cola Arena, we also had inter-related milestones which required a very thorough coordination process to make sure the timeframes we had were met with the best quality of results.
For example, we had the schedule of the mega steel trusses to abide by, as these trusses were to be laid above the precast concrete. We had to be very detailed in our planning and processes to ensure the timeliness of each task, and thus of the overall project.
Elements and moulds
We had unique fabrication drawings created for each and every element – and we had over 10,000 unique elements. There were more than 200 circular columns that were casted vertically with moulds of approximately 7.5m height.
Buildings intended for use for music concerts and sports events are generally very sensitive to structural vibration. There is a level of vibration measured in hertz that must be implemented to ensure that the floor and structure do not vibrate around you, and that the quality of sound is not affected by the structure.
The required level in the Coca-Cola Arena is 6Hz without the raker beams. The HPBS team was able to model both the raker beams and bleacher units to achieve this level for human comfort during any event, taking into consideration the vibrations caused by the swaying movement of the public during events and concerts.
During installation of the chairs on the bleacher, there was a risk of causing damage to the rebar while drilling the bolts into the bleacher. The team had all the assessments made and took all the measures needed to avoid such damage, and we were successful. This task was only possible through extensive planning and coordination in the design stage, and with the use of cutting-edge technologies.
The first-floor slab covers a surface area of 8,454sqm. We were given one month from design to production to installation, which was a huge challenge, but again we found ways to meet that successfully.