Evolution of a Landmark

Big Project ME visits the BurJuman Centre in Dubai, currently undergoing its third expansion

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If you’ve only just arrived in Dubai – as a resident or tourist – there’s a good chances that one of the first spots you’ll check out is on ‘the other side of town’, in a locality called Bur Dubai. While it may look nothing like the city which is home to the world’s tallest towers, don’t be fooled by appearances: Bur Dubai is indeed where Dubai was born.

Najib Mohammed Saleh, head of the Planning and Research section at Dubai Municipality’s Planning Department, has previously spoken to Big Project ME about the city’s urban planning initiatives in the run-up to the World Expo 2020. Saleh highlights the role played by structures such as Dubai Mall and Mall of the Emirates in transforming the city into a retail hub.

That’s precisely why a large part of Dubai’s future urban plan takes into consideration the operation and logistics of the numerous malls that populate the city.

BurJuman Centre is one of the 11 listed malls in Saleh’s records, and one of the oldest known retail outlets in the city, having opened its doors to the public in 1992 when construction of the North Wing was completed.

BurJuman’s popularity depends greatly on Dubai’s long-term residents. People who knew the city before its sky-scraping days call it the first luxury mall in Dubai.

It was developed by the Al Ghurair Group, and Majid Saif Al Ghurair of the prestigious Al Ghurair family continues to serve as president of the mall.

However, a quick drive past the mall today shows a large section of the structure covered with scaffolding. BurJuman is undergoing its third set of renovation and expansion operations since the turn of the century. Chief Operating Officer Leigh Regan tells Big Project ME that he expects the latest set of extension activities to benefit both the mall and the emirate.

“Ever since the mall first opened, BurJuman has embarked on a series of extensions and renovations, and each phase has helped enhance the offering and meet the changing needs of customers and the desires of tenants,” Regan says.

“The UAE’s retail sector is projected to grow by 33% in 2015, with Dubai leading from the front, and BurJuman, with its enhanced customer offering, aims to capitalise on the opportunities presented by the expected spike in retail demand and further raise our profile within the city’s retail scene.”

Regan is spot-on about the transformation brought on by each of BurJuman’s expansions.

The Al Ghurair Group announced the first expansion project in 2001. It included office space, 163 luxury condominiums and furnished apartments, leasable retail space, leisure arcades, speciality restaurants, entertainment halls, nine cinema halls, a spacious food court, a health club and 3,200 parking spaces.

The expansion, worth $326.7 million at the time, was to be funded in part by one of the country’s leading banks.

On the shortlist were National Bank of Dubai, Emirates Bank International, Citibank, Mashreqbank, National Bank of Abu Dhabi and Barclays.

For a contract value of $135 million, Habtoor Leighton Group (HLG) worked as the main contractor for the expansion project between 2002 and 2006. In a joint venture, Murray & Roberts and HLG acted as principal lead contractors for the reinforced structures, the external envelope and finishes to the office block and the apartments.

Together, they built what are today known as the BurJuman Business Tower, BurJuman Arjaan Hotel and BurJuman Residence. The 30-storey BurJuman Business Tower has a built-up area of 37,000sqm.

The joint venture also constructed a retail podium with a mezzanine floor and four levels. This increased BurJuman’s total retail floor space to 74,322sqm.

Other operations undertaken by the joint venture included coordination of the post tensioning, special steel roof features, curtain walling system, external facade cladding, facade cleaning systems, stone cladding, waterproofing and the installation of 50 lifts and 26 escalators.

“When BurJuman was first launched in 1992, it pioneered the mall culture in Bur Dubai and set the trend for landmark property development in this area, in line with Dubai’s growing economy,” Majid Saif Al Ghurair said in 2003 while providing construction progress updates about the expansion project.

“As the demand grew for more world-class infrastructure, facilities and services, BurJuman launched this expansion programme to support the Dubai government’s ambitious drive to further enhance the city’s image as a year-round international shopping and leisure destination. Once the landmark project is completed, BurJuman will become the most significant development in the retail, leisure and entertainment industries in the Middle East.”

3,158sqm of retail and restaurant space was added to the mall’s ground floor in 2009, and its exterior façade was redesigned. A main entrance off Khalid Bin Al Walid Street was also created.

However, these refurbishments were dwarfed in 2011, when the largest redevelopment in BurJuman’s history was announced. This time, the scope of work included the MEP and structural systems of the North Wing. The addition of a fourth-floor cinema complex, an anchor hypermarket and the extension of the third-floor family entertainment area to include an extended food court all formed part of the plan, as did increasing the total retail area from 74,322sqm to 92,903sqm.

Critically, the work on the mall was to continue despite the mall being open for business as normal. Further compounding the situation was the busy location and the presence of a key Dubai Metro station just outside its doors.

Despite these considerable obstacles, Regan asserts that the project team isn’t intimidated by the challenge.

“We had put in a lot of thought, time and effort in coming up with the right renovation plan so that neither the functioning of the mall nor the construction work was affected by the other. We were able to develop a well thought-out renovation plan that allowed us to identify and eliminate potential impediments, and [thus] we never had to work our schedules around any aspect of BurJuman Metro Station.”

Work on the 5,779sqm Carrefour outlet commenced in August 2014, and mall authorities claim the hypermarket has already increased foot traffic to the mall. Operations still in progress at BurJuman include work on its exterior façade, which is going to display elements of a ‘mashrabiya’. Additional operations include creating a roof for the mall’s main entrance and extending the mall’s back access, which faces a residential area. A 14-screen Vox Cinema multiplex is also being constructed, with handover scheduled for the second half of 2015.

BurJuman stands out as an eclectic mix of the old and the new in a city which has grown from being a trading hub to a ‘sun-sand-shopping’ destination. It has held its own despite financial concerns and construction delays over the years. It is now working to expand its capacities to match the newer, more glamorous malls in the city. The grand old shopping centre looks ready to begin the next part of its life cycle as a constant landmark in a city that is constantly evolving.

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