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Labour of love: The Palace Residences in Jordan

A luxury apartment complex in Amman brings Dubai-style quality to Jordan, writes Oliver Ephgrave

PHOTO: Obtaining the right labour for the project was a major challenge for the project team. Credit: Lacasa

With rays bouncing off stainless steel handrails and pristine Jerusalem stone, the Palace Residences gleams in the Jordanian winter sun. Surrounded by embassy and ministry buildings in an affluent neighbourhood of Amman, the $14m project contains 19 high-end apartments on a 3,500sqm plot.

The scheme was developed and funded by World of Construction, an entity formed by Emad Jaber, managing partner of Dubai-based consultant Lacasa, and Dr Mohammad Nawaiseh, owner of Miramar Contracting. Lacasa provided architecture, structures and MEP design, with input from Dubai landscaping firm Cracknell.

World of Construction’s aim was to build a residential complex which raised the standard of Amman’s current stock, following the completion of a two-villa scheme in the same city, also called the Palace Residences. At the time of Big Project ME’s visit on a crisp morning in January 2015, the five-storey apartment block is in the process of tenant fit-out.

Babbling fountains mark the entrance, with an archway leading to a semi-formal central courtyard. “This type of courtyard is unusual for Jordan,” says Jaber, who exudes passion and pride in the final product.

“All the tenants love it and they will use it once they move in,” he asserts.

READ MORE: Finding skilled labour in Jordan a ‘nightmare’, says developer

To fit in with the surroundings – deemed a heritage area by the authorities – the building’s design is predominantly traditional. Classical elements allude to Jordan’s Roman heritage while the façade features the traditional beige stone cladding of Amman – a government requirement for residential buildings. To bring the design into the 21st century, Lacasa added a number of contemporary touches, including glass walls on the upper section, held together with spider fittings, and a glazed cover for the colonnade.

According to the team, the authorities raised no objection with the modern design elements yet initially questioned the building’s function.

Nawaiseh explains: “It took a couple of months to get a permit, because the civil defence and municipality wouldn’t believe it is a residential building. They thought it was a hotel as it has en suite bathrooms, a health club, underfloor heating, air conditioning, etc. We are raising the standards but they thought it was too much for a residential building.”

The complex certainly displays touches of exuberance, with apartments containing their own elevators. “Privacy is a high priority for our tenants,” adds Jaber. The largest unit, covering 380sqm on the ground and first floors, boasts its own private garden with a swimming pool and a separate entrance. It even has an outdoor kitchen for entertaining.

Apartments are varied throughout the development, with no identical layouts. Marble flooring for the interior and patio tiles were both sourced from Spain, while oak was used for doorframes. Natural light is prevalent throughout all units, with “no dark spots”, according to Jaber.

READ MORE: Finding skilled labour in Jordan a ‘nightmare’, says developer

The colour palette for the walls, floors and tiles is kept neutral to allow tenants to add their own personality. Tenants chose from six colour themes for the bathrooms, while bedrooms contain walk-in closets that are bigger than the average boardroom.

A home automation system controls the lights, AC, heating, blinds and rolling shutter, with the capability to link up to music and security systems. According to Nawaiseh, the project uses more insulation than most other Amman properties.

“It is not easy to deal with the weather as we have snow in winter and hot summers. Walls should have very good insulation for energy conservation, and here we have thick walls with insulation in the middle.”

Despite the drastic temperature swings in Amman, many developments refrain from installing thick insulation due to the impact on profitability. “If you build a bigger wall at 50cm, like we’ve done, you have to deduct that from the net area. But if you build a 20cm wall, it will have a larger selling area and it is more profitable,” says Nawaiseh. “If you have better insulation you are punished,” adds Jaber.

Aside from using thicker insulation, other measures for conserving energy include low-energy lighting and a Fujitsu General Air Stage V-II, a highly efficient VRF system according to Nawaiseh. While the choice and placement of MEP offered some challenges, Jaber states that the building is structurally “straightforward”.

Lacasa’s Ihab Nayal acted as lead designer, supported by a team of 12 professionals for the detailing. Concept design took two months, with a further four for detailed design and 24 months for construction. Nawaiseh states that around 120 people worked on site, including painters, plumbers and woodwork specialists.

Sourcing quality construction professionals from the Jordanian workforce proved to be a major challenge for the team. Instead of hiring a contractor, Nawaiseh assembled and supervised a collection of builders and craftsmen under the name of Miramar Contracting. “It is not like Dubai where you have a contractor, a bill of quantities and a sub-consultant to supervise construction. We had to split it into packages as it doesn’t work if you have sub-contractors,” says Jaber.

Nawaiseh stresses the challenge of finding skilled labour in the country. “The biggest obstacle for us in Jordan was the craftsmanship. Finding the right people in Jordan is like trying to win the lottery. To implement the design into reality is a nightmare, especially with Jordanisation.

He continues: “There is a government regulation that you cannot import skilled labour from another country, so we had to use the resources available in Jordan. You can’t bring in an experienced painter from India or Egypt – you have to go into the local market and find someone who has registered. We ended up choosing many people we had worked with before.”

Those that were hired required constant supervision in order to achieve the goal of surpassing Jordanian construction standards. “They will not do the job properly unless you are on top of them,” says Nawaiseh.

“They will say, ‘Why do you want it that way, everybody does it like this’ and they don’t understand why you are going to the extra effort if the apartments are just going to be sold.”

Due to the lack of local products and expertise, features such as the stainless steel handrails were custom-built and installed from scratch. “We had to get the material, cut it to the design, weld it to the quality standard and install it. This happened with many items. That’s the difference between doing it in Dubai and Jordan,” says Jaber.

“You bring in a company and they will give you a tremendously high price but the quality is not that good,” adds Nawaiseh.

“The handrail is a different design to what they are used to – it’s a tube and out of the range. They were asking for a very high price as it is not what they are used to. I decided to hire my own staff and buy the materials instead.”

READ MORE: Finding skilled labour in Jordan a ‘nightmare’, says developer

After the materials were purchased, a process of value engineering was undertaken to minimise wastage and maximise efficiency. This process managed to save 25-30% on the cost of materials, without compromising quality, according to Jaber. He believes that the hard work has paid off, adding: “I’m so proud of the quality of the craftsmanship and the stone. This type of layout and quality is not available here in Amman. Even though it is luxury in every way, it is very cost-effective.”

It appears that the project has already set a benchmark for Amman residential projects, with developers attempting to mimic World of Construction’s style, albeit on a smaller budget. “People are trying to implement something like this, but when they get to the numbers they think it is costly, so they pull back a little bit,” says Nawaiseh.

“There was someone who liked it but couldn’t afford the expensive stone, so he tried to do it cheaper,” Jaber adds. “As soon as you change something, the whole effect is lost. For instance, the standard stone size is 25cm but we have designed it as 30cm. It is more expensive this way, but if you use a smaller size it will affect the whole proportion and classical architecture is all about proportion. At Lacasa, our lead designer, Ihad Nayal, designs to the millimetre.”

Despite resistance from the local workforce, World of Construction stuck to its guns and succeeded in building an international-quality product in Amman. With all units sold, it is clear that affluent Jordanians appreciate the extra quality and panache of the project. Driven by an impassioned leadership team, with a painstaking attention to detail and an uncompromised vision of quality, the Palace Residences is a labour of love.

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