Al Shindagah Magazine On the crest of a wave

With Dubai's construction industry moving full steam ahead to the turn of the century, David Williams looks at one striking new building that will set sail on the city's skyline early in the New Year

Dubai's staggering construction industry is unrivalled in the Middle East with multi-million dollar projects springing into life on a daily basis. The past 10 years have seen as much development in this thriving emirate as any other city in the world, and the trend is set to continue well into the new Millennium as more and more business is channelled in from all corners of the planet.

Those who have lived here for many years say the growth rate has accelerated in recent years, and there is little sign of the industry slowing down, with few analysts able to predict when an end will come to its phenomenal expansion.

Take a drive around the city's building sites today and it reveals that each new building is trying to be more original than the previous one built, and this pattern is spawning some of the most unique and enchanting developments to be found anywhere in the world. At the forefront of Dubai's construction industry is Al Habtoor Engineering Enterprises Company, LLC, which is the driving force behind some of the most striking buildings to be found across the entire United Arab Emirates.

With new projects landing at the company's door on a regular basis, Al Habtoor Engineering has a work force of thousands and an international reputation stretching far beyond the Middle East. One of its current projects is sure to figure prominently on the company's CV, and is an excellent example of Al Habtoor's ability to construct some of the most modern and demanding building designs leaving architects' drawing boards today.

The new Dubai headquarters for the United Arab Shipping Company is well on the way to meeting its completion deadline of February 2000, and will have taken just 13 months to finish after commencing in January this year.

The 10-story construction has an astonishing design, with the front of the building, from top to bottom, taking the shape of a ship's hull complete with portholes as windows, while the rest is fully glazed to ensure total exclusivity.

The man in charge of Al Habtoor's involvement in the contract is Salah Yatim. Originally from Lebanon, the married father of three has been with the company for 14 years and has relished the challenge this new project has provided.

"It is a very unique building, but it seems no two buildings are built the same in Dubai these days," said the project manager. "When I started back in 1984, the scale of construction was nowhere near to what it was today. You were given more time to construct buildings but now people want their properties up very quickly. I would say you have 50 per cent less time to finish a job now. "Dubai is growing very fast and there are huge opportunities for it to expand even more with the big jobs that are being talked about at the moment. It will continue to grow because the economy is related to the construction industry."

Salah singled out the hotel industry as one area which will continue to expand, and the entertainment sector, by joking: "There are a lot of cinemas going up at present, but I don't think there are enough films to go around them all!"

Referring to the job in hand, Salah says progress is going well with no major hitches despite the challenges thrown up by the building's design. "We started the project in January and I believe we are on target to finish the job on time for February next year.

While he stresses that the new United Arab Shipping Company (UASC) building is unique, he says the ship theme is not new. "Everywhere you look in Dubai, there is a seafaring theme with ship-like constructions going up all over town."

The new billion-dollar Arabian Tower off Chicago beach, which has been fashioned in the form of a sail from the traditional dhow, is one perfect example, while the Dubai Creek Golf Club and City Centre shopping mall are other prime instances. However, these were conceived with the UAE national people's original seafaring roots in mind, and the new UASC is being constructed in the form of a modern vessel's hull, providing a superb permanent advertising landmark for the Kuwait-based company.

"Each floor has 750 square metres of office space and there will be a two-level basement for parking, incorporating about 1600 square metres. The total cost of the project is in the region of Dhs35.5 million," said Salah. "We currently have around 200 men working on the project, with two shifts carrying out work 24 hours a day." Once the project is completed, UASC will occupy the first five floors and the tenth floor, which will be fitted out with the sort of interior suited to a top executive office. The remaining office space is available for rent.

Based in Kuwait, UASC is the largest shipping line in the Middle East, and was established in 1976 by the governments of the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Iraq. It quickly expanded to its current fleet of 56 vessels and annual revenues fast approaching the magical one billion dollar mark.

Al Habtoor Engineering has expanded in the same vein, and is widely regarded as one of the leading lights in the UAE construction industry. Al Habtoor Engineering Enterprises Company, LLC was the founding organisation of Al Habtoor. It was established in 1970 and its subsequent years of steady success contributed towards the entire group's expansion and diversification.

The Company's experienced international management team are capable of undertaking construction projects ranging form multi-complex hotels and hospitals and residential apartment towers and villas, and special projects such as military bases and camps.

In 1994, AL Habtoor Engineering completed the prestigious Holiday Centre Complex on Dubai's Sheikh Zayed Highway which includes an office block, shopping mall, residential apartment block and a large luxury hotel. In 1995, the 29-storey Dubai Creek Tower was completed, a high-rise residential and office complex that is one of the tallest buildings in the Southern Gulf. Projects recently finished and under construction include both the Main Tower Hotel, rising to a staggering 321 metres and the 600 bedroom Resort Hotel on the prestigious Chicago Beach Resort Development; the 213 suites and bedrooms Metropolitan Palace Hotel and a development of 204 hotel suites and a commercial centre in Jumeirah, as well as residential towers, a palace and military works in Abu Dhabi. The company has additionally diversified into steel-frame housing, and has successfully completed over 100 villas, using this rapid construction technique that has been well received by tenants. A recent major success has been the astounding and futuristic Officer's Club in Abu Dhabi, where an estimated 60,000 square metre of quality woods and marbles have been laid under the largest shell span of its type anywhere in the world. In concept and size, the root structure of the club could well be a candidate for the Guinness Book of Records.

Al Habtoor Engineering is also a specialist in hospital construction, having built the main extension to Rashid Hospital, plus Al Wasl Hospital and the New Dubai Hospital, Dubai's first modern medical facilities. Additional major hospitals in the Emirates have been constructed by the company.

As the skyline of the UAE and elsewhere in the Middle East increasingly reflects the advances of modern architecture and construction technology, Al Habtoor Engineering looks set to realise the dreams of its customers and partners to help build some of the finest structures in the world, and to continue to grow as one of the leading construction companies in the region.