Natural forces

Atkins | 10 Dec 2007 | Comments

When you are tasked with building some of the world’s most iconic creations in a region of the world where solid foundations are few and far between, there’s really only one choice: develop land where there wasn’t any before.

Land reclamation projects off the coast of Bahrain and Dubai have been making a big noise around the globe for a few years now, from the Durrat Al Bahrain resort to The World and The Palm Trilogy. What few people realise is the extent to which such developments are created “from scratch”, literally built up from the sea bed to form artificial land masses, according to whatever specification a client may have.

The Durrat Al Bahrain resort was among the first large-scale land reclamation projects to be introduced along the Bahrain coast. The fact that it was viewed as something unique in the region was clear from the choice of name itself, which translates as “Pearl of Bahrain”.

Atkins was commissioned to produce the masterplan, on the back of which the company was awarded the contract for design supervision and project management of the Durrat Al Bahrain Resort Project, including marine, infrastructure and villa design, road infrastructure, and overseeing delivery of these various elements of the project.

“We produced the marine design, which incorporated revetment and beach design, numerical modelling to derive wave conditions and setting the reclamation level for the whole development based on extreme storm events, among other things,” explains Atkins’ ports and maritime associate Richard Hill. “We had to work with all the other disciplines involved – covering aspects like the footprint for building design, specs for the reclamation sand, road design and position, abutment details, revetment tie-ins and so forth. There was a large team of people involved, to say the least, and that needed to be carefully co-ordinated.”

The team to which Hill refers included specialist input from eight Atkins offices in the Middle East and the UK. Effective, efficient project management has been vital to the project, and on a grand scale.

“One of Atkins’ greatest strengths is its ability to treat a project as a project and not to get overwhelmed by its size or complexity,” Hill explains. “For Durrat Al Bahrain, for example, the volume of materials required raised some sourcing issues, but these were overcome. Soil investigation studies were conducted and it was discovered that a lot of material could be sourced from relatively close by, which helped with the reclamation process.

“There were also areas with potential silt deposits and soft deposits, which could have caused issues with liquefaction or long-term settlement, but we were able to address these concerns early on,” he points out.

In addition, projects such as these came under fire with regard to the environmental impact of the work involved. There have been claims the coastline could be damaged and that the delicate balance of marine life could be irreversibly altered.

The environmental impact of land reclamation is something Atkins recognises as crucial in the planning stages of a project: “Atkins was involved in the environmental impact assessment work on Durrat Al Bahrain right from the outset. There were a number of mitigating features that have been built in to satisfy the environmental concerns. We have gone to great lengths to consider the environmental impact of the project and to produce a quality product, considering water movement for example.”

With a project on this scale, he adds, the marine design and engineering element has to take pole position, because both the contractors and the client want to have a lot of the land formed early on.

“You have to get everything agreed by all parties from the start,” he adds. “The legacy of the decisions you make at the beginning are there for everyone else to deal with throughout the project, so you need to take on board a lot of the considerations up front.”

The world is your oyster

While work on Durrat Al Bahrain continues apace – the first phase of the project is due for completion in 2008 – land reclamation for one of the latest mega projects in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is also well on its way.

The World, off the coast of Dubai, is a series of 300 island developments that, when viewed from the sky, provides an image of a global map. This will be home to private residences, resorts and leisure destinations within the next four years.

One of the biggest challenges faced by Nakheel – the Dubai construction giant behind this development, as well as The Palm Trilogy – was finding people with the design skills to undertake such a huge land reclamation project. The experience Atkins had already gained on the Durrat Al Bahrain Resort Project meant that it was well prepared for the work involved and when it was invited into the project, it was able to proceed with open eyes.

“Our involvement in The World is specifically on the Coral Island Resort,” says Hill. “We’re working through the Dubai office supported by a team of marine, ports and maritime specialists in the UK. We’re working with Nakheel on the marine design, land reclamation, beaches, coastal processes, design of the ports, marinas and other marine features of the development.” Nakheel has also partnered with the United Nations University to research and manage the waters surrounding all of its waterfront projects.

“Essentially, the islands are piles of sand in the sea, so we need to figure out what needs to be done in order to be able to install services on them and build villas, roads and a hotel. We’re working from that perspective,” says Hill.

“We have to understand the behaviour of the sand in this environment – its particle make-up, its movement underwater, its stability in the wave environment. We also have to understand the protection systems that such reclamation projects require in terms of edge, treatment, rock armour and geo-textile, and systems to control sediment transport and scour attack.

“Initially, our reaction was to evaluate the need for more sand, considering the level of the island in relation to the ‘extreme’ high water mark, then to understand the performance under regular wave attack and storm waves, assessing its behaviour as a consequence of various factors, such as erosion, settlement and liquefaction during seismic activity.

“We’re looking at all these aspects with regard to these big piles of sand – it’s like building permanent six-storey sand castles in the sea,” Hill says.

With so many off-the-coast projects taking shape along the UAE coastline, it’s boom time if you are in the business of land reclamation. But Nakheel is aware the supply of sand available does have a limit – using experts who will be extremely efficient is vital.

“We get the sand needed from right along the coast,” says Ali Mansour, project director of The Palm, Jebel Ali. “We have to make sure that the sand we dredge is used correctly and, when it is compacted, no mistakes are made. Nakheel works with partners in this and we only use those with the expertise to do the job properly.”

The right skills set

To take advantage of the popularity of developments that require land reclamation, Hill points out, Atkins has nurtured talent that can rise to a challenge: “We have developed that experience in the UK, with a new, younger team, bringing on board a designer focus on elements like sea revetments, quay walls, breakwaters, marinas, land reclamation and ground stability. All of this is being used purely to support leisure developments and the leisure market, where you want it to look aesthetically pleasing and the end-

user is essentially sitting out enjoying the sunshine and the marine environment,” he says.

Whenever homes or villas go on sale on The Palm Trilogy, The World or Durrat Al Bahrain, the response is huge and there is no shortage of other investors wanting a piece of the action. Donald Trump is putting a hotel on The Palm, Jumeirah, while Nakheel and Cirque du Soleil have announced plans for a permanent show on the island.

“The World poses some interesting challenges for everyone involved in its creation,” says Hill. “It is 4km out to sea and there is no land link. How do you make that work? How do you get power to the development, where they have daily deliveries of fresh produce and want their towels shipped out to be cleaned and new towels brought in every day? How do you get all that to work?

“These are just a few of the many challenges posed by a complex project such as this and Nakheel is dealing with them on a daily basis. Atkins is working with Nakheel to make it a reality,” he says.

Home away from home

For those outside of the UAE or the Kingdom of Bahrain watching these remarkable projects being developed, of course, the first question that springs to mind is: why? One or two iconic developments may be understandable, but Dubai and Bahrain seem to be going for scale across the board – why not start small and build up to something bigger?

“If you’re going to create such islands, there’s got to be a commercial aspect to it,” explains Hill. “You need to ensure the number of residents and hotels provide a certain number of people in order for the land sale value to pay back the costs of getting this material in place. I can’t see it being commercially viable to try to place small islands in the same environment.

“These projects are driven by the residential, leisure and tourism markets, putting this part of the Middle East on the map,” Hill points out. “At the end of the day, they want tourists to visit this exciting part of the world.”

A pearl of an idea

Durrat Al Bahrain was conceived by Durrat Khajeel Al Bahrain (DKAB), a joint venture by Kuwait Finance House and The Government of the Kingdom of Bahrain. At the heart of the project was the development of a 20km2 (5km x 4km) reclaimed site, turning it into a resort with the potential to cater for up to 60,000 people.

It is made up of 12 man-made islands, featuring 10,000 homes ranging from city centre apartments to beach villas, as well as hotels, a golf course, marina, shopping malls, a grand mosque and a purpose built public beach. The first phase of the project is due for completion in 2008, with development continuing for several years thereafter.

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