EXCLUSIVE: ASGC on Emaar’s Dubai Mall Boulevard Expansion project

While shoppers enjoy a shopping-spree, foodies gorge on their favourite cuisines, and children — alike adults — indulge in various entertainment activities at the Dubai Mall, more than 1,500 workers are taking shifts to complete the shopping destination’s expansion. Developed by Mohamed Alabbar-led Emaar Properties, it is touted as the largest mall in the world.

Dubai-based contractor ASGC Construction LLC, as the main contractor, is tasked with the Dubai Mall Boulevard Expansion project, which includes the conversion of multiple levels of the existing car parking to a double-height retail mall.

Sitting in his white-walled three-metre-high office at the site, project director at ASGC, Mohamed Gamal, takes a seat on the other side of the table, and tells Construction Week: “Dubai Mall was completed in 2007. Emaar wanted to expand the mall and add new retail areas to fulfil the requirements of shoppers. It started with two projects. The first one was fashion expansion, which is now open and running; and then, our project.”

“The project is mainly in the cinema parking area, which is at the MBR Boulevard. The boulevard is located opposite Fountain Views, a four-tower project.”

Gamal explains: “Emaar’s concept was connecting, and not just adding new retail areas to the mall, but also facilitating a shopping experience for the people who are going to live in Fountain Views. The whole concept was adding more retail to the mall and adding a link to the Fountain Views and Za’abeel Project.”

Project director at ASGC, Mohamed Gamal [ITP Images/ Ajith Narendra]

As part of the project, a bridge connection to the Dubai Mall is being constructed by the contractor. This bridge connection has three levels, one of them being a pedestrian crossing. ASGC’s project takes a major proportion of the cinema parking, which takes away many parking slots.

“Emaar had to compensate for these wasted parking slots by providing parking in Fountain Views. “The Za’abeel Project also features a huge number of parking spaces, which could be used by shoppers,” Gamal explains.

Levels 7 and 8 of the bridge are driveways, while Level 5 will feature a pedestrian crossing that on both sides will have retail shops. This pedestrian crossing, Gamal says, is connected to the mall enabling visitors to see the ice rink.

Visitors entering from the MBR Boulevard can take the escalators to go to the mall. Finland’s Helsinki-listed KONE has supplied the escalators.

ASGC’s original scope of work includes adding two floors of retail, and linking the parking to Za’abeel parking, which is located across the road from Financial Centre Street and Fountain View parking as well as MBR Boulevard parking.

Unlike many other projects, where a contractor begins with excavation and shoring works, ASGC started with the demolition. The contractor had to first take down a full level of parking, where it demolished the concrete slab to create a six-metre height, which according to Gamal is “almost double than the existing parking height”.

“The main challenge was carrying out  the structural demolition of the concrete element.” Gamal says, it was extremely difficult, with shoppers all around the mall, and cars being parked at the parking levels — both above and below.

Giving Construction Week an exclusive site tour of the Dubai Mall Boulevard Expansion, Gamal says: “First of all the project is not a straightforward construction job. We had to take a different approach, wherein our main strategy was to keep the mall operations running, unaffected by our construction works. The first step was to provide new ramps that takes visitors above and below the parking on the sides.”

This helped the contractor, which carried out the project in phases as part of its construction strategy, take the middle portion of the parking.

The contractor had to first take down a full level of parking, where it demolished the concrete slab to create a six-metre-high area [ITP Images/ Ajith Narendra]

While ASGC was carrying out the demolition work at the parking level, Emaar decided to change the design of The Village to create a different retail concept, as Gamal recalls. “We had to demolish The Village façade from level P3 all the way up to the existing retractable ceiling and to build a concrete steel decking slab in the middle (level P5). Starting from parking 3 or the ground level to the new slab decking level P5 will be new retails and then from the level P5 (mall first floor) to the new skylight with new evolutionally design concept, with no levels in the middle,” he adds.

The contractor carried out demolition for nine months, which included frames, main concrete slabs, and finished façades on a daily basis. ASGC had to also remove the existing ceiling at The Village and create a skylight, as part of its scope of work.

”The Village is in the middle of the shopping area, so it was even more challenging. Due to the tight logistics, we couldn’t bring heavy machinery and equipment such as cranes inside. We had to implement several out-of-the-box methodologies,” Gamal explains.

“We built a moving platform, also called rail drifting, that moves on rails, to remove and reinstall the new skylight.”

Around 42,000m2 of concrete was demolished, with over 3,000 tonnes of steel slabs being installed for the structure.

Speaking about dumping construction waste at secured places, Gamal explains: “There are approved dumping points by Dubai Municipality and we send these demolished materials to those places. There are specialists that take these materials and recycle them.”

According to Gamal, demolition is “a very special work”, and in order to implement it, ASGC needed a specialist, and Dubai-based demolition contractor GTS were brought on-board to take the job.

“It is important that you understand the scope of work and the sequence to get the project done in the right way.”

“It is important that you understand the scope of work and the sequence to get the project done in the right way” [ITP Images/ Ajith Narendra]

Entering the construction site through a make-shift entrance and exit door, Gamal walks through Level 5 and pointing upwards at a clearly visible demolished area, he says: “This was the Level 6 slab, we demolished it, giving a clear view of Level 7.”

ASGC has its own supply chain, which includes Al Shafar United-Electro-Mechanical Engineering (ASU) as the electromechanical company; JML for façade installation and aluminium works; Hard Block Factory (HBF) is carrying out blockwork; and Hard Precast Building Systems (HPBS) is supplying the precast panels.

“We have used our supply chain wherever it was possible.” However, Gamal adds, at certain instances it had to pick specialist companies, including for demolition and strengthening works. 

“Strengthening work is done through concrete jacketing.” SPME has been appointed to strengthen the core walls, columns, beam, and some portion of the slab, due to new loading requirements. The company had carried out strengthening for the fashion avenue expansion as well.”

Gamal is quick to note that the contractor has a noise monitoring tool in place for demolition work, which is one of the biggest challenges of the project.

“According to the allowed demolishing noise level we must not exceed 70 decibels. Keeping that in mind, a majority of our demolition works have been carried out before the mall opening and after the mall closing hours.”

During the site visit, Construction Week also had the chance to view the last portion of the demolition area, where activities were at a halt for the day, since the mall operations had started.

“Before demolition, we have an structural calculation in place. Post-tensioning beams have been used here, which have highly-tensed cables inside, so we have to perform tender-locking first.  This was a challenge, because if we carry out demolition activities while the cable is stressed, it can blow and hurt someone,” Gamal explains.

Visitors coming from Fountain Views and entering from the MBR Boulevard could take escalators supplied by Finland’s Helsinki-listed KONE to entre the mall [ITP Images/ Ajith Narendra]

Part of ASGC’s project also includes the construction of a substation, which will fulfill the power needs of the new retail area, by providing additional power load to the existing grid of the mall.

The contractor is supplying 14 new transformers and a new switch gear, which includes high voltage panels. It has also installed water tanks and chilled water lines that provide chilled water systems.

Gamal says: “In terms of power and cooling supply, we have a whole new grid to serve the expansion.”

He adds: “Eventually, the substation will be owned by the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA), but we are bringing the equipment and building the facility.” The facility is almost complete, with DEWA having inspected it for civil works.

“We have been using Revit and building information modelling (BIM) in all our projects. We conduct a laser survey that includes mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) installations, and insert that data into the models. With every step, there were difficulties with the logistics and technology.”

ASGC has also used robots for demolition; a compressor pump to pour micro concrete to strengthen the beams. Mobile cranes are being used to carry steel beams. “We have six mobile cranes at the site. Some of them are owned by us, while others are supplied by various suppliers including Al Faris and Gallagher,” Gamal adds.

“We have two shifts each day, with the first one starting at 7am until 6pm, and the second shift starts at 6pm with the work continuing till 6:30am.”

As part of its efforts to ensure a health and safety environment around the work site, ASGC has rolled out the “I am Committed” programme under its “Target Zero Committement” safety campaign. According to the programme, everyone at the firm is committed to zero accidents, environmental issues, and incidents.

Overall construction and MEP works at the project are 65% complete, with ASGC now moving ahead with fit-out and finishing works [ITP Images/ Ajith Narendra]

ASGC’s health and safety security environmental manager (HSSE), Satheesh Kumar tells Construction Week: “We have a designated area for hot works. It is one of the many precautions we have adopted to reduce the spread of sparks during on-going hot works.” ASGC has dedicated a small area on site that has been covered with heavy-duty fire retardant tarps to carry out hot works, including welding, cutting, brasing, soldering, grinding, as well as when using fire— or spark—producing tools.

“We provide training, awareness, and welfare facilities to our workers. Under the programme, all our workforce remain in the frontline to report any hazards; and they are being consulted in generating risk assessment.”

From 9 March 2020, ASGC has recorded six million Lost Time Injury-free (LTI) man-hours at the project, while its target is to reach eight million safe-man hours upon completion of the project.”

Both, overall construction and MEP works at the project are 65% complete, with ASGC now moving ahead with fit-out and finishing works, which includes the final phase and external  façade.

Gamal concludes: “We have been paying special attention to this project, as it is very important to us at ASGC.”


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