The Palm, United Arab Emirates
The result of five years of planning and land reclamation, The Palm, Jumeirah lies just off Dubai's coastline. It forms part of The Palm Islands, along with The Palm, Jebel Ali and The Palm, Deira, the world's three largest manmade islands.
The Palm, Jumeirah measures 5km², has created 560ha of land and has added 78.6km to the country's 72km coastline.
At the peak of construction, 40,000 employees were working on the project each day, turning 94 million cubic metres of sand and seven million tons of rock into a leisure and lifestyle resort fit for the 21st century and beyond.
When completed in 2011, it will become home to 32 five-star beachfront hotels with 25,000 guests, 20,000 day visitors and about 60,000 residents in apartments and villas. Its population will have five beach resorts, four marinas, a monorail and thousands of metres of retail and commercial units at their disposal. The first phase of 4,000 villas was completed for occupation at the end of 2006 (sold out within 72 hours of release).
A manmade island
It is a dream come true for Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who first revealed his vision of a manmade island in the 1990s. And it is property developer Nakheel Partners, currently undertaking $30bn worth of projects in Dubai, that is turning that dream into a reality.
The Palm was conceived as a natural progression in a succession of extraordinary tourism initiatives in Dubai. It was also an answer to a practical challenge, which was how to create more beachfront when the emirate possessed only 72km of coastline.
The essence of the project is its design – its palm shape, which dictated every step of its development. The choice was both personal and professional. It symbolises Dubai's heritage (the palm is known as the 'bride of the orchard' in Dubai) as well as putting water, the most important source of sustenance, shelter and trade, centre stage.
Its shape also provides the perfect geometry to create the longest stretch of new beachfront. With these simple decisions made, the next step was to commission a vast wealth of expertise from a host of disciplines in order to reclaim the land and turn it into a safe and habitable environment.
Hill International was the first outside consultant to be approached on the basis of its experience with 'mega' projects of a similar scale. Hill was already familiar with Dubai's coastline, having worked on the redevelopment of Hamriyah Port, Deira Creek Waterfront, Deira Sea Corniche and Jumeirah Coastal Zone projects.
Also consulted on the overall concept design was US architectural firm Helman Hurley Charvat Peacock (HHCP), famous for its work with Sea World, Disney and Universal Studios.
Years of research, trials, surveys and environmental assessments were carried out to form the backbone of the project. These included a survey by Dubai-based Emirates Nortech to check the shape and volume of the island above and below the waterline.
Dubai-based Sogreath Gulf created a 3D physical scale model of the crescent to perform exhaustive tests in a laboratory tank using a 12m random wave generator, while WL Delft Hydraulics simulated tidal flow, using numeric modelling of the crescent breakwater.
This led to a crucial recommendation to include two 100m openings on either side to allow the sea to be refreshed every 14 days and improve the water quality. And so with all the figures crunched, models tested and designs adapted, the project moved to the first stages of construction.
Creating The Palm
In 2002, Nakheel awarded two contracts to Van Oord of the Netherlands and the Genevaregistered Archirodon Construction (Overseas). One of the first tasks was to create the breakwater to protect the reclaimed land from the strong currents and shamal winds of the Arabian Gulf.
Despite being more expensive and difficult to source, it was created from rock instead of concrete slabs to encourage the creation of a natural reef. Before The Palm there was virtually no sign of life, with 95% of the grid survey points falling on bare sand or mud.
"The breakwater of the Palm, Jumeirah is now 11.5km long and goes 50m under water," says Chris O'Donnell, CEO of Nakheel.
"That is 550ha of artificial reef which will have marine life. Since its completion, the diversity of life is amazing; a whole host of different fish species have returned to the area and a pod of dolphins has even paid regular visits."
Reclaiming the land
The next step was the land reclamation, which although extensively managed in countries such as the Netherlands, had never been attempted on this scale. The elliptical shape of The Palm also made accuracy difficult when placing the sand. "Because there were no fixed points of land to survey from, no place to 'drive a stake in the ocean', there had to be some other means of locating the positions to place the materials," O'Donnell explains.
The engineers found their solution in DGPS (differential global positioning system), which allowed them to check the accuracy of the placement to within 1cm. The sand – all 94 million cubic metres of it – was taken from the sea, not the Dubai deserts (seven million tons of rock also went into producing the first ever 'curved' breakwater). "The sand from the sea is more environmentally sustainable, more stable in terms of seismic and geotechnical terms and has the fertile, organic content that allows marine life to grow," says O'Donnell.
Once dredged it was then vital to 'settle' the sand before it was built on – a natural process which normally takes millions of years. To build on unsettled land can lead to slippage – the Tower of Pisa being a good example. So, to hasten the settling, the sand underwent a process called vibro-compaction, which should mean there is no settlement greater than 1in in the next 50 years.
With the land reclaimed, the next step was to prepare it for occupation, with the installation of desalination plants, state-of-the-art vacuum sewerage wastewater treatment, underground power lines and the construction of a transport network including a monorail.
The transport network was designed following three in-depth surveys by leading traffic consultant MVA. These resulted in an extensive road network, with a connection to the mainland by a gateway bridge, two bridges with five lanes in each direction and a six-lane underwater tunnel connecting the spine to the crescent (1.4km long, 40m wide, and 25m below sea level).
The Palm Monorail, created by Hitachi Ltd, offers a greener option, running from one end of the development to the other – a journey of about ten minutes. It will be the easiest way to explore The Palm – which is divided into distinct sections, each with its own unique character.
On 20th October 2008 site testing began on the newly delivered monorail trains on Palm Jumeirah.
Two of the nine trains supplied by Hitachi Ltd were raised on to the 5.45km track and began making initial test journeys, closely monitored by the RTA and operators SMRTE. Tests on the trains will be carried out for the next six months before the monorail is opened to the public in April 2009.
The new system will carry passengers between Gateway Station at the trunk of Palm Jumeirah and the Atlantis' Aquaventure Station on the crescent with intermediate stations at Trump International Hotel & Tower and the luxury retail centre Palm Mall. The system will eventually connect to the Dubai Metro with direct links to Dubai Airport and other major transport hubs.
The Palm Monorail is fully automatic and driverless (although manned by an attendant) and has been developed by a consortium led by the Marubeni Corporation. The system will initially carry up to 2,400 passengers an hour in each direction in four separate trains, each made up of three cars. When eventually at full capacity, the system will transport a maximum of 6,000 people in nine vehicles.
The vacuum sewerage system was completed in August 2008 to serve 2,000 villas using 900 collection chambers, 40km of pipeline and one of the world’s largest vacuum chambers leading to a membrane bio-reactor (MBR) system on the trunk of The Palm. The system was developed by Corodex Electromechanic (a subsidiary of the Concorde-Corodex Group). The treated water is used for irrigation and thus saves the production of additional water from the project’s desalination plant to satisfy the environment protecting Blue Communities Initiative.
Prime real estate
First is the trunk, with the Village Centre at the north end – a 68,000m² commercial development. On the eastern shore 2,500 shoreline apartments were ready for occupation in 2006.
To the west is the Golden Mile, launched as a joint venture between Nakheel IFA Hotels & Resorts, the largest investor in The Palm, Jumeirah, and Istithmar. It comprises an exclusive residential and retail boulevard – one mile of more than 200 retail outlets, ten apartment buildings (700 apartments), a mall and offices and is expected to be opened in 2009.
At the centre of the island is the Trump International Hotel and Tower, the initial development in Nakheel and the Trump Organisation's joint venture in the Middle East, which includes exclusive rights for 19 countries in the Middle East and 17 major brands.
The new design for the $600m landmark building, which combines a 300-room condo hotel with 360 freehold residential apartments, was unveiled in May this year. The ultra-modern design features a split-linked tower – an open-core design that minimises shadows constructed with stainless steel, glass and stone.
O'Donnell says: "With The Palm, Jumeirah development, Nakheel is creating an icon for the 21st century, and it is entirely fitting that the Trump Organisation is a key player and investor in realising this vision."
Indeed, Donald Trump himself has heralded The Palm, Jumeirah as the 'best location in Dubai', adding: "When I look at potential sites for real estate investment, I concentrate on 'location, location, location' – and this is the best location not only in Dubai but the whole of the Middle East."
The fronds of The Palm, Jumeirah
Meanwhile, away from the frenetic pace of the trunk are the 16 fronds – with 1,500 luxury villas, which were occupied by the end of 2006. The shoreline apartments consist of 2,600 one to three-bedroom units and 80 penthouses and these were also occupied in 2006.
The 11.5km crescent tops the creation with 22 luxury hotels, including the $1.5bn Atlantis Hotel, The Palm – a 1,500-roomed water-themed resort which opened in September 2008 under the direction of international developer and resort operator Kerzner International. In addition the Kempinski Emerald Palace hotel is due to open its doors on a 100,000m² plot in 2009 (the 200 Kempinski Palm Jumeriah Residences on the same plot will open in late 2008).
Four marinas – run under the umbrella of developer and manager of luxury marina facilities, Island GlobalYachting – complete the line-up. In November 2007 work began on the installation of two marinas in the anchor marina at the head of the trunk. The anchor marina will provide 582 berths and the first of these opened in mid-2008 including shops, restaurants, offices and cafes (the two marinas are connected by a tunnel passing under the spine road). In total there will be 1,500 berths when The Palm is completed. The Marina residences close by will consist of 940 two-three bedroom apartments and penthouses and also 40 town houses.
The QE2 cruise liner will find a permanent home at one of the marinas on a special 300m pier by 2011, the facilities being completed for her by the end of 2008 (ship sets out on her final journey to Dubai in November 2008 from Southampton). The ex-cruise ship will become a luxury hotel and museum.
It is an exciting time for the 60,000 future residents of the island, the first few thousand of whom are due to take up residence by the end of 2006 – flocking from more than 70 nations round the globe. These are rumoured to include England footballers David Beckham and Michael Owen, as well as Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan.
Following the residents will be a predicted 25,000 guests at the 32 five-star hotels, attracted by names such as Mövenpick, Fairmont, Radisson SAS, Hilton, Metropolitan, Shangri La and One&Only, in addition to Trump and Atlantis. With 15 million visitors predicted to flock to the emirate by 2010, it may be wise to book in advance to secure a room.
As Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem, executive chairman of Nakheel, says: "After all the talk, excitement, challenges and anticipation, the eighth wonder of the world is turning from a dream into a reality."