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St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, Abu Dhabi – the crowning glory of Saadiyat island

A picture of the St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort

24 October 2011 - The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, the first St. Regis to open in the Middle East and ideally located on Saadiyat Beach, the island’s tourism hotspot, will soon welcome guests.

Offering the St. Regis century-old bespoke hospitality and uncompromising service, the resort is Abu Dhabi’s new leisure address.

Saadiyat Island is an extraordinary 27 km² island situated 500 meters offshore of the capital city of Abu Dhabi. Being developed by Abu Dhabi’s Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC), who are in the process of transforming the island into a signature tourist, leisure, residential and cultural destination, the resort and precinct forms part of a masterplan which will eventually see the island become home to the famed Guggenheim and Louvre museums.

Global engineering, management and specialist technical services group Aurecon began work on this project in late 2007, and has played a key role in ensuring that a number of significant engineering challenges were overcome in the journey of creating one of the Middle East’s premier tourist destinations.

A clear vision

Right from the onset, it was clear that the TDIC sought to create a development which embodies “... the grandiose architecture which symbolised the renaissance of Southern Italy, contemporised through subtle touches of modernistic flair.”

To achieve this vision, the TDIC sought the services of architects Woods Bagot. What resulted was an ambitious design which includes 377 rooms and suites, a spa treatment facility, beach club and beach-facing restaurant, banquet hall seating 3 000 people, seven apartment blocks (259 apartments) with a 6 000 sqm retail component, a three-story basement parking structure, 32 luxury exclusive villas and extensive landscaping and water features.

Achieving a successful appointment

Mirage Mille Leisure Development (MMLD) was appointed as the development manager on the project and, in turn, appointed several other consultants. Aurecon, who has a long-standing relationship with Mirage, was appointed to undertake all of the structural engineering on the project, as well as the design of roads, stormwater and bulk earthworks. In addition, they were appointed to also undertake geotechnical engineering, as well as maintain a full-time construction supervision team on site during the enabling works and then during the main contract.

“Our successful completion of a number of high-end hotels was a key reason for our successful appointment,” believes Aurecon project director Wouter Brand. In the Middle East, this includes the flagship Madinat Jumeirah Resort in Dubai.

A picture of the St. Regis Saadiyat Island ResortGetting the project off the ground

Initiated before the global financial crisis, the project was subsequently delayed after inception from 2007 to early 2009. In August 2009, Habtoor-Murray & Roberts (HMR), who were originally appointed as the lead construction firm, was informed that the project was to be fast-tracked and complete within 24 months.

“For a challenging project such as this, design documentation is often subject to last minute client changes and design development among disciplines,” says Brand. “This was true in this case, and resulted in the design of the end product being improved even after construction had already commenced. As a result, gaining authority approval and the necessary building permits proved more challenging than anticipated.”

Stabilising the site’s underlying geological structure

“Because Saadiyat island is founded on natural land, which involves placing material in an uncontrolled manner to establish a dry platform above sea-level, it was critical that Aurecon’s geotechnical team conduct a thorough assessment of the engineering properties of the natural ground profile underlying the future settlement sensitive development,” explains Aurecon geotechnical engineer Eduard Vorster.

He goes on to say: “We needed to account for several meters of compressible and liquefiable material which could literally lose all strength and react as a fluid during a seismic event if left untreated.”

Aurecon then set out to develop a solution to this challenge which included falling-weight dynamic compaction and roller technologies, combined with a monitoring programme which involved the use of a pressuremeter, cone penetration testing with pore pressure measurements and laboratory testing.

Vorster adds that this stabilisation process was critical to ensure proper founding conditions, mitigating the risk of seismic-induced liquefaction and ensuring the stability of platform side slopes and other excavations envisaged for the proposed developments.

Achieving a tight design programme

The sheer size of the project meant that Aurecon had to maintain meticulous focus in terms of producing a very large number of design drawings, as well as reviewing shop drawings produced by the contractor.

“The design programme was extremely challenging, and, at times, drawings were literally fast-tracked to construction within hours,” adds Brand.

Accommodating significant design changes

A year into construction, a significant project expansion was announced in the form of a banquet hall required to seat 3 000 people. The team’s deadline was extended by just three months to accommodate this change.

The banquet hall consists of a three-story concrete structure inclusive of a single level of basement parking. The main structure is formed in reinforced concrete around the banquet hall space, which measures 50.5 m x 63.0 m in plan. The decorative ceiling is located 10.0 m above the floor with ceiling bulkheads at 8.8 m.

The banquet hall layout is divided into nine distinct spaces, which may be operated individually or in combination, separated with operable acoustic partitions suspended from the banquet hall roof structure.

A picture of the St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort“Challenging features of the design for the roof structure included the main span of 50.35 m, the high loadings to be catered for, and the limitation on deflection to ensure trouble free operation of the operable acoustic partitions. These factors resulted in structural steel tonnage per square meter that cannot be compared with that of a normal steel roof structure,” believes Brand.

To ensure they met the strict design criteria, Aurecon ramped up its resources at very short notice and put together dedicated teams for the banquet hall design.

Innovative resourcing

“Innovative resourcing, too, was key to the project’s success. The way in which Aurecon resourced the project from the onset was to split the project up and divide the work to be done between dedicated teams of engineers. This helped us to maintain tight control on the different aspects of the project and their accompanying construction programmes. In addition, technical input from across the group ensured that the very best international expertise was applied,” says Brand. 

 “Aurecon is very proud to have been involved in this project,” concludes Brand.


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