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Digital engineering brings MOTIONGATE™ Dubai to life

MOTIONGATE Dubai main gate


23 February 2017 - Drone videos, 3D modelling and Virtual Desktop Infrastructure utilised to create interactive theme park

Aurecon is responsible for all engineering services at MOTIONGATE™ Dubai, a Hollywood-inspired theme park and part of Dubai Parks and Resorts, the region’s largest integrated theme park destination. At MOTIONGATE™ Dubai, guests can immerse themselves in cinematic adventure with 27 key rides and attractions including five roller coasters, multi-media dark rides, interactive play labs and media-based theatre shows. Inspired by 13 Hollywood films from DreamWorks Animation, Colombia Pictures Studios and Lionsgate such as Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, Ghostbusters, the Smurfs and The Hunger Games, MOTIONGATE™ Dubai also features a full program of live entertainment including live stage shows and character meet and greets.

In 2014, Gensler Architects engaged Aurecon for all of the engineering services for the theme park. These included civil engineering; infrastructure; mechanical engineering; electrical engineering; plumbing; fire protection and detection; information and communication technologies (ICT); structures and facade services. From the conceptualisation phase, Aurecon recognised the need for an agile and mobile, integrated design team, with niche expertise, to work alongside the architect.

We spoke to Daniel Whyte, Aurecon’s Building Information Modelling (BIM) Leader for the Built Environment (Middle East), to find out more about the digital technologies that were used on the project, how they resulted in benefits for the clients, as well as the current challenges and future trends inherent in digital engineering.

Why was digital engineering used for MOTIONGATE™ Dubai and how extensively was it used?

MOTIONGATE™ Dubai is a highly complex theme park, with many themed buildings and designs featuring famous Hollywood movie characters. Having been engaged in all engineering services we needed a streamlined digital solution that would allow project team members across multiple Aurecon offices to collaborate simultaneously using vast bodies of design documentation. The engineering services included everything from civil engineering, infrastructure, mechanical engineering and electrical engineering to plumbing, fire protection and detection, information and communication technologies (ICT), structures and facade services.

In order to meet this need, Aurecon invested in Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), which is a client/server computing model that allows us to host a desktop operating system within a virtual machine that runs on a centralised server. Thanks to VDI, our international team could work on the same BIM models in real time, which was a key contributing factor to the success of this project. Over 250 employees were able to transfer information and update models simultaneously, which allowed us to design faster, smarter and better.

Another interesting digital solution we employed was the creation of drone videos. To ensure that our client and international team were aware of the continuing progress and the scale of the project, we hired a local drone company to conduct a monthly flight of the MOTIONGATE™ Dubai site. The resulting videos proved very successful, particularly when the project was in full swing and buildings were being constructed on site.

As well as aiding site inspection, planning and health and safety, the future use for drones includes point cloud scanning capabilities which will feed into the BIM models and volumetric measurements.

Why is the use of 3D modelling and BIM so critical when designing theme parks?

Besides the logistical benefits of collaborating on the same models in real time, the use of 3D modelling and BIM saved the client time and money. While most designs are still achievable utilising a traditional 2D approach to engineering, the complex geometry of the buildings and attractions at MOTIONGATE™ Dubai the theme park would have taken significantly longer to create without digital solutions.

Throughout MOTIONGATE™ Dubai, the architects received hand drawn sketches from the set designers and artists in order to finalise the buildings’ designs. Aurecon’s design team then set about devising engineering solutions for these complex shapes that included giant mushrooms and ice creams. BIM allowed our facade and design team to create effective solutions that would achieve the design intent quickly and affordably.

BIM helped us to create models that were different in terms of foundation, layout and truss structures, which could still be accurately costed by the Quantity Surveyor. We then showed the client our design options, summary and recommendations, so that they could make informed decisions about the buildings they wanted on site. Digital engineering lends itself well to this type of multiple-iteration prototyping.

The coordination of all the disparate systems in a building is a monumental task, but the combination of multidisciplinary solutions via computer modelling makes it much easier. Software solutions such as Navisworks allowed us to create more robust construction schedules that ensured minimal clashes between the various services once we were ready to go to site, which saves time for the contractor and money for the client with considerably less site RFIs (requests for information).

What were some of the complexities relating to theming of buildings at MOTIONGATE™ Dubai?

One thing that makes theme park design different to other projects is the number of stakeholders involved. For example, engineering consultants need to take the complicated, and often conflicting, needs of designers and theme artists into consideration when designing the shell and core of buildings.

Our team realised that by designing buildings with long span trusses and ensuring large, column free spaces that were free of internal structures, it would generate space for the set designers and artists. We also came up with ingenious solutions that enabled the MEP systems to be located in these roof truss spaces. This gave the set designers more flexibility and freedom to play around with the internal spaces and theming, ultimately contributing to the amazing, state-of-the-art attractions which guests will experience at MOTIONGATE™ Dubai.

One of the biggest challenges that we had was providing structural support to the facade team that would effectively hide the building services within the building. One of our creative facade solutions was to use concrete over wire mesh in order to recreate the rocks and mushroom houses for the Smurfs. Digital engineering once again allowed us to consider and model different material and design options before we ultimately decided on a solution.

What are the critical success factors when it comes to the successful implementation of digital engineering?

Choosing the right people, with the right experience and skill sets, and an attitude and aptitude for change is crucial. You also need the full support of management because when you are struggling to overcome the associated challenges relating to the digital engineering learning curve, it’s tempting to revert back to the old way of doing things. Good leadership and experienced engineers can help pave the way for other team members.

The initial project set-up for a large-scale, digitally engineered project also has to be planned and coordinated effectively. We held regular BIM coordination meetings with all the key stakeholders of MOTIONGATE™ Dubai over multiple time zones. It’s a good idea to have a BIM lead within each stakeholder group, for both the architect and consulting engineers.

What will the future of digital engineering look like?

The many benefits of BIM mean we’re likely to see its use mandated at the highest levels. The British government has stated that all centrally-funded work has to be undertaken using BIM by 2016. In Dubai, the government has released a circular that requires the use of BIM on buildings and facilities because of how much it reduces the cost and time to finish a construction project and increases the level of coordination of all people involved in its delivery. Companies working in the public sector or looking to compete on an international level will need to be BIM-ready.

Besides government mandates, BIM in the Cloud will become increasingly popular as it allows real time collaboration with multiple stakeholders. We’ll also see more and more virtual reality BIM solutions, which offer gamification and added interaction. Clients are particularly fond of these types of visual solutions and it’s a great way for the design team to showcase their work and expertise throughout the life cycle of a project

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