x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Abu Dhabi on a grand tiny scale

Costly scale models of the capital and many of its suburbs were shipped from all around the world for the Cityscape exhibition.

ABU DHABI // Model-makers in countries as distant as China and Brazil employed hundreds of artisans to rebuild parts of the capital in intricate and exquisite detail for Cityscape's miniature displays.

About 70 per cent of the models are shipped thousands of kilometres for the show, said Dani Bterrani, the Dubai-based chief executive of 3dr Models. Hundreds of major exhibitors feature them - although flight cancellations because of the volcano ash cloud over Europe meant that several scale models did not arrive this year - and they do not come cheap. A model can cost from Dh25,000 (US$6,800) to Dh150,000 per square metre to produce.

"All international model-makers tagged the UAE when the boom was coming," said Mr Bterrani. His 3dr factory in Hong Kong built 27 of the replicas at the show, including one for Mushrif Central Park. The capital's sprawling new 14-hectare expanse was reduced to a tabletop display measuring six metres by four, and flown in four serial-numbered crates, with each piece secured in foam. To communicate with designers and architects across time zones, the company sets up live camera feeds pointed directly at its works in progress in Hong Kong, 24 hours a day.

The video link allows consultants and designers to check the progress on their models from anywhere at any time. Mr Bterrani said developers routinely request minor refinements to the team back in Hong Kong based on that footage. "If the architect is from the US, all the correspondence has to be over e-mail," Mr Bterrani said. "What we did was set up a designated clients password, so you can actually access the camera and view it on a day-to-day basis."

Under developers' eyes a continent away, some 25 craftsmen in Hong Kong arranged the landscaping by hand over a month, "a relatively smooth, short period of time", Mr Bterrani said. The public garden is expected to boast 250 broadleaved palm trees, 700 other trees and more than 150,000 shrubs. "It's very difficult to produce a green model in the middle of the desert," Mr Bterrani said. "These guys are actual farmers, not engineers. They're farmers in real life, and their foreman is an engineer, which is why you'll see our landscaping is much more natural than other models."

Many of the details in walkways, street lamps and floor patterns have been cut by lasers, which Mr Bterrani called the "heart of model-making". "We have 33 laser machines running shifts non-stop," he said. For its massive representation of Abu Dhabi City, 23 metres long and 17 wide, the Urban Planning Council (UPC) also looked outside the UAE. It hired the UK firm Pipers Architectural Models to build a miniature of the entire island, including Shahama, Mussafah and Al Falah, as well as the islands of Saadiyat, Yas, Lulu, Reem and Sowwah.

Easily the largest model at the expo, the mock-up was shipped to Abu Dhabi from London in 36 boxes containing 262 sections. The contents weighed more than eight tonnes when loaded for transport. Workers needed 260 hours to assemble and set up the model at the exhibition. The craftsmen in London studied satellite images provided by the UPC's geographic information system as they worked, said Matthew Quinn, the Middle East director for Pipers.

A maze of electrical work under the model also had to be connected, with approximately 1,000 metres of wiring needed to power 2,000 individual LEDs. "It's certainly the largest model we've ever done, but the information was flowing in batches from the UPC," Mr Quinn said yesterday. "The UPC has a brilliant tracking system for the existing city. A lot of people came up to me to say, 'I can't believe you found my villa'."

Had the London team not made its March deadline, however, the UPC's centrepiece may have never made it to the exhibit at all. "We haven't really had any problems and we were lucky to miss the volcano because we shipped our stuff ahead," Mr Quinn said. Such are the risks of building models outside the country, said Matthew Roche, the chief executive of Modelcraft, a Dubai company specialising in building scale models as well as 3D animations and interactive displays.

"We're not going to get flight delays or anything," Mr Roche said. "And if you make your model in another country, you have to fly it out, and those costs come out of the travel budget." Construction of a model in China or Malaysia costs about one-third as much as a locally produced model, said Shaiju Joseph, the marketing manager for the Dubai-based Euphoria model-makers. His company has several models at Cityscape, made for clients including Reem Investments and the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority.

"The older projects, I think pretty much all of them are made in the UAE," he said. Once the show ends, some of the models are flown back to warehouses around the world; others are shipped to developers' headquarters for display. The UPC's enormous Abu Dhabi model can be broken down into a series of stand-alone displays. Mr Bterrani said developers without the space can load their 3dr models into crates and have them kept at the company's temperature-controlled storage facilities in Abu Dhabi or Dubai.

"It looks like a warehouse full of coffins. All stacked wooden crates," he said. "They won't be shown to anyone else, and they'll just stay there until the next time." @Email:mkwong@thenational.ae