x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Burj rises as monument to opportunity

When it officially opens on January 4, the Burj Dubai, the world's tallest building, will stand as a towering symbol of how far the UAE has come.

DUBAI // When it officially opens on January 4, the Burj Dubai, the world's tallest building, will stand as a towering symbol of how far the UAE has come and how much it has achieved in the 38 years since unification. The Burj, which grew out of the imagination and ambition of the largely Emirati board of directors of Emaar, the developer, is, as the company says, "a shining accomplishment - an icon of the new Middle East: prosperous, dynamic and successful".

But it also symbolises how much opportunity exists for the development of home-grown construction engineering expertise. Some UAE firms have played a significant part in the project, among them the Arabian Aluminium Company, a member of Al Ghurair Construction Industries. On October 1, its crews, working in association with Far East Aluminium, which sent 300 specialists from China for the job, helped to install the last of the building's 24,000 aluminium and glass facade panels.

Arabtec Construction, a UAE building company, was another part of the construction consortium led by Samsung Engineering. But in addition to the tens of thousands of foreign labourers, mainly from the subcontinent, who have turned the design into reality, an estimated 5,000 engineers and consultants, many from western nations, have driven the project. The 818-metre Burj was designed by the American architect Adrian Smith and the Chicago-based firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. It was built by South Korea's Samsung Corporation, a veteran of other gigantic buildings such as the Taipei 101 in Taiwan and the Petronas Towers in Malaysia. The entire project was managed by the US-based Turner Construction International.

The names and numbers highlight the wealth of potential job opportunities for Emiratis in the fields of building design, construction and management, particularly once the property sector regains momentum and plans for shelved projects are dusted off. Abdullah al Ghufili, Arabtec's government liaison officer, said that even though few Emiratis worked on the Burj directly, the project stands as an inspiration to a generation of up-and-coming national engineers, some of whom were given the opportunity for hands-on experience on the vast scheme.

Last year, a group of foreign and Emirati engineering students from the American University in Dubai were brought to the site to watch, experience and learn from the building of what will become a national symbol. It was, Mr al Ghufili said, an experience he hopes will provide the inspiration and opportunity to "unlock the talent of future generations". "Letting them take part in this, for sure, allowed them to be a part of something great," he said. "It was important that they had their hands on a momentous project like this."

Omran al Owais, an Emirati who runs the Dubai architectural firm Centimetercube, said prominent projects such as the Burj Dubai, which are beyond the current capacity of local firms, may help encourage the younger generation to go into architecture. "It's something they can see every day from their house; even if you live in Ajman you can see it," said Mr al Owais. "But it can be a little intimidating; it's way beyond our capabilities, and done by these huge international companies. Our grandfathers and fathers were not architects. We are pushing to learn and develop but there's still some way to go."

Mr al Owais said he hoped that more Emirati architects a group which he said numbers only between 10 and 20 would collaborate on large projects so they can gain experience. "I would love to see some kind of programme where the local Emirati architects could participate with the international companies when they work on projects," he said. "After five or 10 years they will have gained a lot of experience, and their children will learn from it, and their grandchildren will learn from it. It would give a very good momentum to the industry."

According to Mr al Owais, who studied architecture at the American University of Sharjah, the younger generation can be reluctant to work in the field because it is often misconceived as "construction work". He said he would like to see more Emiratis take up the profession, not so they can work on landmark projects, but so they can help develop the urban fabric of their cities. "For me, if that sort of money is available, I would rather invest it in a different urban plan, making the city more localised and denser, rather than building taller," he said. "It would help us build better communities."

@Email:hnaylor@thenational.ae * With additional reporting by Loveday Morris