Measuring a staggering 965 acres, Akoya represents one of the largest golf communities in the world currently under construction. Facilities include a world class Trump International branded Golf Course, hotel, schools, shops and parks to create one of the finest residential communities available. Within the residential zones, various branded communities such as Trump, Fendi and Paramount, are provided which will enjoy a unique brand-themed landscape.
Can you start with a bit of background about the scope of the project and IDG’s involvement in it?
It is a smidgen over a million square metres of mixed use real estate in Dubai, and it’s in an area that used to be on the outskirts but is now firmly inside the city limits. It contains an 18-hole golf course for which we assisted in the initial masterplanning, and then we went onto work on the detailed landscape architecture with the DAMAC team. Our scope involves covering parks, streetscapes, and open spaces over some 26 communities. The communities are unique in that they are ‘branded’ communities – we have Paramount, Trump, Fendi communities for example. It’s going to be a major development of residences for approximately 40,000 people, with commercial areas, mosques, schools, medical facilities included.
How does 965 acres as a site-size compare with other work IDG has done?
We’re primarily specialised in golf courses and landscape architecture – so a lot of the work we have done has golf facilities as part of it. A lot of them are large areas with a similar amount of residential and a similar area dedicated to golf courses and open space, so we tend to work on projects that are all over the million-square-metre mark.
When did you start your involvement in this particular project?
We were involved quite early on; we were brought onboard just after the first master planners had initially laid out the site. We sat down with the secondary master planners, and we worked with them in terms of golf course and landscape, and established the masterplan for Akoya. Then we were invited back to work on the detail of the landscape architecture, which is over a vast area, and we have in the process of doing that developed systems and processes to allow us to process large landscape designs efficiently, and robustly: it is aimed at a very commercial market, and working over the area in a high quality, efficient and flexible way is extremely difficult to do, but we have now developed a specialism in that.
What were the specific technical challenges of this work?
Many of the difficulties were in coordinating the different disciplines. Landscape architecture is the last discipline in the process of a project like this – we visually represent the masterplanning and infrastructure and we have to coordinate our work according to that. So we spent a lot of time going back to the consultant saying ‘this bit could be improved’ or ‘we need to move this streetlight because it’s now on a driveway’ and so on.
Dubai is a very fluid market, so one week, the property might be aimed at expat Russians, the next week aimed at expat Chinese, and those are very different markets. So they they may change the residential villa sizes in the masterplan, which in turn changes the size of the driveways and surrounding landscape, so we needed a structure we could adapt very quickly.
Because we’re buying so much landscaping material, we find that we may start the project with one product, and we get halfway through it and for cost reasons or just availability reasons, we no longer have that product. So we had to develop a system that allows us to modify the details in the drawing design package quickly, without having to go back into every document and change it. To achieve this, we developed a process we that allows us to change a master document which then makes the necessary changes in all the other documents where those particular specifications are relevant.
It’s the first project where we really brought BIM software into play, and it allows us to quantify everything that we’re doing very accurately.
How large was the team at your end?
Six people, and we have been working on it since 2013. The project is ongoing, now into the final stages of the final communities, and as we speak I am just tidying up some of those packages. We have six more communities to bring to tender, and everything else is out in the tendered prices, or already tendered.
It’s not that large in terms of a Dubai project, as they think on a big scale. But this is not unusual for the kind of work that we do. For instance, we are currently working on a project in Pakistan which is a similar size. We worked on the original work for the Akoya Oxygen, which is the Tiger Woods project in Dubai, and that has a larger population than Akoya. But equally, we’re working on an apartment block project in Cairo, right down to projects in the UK which are community centres or schools. So the scale of our work really varies.
How do you go about finding suppliers capable of these volumes?
DAMAC have their own procurement department: they have a whole floor of a their head office tower block dedicated entirely to procurement staff. They will go to China directly and order materials in large amounts. When we are producing bills of quantities, our materials have a code which goes across all DAMAC projects – of which there are more than 100 – so that code relates to all those projects. It means they can get a price for one project and then they know the price for all their other projects. For Akoya we had such a large requirement for planting stock that they built their own nursery, and we also bought stock from adjacent developments that had collapsed in the financial crisis.
Why did DAMAC choose your firm?
What they liked about us is we are a relatively small team that could adapt and learn very quickly, and produce – from a small team – a very high-specification package for a very large resort, for a fraction of the cost that a large multi-disciplinary practice can do it for. We adapted very quickly to DAMAC, even as they have changed significantly in the time we have known them. They were already a large developer when we met them, but they are now a publicly listed company and they have billions of dollars of investments in projects around the world. We’ve kept up with that change, and as far as I know, of the consultants working on Akoya when we became involved, we are the only ones still working on it. It’s rigorous, and it’s difficult working for them, but clearly we’re delivering a good commercial product which has to be very good quality for the market it’s going to. It requires huge flexibility, and the ability to produce things extremely quickly.
How often are you on site?
To begin with we spent a lot of time on site, though we haven’t gone this year. There isn’t really a requirement for us to be on site now at this stage: we have done the initial work, the contracts have gone out to tender, and there is no requirement from DAMAC for us to keep going out there. We are very comfortable with the digital exchange of information that we have at the moment. We have a lot of systems for sharing documents, and tendering documents to contractors. We don’t need that many face-to-face meetings.
So technology has changed the nature of the work even during the course of this project?
During this project we have developed systems which allow us to efficiently design very large scale projects. We have had to absorb BIM software, and then the sites for project management have become much more advanced too. There are even separate tendering platforms which are now much more effective than how it used to be done.
When will your work be complete on this?
I think we’ll be done in about three months, on the current workload.
Once you have settled on a concept for a project, how much compromise is there creatively?
With companies like DAMAC, you have to go through a quality engineering assessment. Everything is rigorously checked, so they have one eye on delivering a high quality project, but they have to deliver it in a commercial way.
This feature first appeared in the April 2017 issue of Landscape Insight.