Expo 2020 Dubai’ s con­struc­tion work­force will dou­ble next year as ac­tiv­ity reaches a cru­cial pe­riod on the project


Ma­jor con­struc­tion work for Expo 2020 Dubai will be com­pleted in Oc­to­ber 2019, leav­ing plenty of time for test­ing and prepa­ra­tion be­fore its doors open to the 21 mil­lion visi­tors that or­gan­is­ers ex­pect will at­tend the six­month event.

The project is now at a cru­cial point in its con­struc­tion time­line, with lit­tle more than a year to go un­til the com­plex build­ing and in­fras­truc­tural works need to be fin­ished. With ac­tiv­ity ac­cel­er­at­ing in prepa­ra­tion for the busiest pe­riod, Con­struc­tion Week finds out how work on the 4.38km² site is pro­gress­ing.

Ahmed Al Khatib, se­nior vice pres­i­dent of real es­tate and de­liv­ery at Expo 2020 Dubai, tells Con­struc­tion Week that an “im­pres­sive pace of progress” has been main­tained since early work on the project, lo­cated in Dubai South, be­gan in 2015. He em­pha­sises that “close col­lab­o­ra­tion” be­tween all of the stake­hold­ers on site has been vi­tal to help “co­or­di­nate lo­gis­tics and en­sure that work con­tin­ues ac­cord­ing to [...] sched­ule”. This mo­men­tum is cru­cial as Dubai pre­pares to host the first-ever world fair in the Mid­dle East, North Africa, and South Asia.

In terms of progress, con­struc­tion is well ad­vanced on the three The­matic Dis­tricts that form the core of the expo site. All three dis­tricts – named Mo­bil­ity, Op­por­tu­nity, and Sus­tain­abil­ity, based on Expo 2020 Dubai’s sub-themes – will be con­nected by Al Wasl Plaza, the cen­tre­piece of the site. Work has started on the erec­tion of steel­work pieces that form the domed trel­lis of Al Wasl Plaza, af­ter the parts ar­rived by ship from Italy, where they were cast by Ci­mo­lai.

Foun­da­tions and struc­tural works are now com­plete within the three The­matic Dis­tricts. More­over, all con­crete works for the dis­tricts have been com­pleted, with about 243,000m³ of con­crete poured. Pre­cast pro­duc­tion and in­stal­la­tion is now tak­ing place, with façade, me­chan­i­cal, elec­tri­cal, and plumb­ing, and pub­li­crealm works also in progress. Khatib says the Phase 1 in­fra­struc­ture pack­age, which in­cludes work for the Expo Vil­lage and the Dubai 2020 Metro Line, is al­most com­plete: “Our Phase 2 in­fras­truc­tural works will be com­pleted in 2019.”

Both pack­ages in­clude build­ing sewage lines, elec­tric­ity ca­bling, telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, fire sys­tems, storm


wa­ter drainage sys­tems, a road net­work, and car parks. All three 132kV sub­sta­tions were com­pleted ear­lier this year and are now live. The Dubai Elec­tric­ity and Wa­ter Au­thor­ity (Dewa) plants will gen­er­ate and dis­trib­ute power for the Expo 2020 site. Ear­lier this year, the au­thor­ity re­vealed that the to­tal con­struc­tion cost for its three sub­sta­tions stood at $114m (AED420m).

Khatib says he is pleased with the pace of progress to date, adding that he ex­pects ac­tiv­ity to go up a gear in the next nine months. Project stake­hold­ers will have to build upon and grow their re­spec­tive site man­age­ment strate­gies as more work­ers ar­rive to build the devel­op­ment.

There are ap­prox­i­mately 20,000 work­ers on site now. The num­ber of staff on the ground will dou­ble to 40,000 when build­ing ac­tiv­ity reaches its busiest pe­riod in H1 2019 – this head­count fig­ure rep­re­sents both man­ual and non­man­ual work­ers, in­clud­ing third-party stake­hold­ers and build­ing teams for in­ter­na­tional par­tic­i­pants.

There are cur­rently 45 tower cranes on site, and on­go­ing works on the project in­clude shade struc­ture and canopy in­stal­la­tion by the Mid­dle East di­vi­sion of Cleve­land Bridge and En­gi­neer­ing.

UAE-based com­pa­nies play an im­por­tant role in the con­struc­tion ef­forts. Con­trac­tors in­clud­ing AF Con­struc­tion, Arabtec, ALEC, ASGC, Be­six, Khansa­heb, and Tris­tar En­gi­neer­ing are all in­volved with the scheme. Al Na­boodah Con­struc­tion has com­pleted early works for the project, and it is also work­ing on the car parks and as­so­ci­ated roads, in ad­di­tion to civil de­fence and emer­gency re­sponse build­ings. Other no­table names in­volved with the devel­op­ment in­clude Emaar Prop­er­ties, Mer­aas, Dubai’s Roads and Trans­port Au­thor­ity, China State Con­struc­tion En­gi­neer­ing Cor­po­ra­tion Mid­dle East, and many other lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional play­ers.

Con­struc­tion teams have shifted enough sand to fill 2,500 Olympic-sized swim­ming pools since work started on the project in 2015. All of the stake­hold­ers are work­ing to re­use as much ex­ca­vated ma­te­rial as pos­si­ble, as part of the expo’s ef­forts to bal­ance cut and fill ac­tiv­i­ties.

This is just one of the many key per­for­mance in­di­ca­tors (KPIs) con­trac­tors are abid­ing by, Khatib ex­plains: “In to­tal, the site has 41 KPIs cov­er­ing the sus­tain­abil­ity of the project, [which in­cludes] not just the con­struc­tion of the expo, but the de­sign and com­mis­sion­ing of the en­tire project as well.”

Expo 2020 Dubai may go on to be­come the most sus­tain­able world fair to date, and Khatib be­lieves the eco-friendly mea­sures im­ple­mented for the scheme are hav­ing an im­pact across the emi­rate. “All of the con­struc­tion guide­lines we have here are rais­ing the stan­dards for the whole of Dubai,” he notes.

Build­ing teams fol­low a waste strat­egy that en­cour­ages firms to re­duce, re­use, or re­cy­cle as much as pos­si­ble. This in­cludes con­struc­tion waste, as well as solid and mu­nic­i­pal waste. The expo’s goal is for 85% of all con­struc­tion waste to be seg­mented, al­low­ing sur­plus ma­te­ri­als to be treated and di­verted away from land­fill. This tar­get is higher than the UAE Vi­sion 2021 goal of di­vert­ing 75% of solid mu­nic­i­pal waste away from land­fill.

As­phalt mix used to sur­face 30,000 un­der-con­struc­tion car park spa­ces – which will be com­pleted in Q2 2019 – was re­for­mu­lated as part of the expo’s sus­tain­abil­ity drive. Around a fifth of the mix­ture used to man­u­fac­ture as­phalt for the road that Al Na­boodah Con­struc­tion is build­ing comes from re­cy­cled tyres.

“We car­ried out a se­ries of com­pre­hen­sive tests on var­i­ous as­phalt mixes to see what works best in the heat and [to de­ter­mine] how much pres­sure it can with­stand,” Khatib says, adding that this could be the first time in the re­gion that this tech­nique has been used on such a large scale.

For con­struc­tion projects on the scale of Expo 2020 Dubai, where a mul­ti­tude of con­trac­tors and sub-con­trac­tors are in­volved, it can of­ten be hard to en­sure all par­ties fol­low the same guide­lines on safety and sus­tain­abil­ity. How­ever, thanks to the com­mit­ment demon­strated by con­struc­tion stake­hold­ers on the expo project, this not been an is­sue, and its ma­jor build­ing works are ex­pected to com­plete on time in Oc­to­ber 2019.

Cou­pled with the project’s in­dus­trylead­ing sus­tain­abil­ity and green build­ing ini­tia­tives – such as us­ing re­cy­cled tyres for as­phalt, sig­nif­i­cantly re­duc­ing waste, max­imis­ing re­new­able en­ergy op­por­tu­ni­ties, and con­vert­ing mois­ture into wa­ter – the expo is mak­ing great progress in ar­eas that tran­scend its timely de­liv­ery.

As Khatib says, Expo 2020 has raised the bar for con­struc­tion stan­dards in Dubai – and it will con­tinue to do so in the months to come.

Drone footage pro­vides a bird’s-eye view of work un­der way for the Sus­tain­abil­ity Pav­il­ion [im­age by Expo 2020].

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