EXPO Analysis

MEA looked at what Dubai Expo 2020 really means during the DesignMENA Summit. Bart Leclercq, engineer with WSP, took to the stage and gave the benefit of his experience of the good and bad times for the business – as well as highlighting potential pitfalls for the near future.
Story – Aidan Imanova

One of the most hotly anticipated and enthusiastically received events at DesignMENA was a talk by WSP engineer Bart Leclercq on what winning the Expo 2020 vote really means for Dubai. As a long-time resident of the emirate he has seen good and bad times – here is his penetrative analysis.

He said: “It has been an interesting few years in Dubai. The boom, followed by the inevitable bust and significant cash of the property market and finally, over the last three years a fragile and slow recovery.

The first indicators that confidence in the Dubai market is back have resulted in an acceleration of activity over the past six months. Winning Dubai EXPO 2020 will undoubtedly put Dubai and the property market into a tailspin.”

But Leclercq said he had some questions for the immediate future which he shared with the audience.

“What have we learned from the past 10 years?

“How can we prevent Dubai from falling into the same pitfalls we found ourselves in five years ago?
“Today, World Expos remain a key meeting point for the global community to share innovations and make progress on issues of international importance such as the global economy, sustainable development and improved quality of life for the world’s population.

“Dubai Expo 2020 will be the first time the Expo has been held in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia region and will coincide with the 50th anniversary of the UAE. Expectations are that the Expo will attract 25 million visitors, of which 70% will be international visitors – the highest number of visitors to ever attend a world Expo, no doubt a reflection of Dubai’s central location.

“The theme will be “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future”, with three subthemes: Sustainability, Mobility and Opportunity.

“There is no doubt that the Expo 2020 will have a huge, positive impact on Dubai in various ways. It will be a catalyst for economic, cultural and social transformation and will generate an important legacy for the host city and nation.

“As a result of the Expo, the economic output is expected to be AED142 billion and more than 250,000 jobs will be created.

“The equivalent of 230 new hotels will need to be designed, built and operational within seven years, thus increasing the current figure of 80,000 hotel rooms by an additional 50,000 rooms.

“The development of the 438 hectare Expo site in Jebel Ali, will involve many designers, architects and engineers working together to develop the various pavilions, infrastructure and various support buildings that the site requires to host the event. The pavilions will reflect each country involved, and so will be designed by numerous international architects.

“These architects may not have a local licence, knowledge of local codes and regulations or the approvals processes, meaning there will be a lot of work for UAE-based companies, who had better buckle up and start preparing for the deluge of work that is coming their way. I am convinced about that.”

Leclercq said his company had already seen a growth in business demand. “Confidence is definitely back in the UAE market, especially in Dubai, for the last six months we have seen a significant increase in the number of ‘Requests For Proposals’ – RFP’s – and we are hearing from our architect friends that they are experiencing the same. The size of some of the RFPs is increasing, also showing a return of confidence in the market.

“Many projects not seen since 2008 have also been dusted off ready for their restart- a process that can be more complex than one might expect. The first step should be to establishing whether the existing contract documents are still suitable or if the client and project team require a new agreement.

“Many of the original project team are no longer around, and with that some of the project specific knowledge might no longer be available. This is especially important to consider in case the project was not properly closed out and archived.

“Another challenge is that since the projects went on hold, a lot of changes to local codes and regulations have taken place. These changes include the introduction of the Green Building Regulations and the BIM requirements by DM for all special projects from the first of January 2014. Also structurally the Seismic Zone changed from a zone 2A to zone 2B for Dubai and the Basic Wind Speed went up from 38m/s to 45m/s.

“These changes have a considerable effect on various structural elements of the building. Changes to the Fire and Life Safety regulations by local authorities, have also been made. Also Jet Pulse Fans are no longer allowed as a strategy to ventilate basements.

“All these changes will have a considerable impact on the designs and layouts of the buildings so in most cases the design will need to be revisited and updated to satisfy the new situation.

“So it won’t be simply picking up our old drawings from the cupboard, dusting them off and start building.

“Looking back at the period between 2004 and 2008, one of the main challenges was the management of the growth within companies. In terms of employee numbers, companies were doubling in size annually, making it difficult to keep control of the identity of a company. “It also proved challenging to find, attract and retain good quality people in the booming market.

“All new people will need to be trained in the company’s ways of working to ensure they stay true to company’s core values, and follow the company’s Quality Control procedures, to make sure the quality of your product is guaranteed. Sometimes a better choice is to restrain your growth to keep control of your quality. Back in 2008, there were projects being launched left, right and centre, some of which were crazy or big.

“Suddenly everybody was a property developer and at times it became a quite uncontrollable situation. There are still many property buyers waiting for their properties to be built and handed over, which is not good for the confidence of future buyers.

It is important that Dubai puts systems and processes in place to prevent this from happening again. There is no doubt the market is picking up in Dubai. This will attract many opportunists. However, we must not forget the many professionals that managed to stay around and survive the five challenging years that followed.

“Let’s hope these ‘Dubai Survivors’ remind us of the pitfalls that may lie ahead of us.
“This will allow us to go forward with our eyes wide open and of course, enjoy the ride.”