Dubai-based Al Abbar Group has opened its first satellite operation in Bahrain, capitalising on its involvement in the kingdom’s iconic Bahrain World Trade Centre (BWTC) development. A new factory has been established with 300 employees, including 50 Bahraini apprentices who will be trained in all aspects of the company’s work, from engineering to fabrication.
“We recognise that the Bahrain economy is strong and this investment reflects our faith in it, both short and long term,” says commercial manager Ahmed Rasheed. “There were two motivating factors in our decision to set up a major centre of operations here. First, the construction sector is thriving-which obviously creates a demand for expertise in the field of aluminium curtain-walling, stainless steel and architectural glass. Second, Bahrain has shown an appetite for the kind of prestigious projects that the Al Abbar Group is renowned for.
“This is amply demonstrated by the BWTC project. In the field of architecture, unique is a word that is often overused. But the twin towers of the BWTC really do merit that description-the project is truly one of a kind,” says Rasheed.
Set on the main King Faisal Highway in Manama, the 240-m-high towers offer spectacular views over the Arabian Gulf-hence the nautical theme incorporated into the project design. The architects (Atkins) created an illusion whereby each tower is visually anchored to the ground by a concertina of curved, sail-like forms, which progressively peel back to reveal a dramatic shape resembling a shard of blue glass.
The shape of the towers themselves-triangular and vertically tapered-presented a number of design challenges, says Rasheed, who emphasised that the Al Abbar Group was involved in the project from the earliest planning stages in 2004. “But possibly the major challenge was presented by the timescale-design of the facade beginning last August (2005), onsite installation work in November, completion of towers in May 2006 and other elements of the project by August 2006. A one-year build for a project of this nature is remarkable even by fast-track standards. To meet the deadline, the Al Abbar team is installing 350 panels, or 1,700 sq. m., every week.”
Yet the demanding schedule is not the only ‘whirlwind’ component of the BWTC project. The design incorporates three giant wind turbines suspended between the twin towers to harness the strong onshore breeze,” he says.
“Seldom has any building facade combined ‘green’ energy solutions with iconoclastic design to such dramatic effect. Apart from generating power for all ‘landlord’ areas, the continuous movement of the turbines will also animate the facade. According to the architects, this will create a vibrant kinetic sculpture that will be the only one of its kind in the world.”
The turbines, however, also posed an unusual challenge for the Al Abbar design team who had to assess the effect on the twin tower curtain-walling and devise appropriate solutions. Says design team manager Patrice Couret: “It’s the first time, to my knowledge, that huge turbines have been strugn between two buildings in this way. “On any high tower, one must take wind factors into account. Usually a structure will experience high winds periodically-perhaps every week or every month. But on this project, the turbines will create a strong wind impact every two seconds.
“Every time the blades rotate close to the curtain-wall, you have an impact phase followed by suction, which in turn creates constant negative and positive pressure. There were also issues of acoustics to be addressed. So in close proximity to the turbines, stronger profiles-in addition to extra-thick glass and special bonding-were required to accommodate the wind load.”
Couret insists, however, that the turbines are not the only exclusive design feature of the BWTC. “Usually, an iconic building will have one dramatic design element that characterises it and makes it different from the rest. What makes the BWTC special is that everything is different. There is absolutely nothing about this development that could be described as typical.
“There is no typical floor because the dimension keep changing as you go up. All the lines on the building are curved; nothing is straight. It is all concave and convex angles, which produce a saw-tooth effect. The panels are not rectangular-they are trapezoidal.
“In fact, the entire tower development is made up of very complicated shapes. There are diamond-shaped, fully unitised panels and we believe Al Abbar is the first to used them in the Middle East. The curtain-walling system that were are deploying onsite is fully unitised and custom-designed. It has been used in Europe but, again, we are confident it is a first in this region.”
Couret add: “This is not to imply that all the systems used on the BWTC are unique in themselves. What’s unique is the sheer variety-the use of so many different and innovative systems in a single project. It is unprecedented.”
Al Abbar’s involvement in the project extends not only to the triangular twin towers, but also to the distinctive dhow-shaped podium, which separates them. The sculpted three-storey podium, accomodating a new shopping mall and car parking, further enhances the nautical flavour of the overall BWTC development.
Visiting the new Al Abbar factory, a senior spokesman for the group told Gulf Construction: “We are thrilled that our very first contract in this country should be a project specifically designed as a timeless icon for Bahrain. Such a prestigious development provides a springboard to go after the types of buildings that suit our expertise.
“Our aim is to select four or five choice projects over the new few years and the new factory means we are perfectly placed to do just that. Having a full-service factory in the country gives us an enormous advantage over non-Bahraini companies who arrive to service projects, then return to home base.”
“We believe it is important to contribute to Bahrain’s economy as well as to benefit from it. This is one of the reasons we have taken on a high percentage of young Bahraini nationals. The Al Abbar Group is renowned for building long-term relationships. Our new Bahraini operation demonstrates our confidence in the leadership, the economy and the people of this energetic and fast-developing country,” he conclude.