Mark Small, Middle East technical director who oversaw the design and construction of this much anticipated Abu Dhabi mall and leisure destination, tells the story.

Malls in the Middle East are more than places to shop – they are all-round leisure destinations for socialising and recreation in spacious, cool environments that provide a welcome contrast to the heat of the desert, particularly during the summer months. We were appointed by Gulf Related, a joint venture between Abu Dhabi based Gulf Capital and the US real estate firm, Related Companies, for the expansion of The Galleria Al Maryah Island’s high-end mall. In 2014 we started on the designs to triple it in size to create a giant, 2.8m ft2 indoor dining and entertainment emporium with 70 new restaurants, entertainment spaces including a 21-screen VOX Cinema, children’s play area and three urban rooftop parks in addition to 270 new shops.

Our input was significant, with a long list of disciplines, including civils and infrastructure, highways, sustainability for the design phase, acoustics, audio visual, IT, security, MEP and fire. The design was led from our Sharjah office supported by the CRC in India, with a small team on site from late 2015. (I myself joined the project in June 2016).

The Galleria Al Maryah Island Atrium

In the early stages the main challenge was to satisfy the local authorities that we were meeting their requirements in terms of codes and standards. 

People accustomed to delivering projects elsewhere in the world may be surprised to learn that in the Middle East the building codes and standards can be interpreted in different ways by the local authorities. In addition, new inspectors often bring their own preferences to the fore, which can often lead to a significant amount of re-design, even for WSP’s UAE design teams who are well versed in these idiosyncrasies. Such preferences were imposed on this project, and, unfortunately, didn’t come to light until it was under construction. To address this, we had to revisit the design and produce revised construction documents, with the risk of delays since it meant changing existing scenarios under the construction contracts. With the full support of WSP’s global resource centres, led by UAE design teams, we were able to turn around the new design packages in an amazingly short period, which helped minimize abortive work on site. 

People in the Galleria Al Maryah Island

Unexpected change posed by far the greatest risk to the program. In any retail project we would normally expect some change. In addition to the anticipated client variations and small design tweaks for the base build, once tenants start to come on board, they usually have alternative requirements for cooling, power, size of unit and so on. Our procedure is to undertake a pricing exercise, get approval from the client for the change and then do the redesign, which is then issued to the contractors who incorporate it into their base build.

The first phase of the project was to hand over the two anchor stores as shell-and-core retail units.  All was going according to plan until, at the end of the first phase of the project, the two anchor stores at each end of the mall decided, for their own business reasons, to not proceed with a new investment. This left the client with two stores of 16,000m2 and 12,000m2 that had already been completed for fit-out, without tenants. Services had already been installed, tested and commissioned.

The client’s leasing and retail delivery teams worked tirelessly to find new tenants. These were ultimately secured and over the next 18 months, we had to redesign the subdivision of the two anchor stores and a large part of the rest of the mall to accommodate tenant’s new power, water, cooling, ventilation and size requirements. This included retail units being turned into food and beverage, and vice versa and providing completely new risers all the way through a finished building.  We went through hundreds of individual leasing variations, including the total remodelling of about 80 entire units. Even after that, tenants would still revise their requirements. In one case, after we were part way through the redesign of a store on the second floor, they decided to relocate to the ground floor, while another tenant required an already-installed escalator to be moved 5m and replaced with a smaller one.

We had to capture every change and its knock-on impact on all the other disciplines, all while responding very quickly in keeping with the project deadline. It required a massive exercise in coordination and continuous dialogue with the client’s internal teams; retail, design, and construction.  It was truly a team effort.  On site, we were communicating hourly with the client’s teams, then skyping our designers in Sharjah, who in turn were working closely with colleagues in India. We set up an active folder on the server which was constantly updated and rigorously managed. We populated with each individual leasing variation to ensure we knew which drawings were associated with which tenant. Once the new designs came back, the team back on site would check them, discipline by discipline, to ensure all was correct, or update them if anything was missing. The client’s own design managers were also engaged in this exercise so they could validate the design changes were captured and disseminate the information to the construction teams.

If that wasn’t enough, the construction work generated by all these changes led to problems for the contractor, so a second, and then a third contractor was engaged to manage all the extra work. Eventually, we were dealing with three main contractors and three MEP sub-contractors, all trying to work their way through the variations. We then had to manage the individual sub-contractor shop drawings, and in some cases, this meant that different contractors were working in the same area, so we had to be sure that each contractor has right level of up to date information. It was very intensive!

Even in the final hours there were problems to be addressed.  24 hours before opening the 21-screen cinema reported that they had no cooling. WSP’s on site team responded to the client’s needs, did some trouble-shooting, identified the problem and directed the contractor on how to successfully resolve issue.

All the hard work paid off, and to everyone’s relief, The Galleria’s expansion opened on time, on Wednesday 4 September. We were delighted to have been able to support our client, Gulf Related, helping them to deliver one of the biggest projects to be completed in Abu Dhabi in recent years, against all the odds.


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