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The Uncompleted

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Some building owners managed to survive the 2008 GFC and their buildings completed and opened as if almost nothing had happened. Foster+Partners’ The Index is an example of this. Construction began in 2005 and the building was completed and opened in 2011, although without the fanfare that usually accompanied building openings in Dubai.

The Incomplete

For the past seven years I’ve lived next door but one to the 64-storey Al Hikma Tower. Construction commenced in 2006 and was put on hold in 2009 to resume in 2010. The building reached full height in 2011 but construction halted again in 2012. The project was on track to being completed in 2014 but is yet to open. It still has some facade panels missing. It’s a strange building – it’s not trying to be beautiful and whether or not that was the intention I applaud it for that. I wish I could understand what it is trying to be.

The only sign of activity has been in the past two weeks with the night-time activation of LEDs concealed in casing running up and across the building. This vid doesn’t do it justice.

Al Hikma Tower may be almost there but happy endings don’t necessarily happen as, for some buildings, construction halts at some stage above ground and stays halted. This next building is Pier 8 by WS ATKINS and due to have been completed 2011. Cladding stays unfinished and there’s definitely no lights on. I used to think I could tell if a project was on hold or cancelled if there was still a crane attached to it. I took this photo two weeks ago. Another photo from June 2019 shows the crane in the same position.

Thursday, 13th June, 2020

Buildings such as these aren’t uncompleted because of lack of demand but because some comprehensible calculus of loan financing and ownership/receivership kills all incentive to complete them. I only include this next building because in 2009 I had a lot of time to look at it from my apartment window. London Crown Tower reached full height early 2009 and is as you see it today. In 11 years nobody’s wanted to take it on.

If, in the end, it’s demolished it will be because some more attractive calculation required it but, if it’s eventually completed, it will be completed much as it was designed to be, give or take some internal partitions rearranged to suit some anticipated market. It will remain some mix of studio, one-, two-, and possibly three-bed apartments that may be sold as apartments and/or let as apartments, hotel-apartments, or short-stay apartments but that’s more a matter of tenure.

The Uncompleted

Dubai Pearl is a project of four towers with shared top levels. It’s been on hold since 2006 according to Wikipedia but if people were still buying-in in 2007 then I doubt that. It’s another GFC drama with an extended intermission. It’s perhaps one third full height but the difficult parts of a) completing it and b) restoring confidence remain. Given its location, it probably will be completed someday, and probably much as it was designed to be, as again there’s little choice. The crowning inhabitable bridge structure may be down-designed to become a decorative space-frame or lattice-matrix. For less outlay, an oversized perimeter box truss would visually complete the building and retain some semblance of the original design intent. At this stage, it’s not about staying true to the architect’s vision and not hurting their feelings.

This next photo shows two uncompleted buildings seemingly in the same state of unfinished-ness but the one on the left is more of an Incomplete, than an Uncompleted.

It was to have been a 106-storey mixed-use building that’s been variously known as 106 Tower, Marina 106 Tower, Marina 101 Tower and Dream Dubai Marina and may yet be any of these one day.

It wasn’t designed by anyone we know but, looking at the thickness of that perimeter concrete, it’s a tube structure precursor to 432 Park Avenue. The plans below show how the structure has been brought into line and the floor plate made better use of since its Dream Dubai Marina days. There are no internal partitions that can’t be reconfigured to whatever use or mix of uses and sizes makes sense. This would probably have happened by now if it had been front line. More recent buildings have mostly built out what Gulf view it may once have had and I doubt there’s any sense going the original full height to overcome that. But even if it stays the height it is, it can still be made into a decent and serviceable building, albeit one with an over-engineered structure. A tube structure with an H-shaped corridor external to the structural core has a lot going for it.

The Difficult Whole

The situation is totally different three plots north along the same street. AEDAS’s Pentominium was to have been the tallest residential building in the world at 122 stories and, being luxury apartments, there were only two per floor. Here’s an image that was making the rounds in 2008.

Construction began 2009 but stopped at the 22nd floor in 2011 when the owners couldn’t meet payments on a USD20 mil. loan. This is it two weeks ago.

The first design had two 4-bedroom apartments per floor, with three elevators plus a service elevator serving sixty or so apartments per half-floor [ ! ] with shared fire escape stairs on alternate landings. Three out of every eight floors on the upper half of the north side have some sky garden silliness. These could be accessed from the south-side corridor via the fire escape stairs. [Wheelchair users would have had to go to some shared lobby at ground level or in/on the car parking podium and switch to the other bank of elevators.]

Amazingly, the sky gardens remain in the structural rationalization below in which

  • the left living room is reined in,
  • some of that expensively enclosed space external to the staircases is filled in,
  • the guest bathrooms are better positioned, and
  • the master bedroom bathrooms have been repositioned to put some psychological space between the glazed walls of the master bedrooms.

The plans below are as-built. [Literally – in that it’s built – but, even so, it’s still only a fraction of what was to have been built. The English language is good at describing once-potential futures that never happened.] Those openings at the ends of the core in the image are the doors leading into master bedroom dressing rooms that may never be used.

Unlike Marina Tower 106 up the road with its core and tube structure, this design can’t ever be anything other than two 4-bedroom apartments per floor. The design assumed all the balls were going to stay in the air until it was built, and there was zero wiggle room when that assumption proved wrong. Even if the positions of those four massive stiffening walls each side allowed each 4-bed apartment to be divided into two 2-bedroom apartments, those core walls are never going to be punctured to allow them to be entered. This is especially true for the lower floors that typically have the smaller apartments.

In order to incorporate some design resilience into high-rise towers, it’s better to keep access corridors external to the core structure. Pentominium is how not to do it.

What’s worse is that view is no longer a design driver. Lower level views – we’re talking about the first FIFTY floors – have all but been built out. There’s a lot more buildings in front now and, from the standpoint of return-on-investment, it’s hard to see how it would be worth building higher than the surrounding buildings to access those views. Even if people were prepared to pay a premium for apartments on those higher levels, the value of the apartments on the lower levels is unlikely to match the estimates that initially made this project stack up. I’m no building economist, but 240 downwardly-revalued four-bedroom apartments must have produced a considerable collateral shortfall when the crunch came.

THE PROBLEM: What then can be done with the 26 floors of core and the twenty-two and a half floors of floor slabs that currently exist? Here’s my best two.

  1. Co-housing complex: Convert each of the bedrooms into studio apartments, the kitchen/breakfast room into two more and possibly carve another one from the area of the living room, plumbing permitting. That’s seven apartments plus a communal living–dining-kitchen. The 230 x 4-bed apartments convert to 1,610 studio apartments whose value is more dependent more on location than view.
    • This assumes the sky gardens are filled in with equivalent floors and that this doesn’t throw the structure off balance. The sky gardens complicate matters as the asymmetrical loading due to them being hung off the core has already been calculated into what structure has already been built. The only way the situation could be more complicated is if the structure there already was designed and built with a deflection that was intended to straighten out when the building reached full height – as with Abu Dhabi’s Capital Gate, the world’s … leaniest building.
    • This proposal would also require a broadminded interpretation of fire regulations so each studio apartment isn’t subject to the same fire escape stair distance requirement as the single apartments originally planned. This is another problem caused by that impenetrable wall between the access corridor and potential accommodation.
  2. Prosthetic extension: The studio-apartment/co-housing configuration seems best for the lower floors already built but there’s no need to complete the entire structure as per the original and then work out what to do with it. I daresay the part of the core already there is solid enough to support another fifty or so of steel. The central box can continue upwards but with additional penetrations creating additional possibilities. The building continues up, but as a different building with only the positions of the elevators and (maybe) the fire-escape stairs remaining unchanged. The sky gardens are now gone so there’s no need to factor them into the new structure.
One precedent for such a prosthetic extension is the 1272 additions to correct the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

A third possibility always exists as some kind of mashup of the first two. All may seem equally unlikely but think about it. This contemporary ruin is going nowhere. The economic conditions responsible for it have little likelihood of recurring. They simply don’t, and won’t, design them like this anymore. The layouts, as defined by the structure resist reconfiguration into anything other than what it was designed to be. All we can do is use the available openings to access the available spaces and occupy them in some way that makes more sense than luxury-sized four-bed apartments with no view. If anybody has any better ideas for how to make this building return or at least recoup some value from the land – a process that architects are supposed to lubricate – then I’m sure some holding company somewhere will be very pleased to hear from you.