The Burj Dubai, which will be the world’s tallest building for a brief period of time, will be a monument to concrete frame construction. B&E investigates.
THE 153-STORY BUILDING IS AN INVALUABLE ADDITION TO THE PORTFOLIO OF ANY COMPANY STRONG ENOUGH TO HAVE WON WORK ON THE PROJECT IN A CITY WHERE CONSTRUCTION IS MOVING AT SUCH A FAST RATE THAT IT CURRENTLY USES 30% OF ALL CRANES IN THE WORLD.
Doka, an Austrian giant, and Meva, a specialist, are both involved in the construction of the Burj tower.
Despite its prominent position as one of the world’s leading formwork companies, Doka is a relative newcomer to the UK market, having arrived less than a decade ago. However, during that time, it has gained a local reputation for its work on Manchester’s Beetham Tower, the tallest building in Western Europe. The company is also involved in the Paradise project in Liverpool, which is Europe’s largest retail construction site.
Doka supplied Windshield formwork for slab forming operations on what is currently the world’s most talked about project, the Burj Dubai. Windshield was developed to protect workers and the workface from inclement weather, but health and safety considerations played a significant role in the decision to use it for the Burj Dubai.
According to a Doka spokesman, Windshield protects people from falling from the slab hatch as well as the workers below from falling objects.
Love thy neighbour
Doka is collaborating on the project with Meva, a competitor in the formwork industry. A Meva spokesman quickly distances the two companies, emphasising that the company typically develops its formwork with small to medium-sized businesses in mind. “We don’t subscribe to the philosophy of pursuing massive projects,” he says. “We do climbing formwork, but not on the scale that Doka is using on the Burj Dubai.” We’re looking for projects that require a little more attention to detail and a bit of logistical ingenuity.”
You could be forgiven for thinking this was a David and Goliath situation, seeing Meva working on the project alongside its much larger rival Doka. Meva, on the other hand, claims to be punching far above its weight on the project and is working on a large portion of the tower. “The slabs we’re working on have the most surface area of the concrete work in the tower,” says the spokesman. “While the walls are more visible, the slabs represent the greater area.” Indeed, Meva demonstrates that it is no minnow, producing a total surface area of 242,000m2 of formwork by the end of the project.
Indeed, when you consider that the building will have 153 levels, and each of those levels will have four slabs, the impact of slab formwork on the project’s speed is enormous. According to a Meva spokesman, “if each slab takes one day longer to complete, the extra time required for the project could be measured in years.”
He claims that the company was able to stand up during the project’s tendering stage and provide affirmative answers to the problems thrown out by the project’s magnitude because its polypropylene formwork is adaptable enough onsite to deal with any problems encountered in the 153-story reach for the skies. “We have developed techniques for maintaining, caring for, and repairing formwork onsite using the same materials that were used in the first place,” says the spokesman. “You’re not repairing it with a foreign substance like you would when repairing plywood formwork; we use polypropylene to weld together damaged parts of the facing, and we do that onsite with hand tools.”
Meva claims that other methods of formwork would take four or five days for each floor and that Meva completes one level of the tower every three days. According to a company spokesman, this is due to the system’s quick stripping mechanism. “Normally, if you want to adjust the height of single-sided formwork, you have to disassemble the structure and start reassembling it from the bottom,” he says. “We just added more formwork on top.”
The company claims that working on the Burj Dubai will put it in good stead for future Middle Eastern projects. “We’re currently working on 12 more towers in Dubai,” says the spokesman.
“There’s a lot of potential there, and it’s a great resource for our engineers.” We’re up against world leaders with massive engineering departments. To give you an idea of the scope of the work going on there, 30 percent of the world’s cranes are currently in Dubai, and crane suppliers are unsure where they will get their next crane from.”
Without the use of cranes, Doka claims to have a single solution to the problems of crane availability and cost, and plans to launch a new product in the United States at next year’s World of Concrete in Las Vegas, as well as the rest of the world at Bau.
The company created a new table lifting system that eliminates the need for cranes to lift the formwork table from one storey to the next. Instead, a hydraulic lifting system will be used.
The new product will be added to the company’s existing table system, which employs a scissor-action lifting mechanism. Doka installed the system for the first time in the UK at the Orion Tower in Birmingham, which was completed last year. According to a Doka spokesman, the new product’s hydraulic lifting will allow the table to be lifted to an ordinary storey height of 3.5 metres in 20 seconds. “It’ll be used in situations where you have to lift a lot of tables from one storey to the next,” he explained. “It’s cost-effective for large floor plans, especially on large construction sites, and for lifting 20 or 30 tables.”
Concrete reaches for the stars
When it comes to tall building construction, formwork companies are certainly gearing up to give concrete a large market share. Whether they are big-thinking heavyweights like Doka or smaller, more specialised companies like Meva, the construction industry at home and abroad looks promising, and their efforts in Dubai will help them win more work in the Middle East.
What about China’s construction boom? Meva is hesitant to make a commitment right now. “We’re so focused on what we’re doing out there right now,” the spokesman says, “that we’re not thinking about Beijing right now.” Perhaps if we talk again in a year, things will be different.”
And does he believe that a small company can go out and conquer the market? “We wanted to be the Mercedes Benz of formwork companies in terms of size and quality, but we ended up being Porsche instead; they sell fewer cars, but they’re very happy doing what they do,” he says.