Installing MEP systems at ICD Brookfield Place is a challenging engineering feat, states JLW Middle East

The 283-metre ICD Brookfield Place tower is a joint venture between the Investment Corporation of Dubai (ICD) and Brookfield.

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The ICD project has been designed to achieve LEED Gold certification.
The ICD project has been designed to achieve LEED Gold certification.

At one glance, this tall structure would mimic just any other glassed skyscraper vastly spread across Dubai’s glittering landscape. But there is more to this particular building than meets the eye.

Once completed, the 54-storey ICD Brookfield Place at Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), will feature 980,000 square foot of office space, 150,000 square foot of retail space, over 2,700 parking spaces spread over seven basements, and 46 lifts.

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The 283-metre ICD Brookfield Place tower is a joint venture between the Investment Corporation of Dubai (ICD) and Brookfield.
ICD Brookfield appointed Fosters & Partners as the architects, Robert Bird Group as structural engineers, AECOM as project management consultants/engineers, a multitude of the regions specialist sub-consultants, in addition to the main contractor Multiplex SsangYong JV, supported by JLW Middle East for the MEP works.

Established in May 2006, the Investment Corporation of Dubai (ICD) is a state-owned holding company that can be characterised as a sovereign wealth fund owned by the government of Dubai, whereas Brookfield Properties is a fully-integrated, global real estate services company, providing industry-leading development and portfolio management capabilities across the real estate investment strategies of Brookfield
Asset Management.

Talking about the client on this project, Ramy Boufarhat, chief operating officer, JLW Middle East, said: “If you think about Brookfield, it is one of the biggest international players when it comes to office spaces in the world, and then you bring in Investment Corporation of Dubai, which is a top investment company. They got the best designers, architects and engineers. They also wanted the best MEP contractor. That’s how we basically got involved.”

The Australian MEP contractor JLW Middle East is a design and build (EPC contracts) specialist, with half of the firm’s turnover attributed to design and build/EPC projects and the other half for traditional build-only projects. 

Boufarhat added: “This client is building, retaining, and operating their own asset. They’re not selling it off. Their focus is quality, reliability, and obtaining an optimum life cycle. The entire design team, including ours, has always been encouraged by this client to push the envelope when it came to the use of the latest technologies.”

Ramy Boufarhat, chief operating officer, JLW Middle East

During an exclusive site visit at the tower itself, MEP Middle East learned that apart from the various challenges, there were two major issues that JLW faced: one was that the client wanted the entire tower to have a clean façade, and the other issue was the spacial constraints in building the tower at a high density location like DIFC.

Since the building was designed to have a clean façade, the main MEP plant rooms are only located at the bottom (level 5) and the top of the tower (level 54). In normal tall buildings, there will be louvered sections in between glass facades, which meant that the MEP plant room can be easily identifiable from the outside. Boufarhat said that in a skyscraper “usually after every 25 levels or so, there would normally be a plant room level”. But not for
this tower.

Elaborating more about the concept of clean façade, Bryan Heffernan, technical director, JLW Middle East, said: “A clean façade means that there is no mid-level louvers or anything, other than the glazed façade from the top to the bottom of the tower. This drove the MEP plants to the bottom and top of the tower. So you end up having a very congested and concentrated MEP plant. The heart of the MEP systems are concentrated on the bottom plant room (level 5) and at the very top of the building (level 54), with no real core MEP plant in between the storeys.”

Level 5
The plant room at level 5 is 9 metres high and it’s stacked with layers of MEP systems with narrow passageways for distribution. The area of the plant room is only 3,500m2 and there are secondary steel support structures supporting the MEP systems from the plant room floor, with steel access/maintenance gantries provided for all equipment and valves located above 2.5 metres.

In that plant room, there are about 8-10 layers of MEP service distribution stacked throughout the height of the plant room, in an intricate yet orderly fashion. MEP Middle East was shown a computerised building information model (BIM) model where everything in that plant room from pumps, plate heat exchangers, HVAC systems, to control panels, cable reticulation routes and accessories were modeled in a the way that replicates all the equipment’s exact physical characteristics in 3D. Heffernan added: “We then immersed ourselves into the level 5 plant room model virtually using a Virtual Reality (VR) technology via a VR headset allowing us to walk through and visualize the plant rooms in its actual size all in 3D.  The BIM model is a real life-size representation of what was constructed.” Boufarhat added proudly: “We believe we have far surpassed anybody here in the region with this design.”
The level 5 plant room is a very congested and complicated plant room designed by JLW, housing all the MEP plant that serves the basements, the podium retail levels and everything up to tower level 30. The triple height plant room consists of: three 2,500KVA generators, which serves the entire building; chilled heat exchanger plant and pumps; 6-meter-high fresh air handling units; a large LV switch room, fire water storage and a pump set, and a host of electrical panels and ELV equipment that service the building.

The height of the plant room presented logistical challenges during installation, with no permanent midlevel access. JLW had to make the plant easily accessible for asset management. Heffernan said: “The client is quite focused on FM and because they own the building, they needed to be able to maintain that building. We’ve been getting them heavily involved in workshops as we developed this design. We had to have their buy-in on everything that we did, before we moved ahead with the construction.” 

Boufarhat added that JLW has historically been making provisions for asset management in all of its projects.

Level 54
The story on level 54 is different from that of level 5. The level 54 plant room is constructed from steel members with rigger steel zigzagging across the plant room from the core towards the external façade, with limited footprint for the MEP plant.
Heffernan said: “It was a similar challenge in terms of congestion. It is a 12-metre-high plant room this time. However, the biggest task we faced at level 54 was the logistics.”

Every MEP element to be installed at level 54 had to be individually numbered and allocated an activity in JLW’s programme. Heffernan said: “We had to plan every crane lift precisely and ensure that the sequence for the material shift was planned in such a way to ensure that no piece of plant installed in the wrong sequence could block the material shift of other plant, as space was
limited.”


Bryan Heffernan, technical director, JLW Middle East

Every single MEP element was an activity in the programme. Heffernan added: “We had to physically sequence every movement of the equipment because it’s so congested up there. If you place a wrong equipment in before another, you end up blocking the horizontal movement. We had to plan every single lift and every single horizontal movement in the right sequence in order to get the plant room constructed. In addition, the drop zones, through the steel structure, for the MEP plant, were limited to two locations, which put further pressure on the planning sequence for the
MEP installation.”

JLW overcame this immense logistical challenge by completing a 4D simulation of the MEP installation to visually mimic the movement of every MEP element and track this against time. The 4D scheduling allowed the firm to precisely know all its deliveries, when each lift and material shift was required, when opening and closing of crash decks were required and when the last lift needed to occur to allow the tower cranes to be dismantled.
Prefabrication played an important part. Heffernan said: “To help with the [logistical] challenge, we used offsite prefabrication. Because the main contractor in this case had various other trades such as the steel fabricators, and facades specialists, the crane time was precious and extremely limited. The only way to deal with the limited crane time for MEP was to prefab.” 
The top three floors of the tower are being built as ‘Sky View suites’ with internal gardens, featuring 6-metre ceilings.

Planning, prefabrication and procurement
Prefabrication was something that was not restricted only to level 54. In fact, it was applied to the entire tower, said Heffernan. He said: “Considering this is a mega tall structure, one of major challenge for us was the inefficiencies involved with vertical construction. The introduction of MEP offsite prefabrication wherever we could was a must to overcome the vertical construction challenge. Prefabrication allowed us to get our multi service modules to the work front in a preassembled manner, quickly.” Prefabrication also allowed JLW to reduce its onsite labour by over 30%. The total number of offsite prefabricated MEP modules utilised on the project is over 3,000, which consists of the single service electrical containment and ductwork modules throughout all seven basement levels; single service ductwork and multi-service pipework modules for the vertical services within the tower core; multiservice MEP modules for the horizontal distribution services within the tower core; and multiservice horizontal and vertical modules within the level 5 and level 54 plant rooms.

Boufarhat said that the entire prefabrication process is not something that can be done or learnt in six months or a year. “It’s been a process of about six years [for us]. We had to get our engineering process up to date in order to start using prefab facilities such as ducting manufacturers. Everything is now planned, visualised, and executed. As long as we have a main contractor who buys into the plan, everything goes according to the plan,” said Boufarhat.
Also, because of spacial constraints at the site, lots of planning is involved in executing this mammoth task. Boufarhat said: “Once you’ve got a great sequence and planning established, you then have to procure the equipment. An MEP contractor will never buy all the generators, air handling units, and pumps, etc., and then leave it at their factory, and subsequently, bring it across [to the site] at once. You have to deliver things just in time to the site. There is no space at the site to store at DIFC. And if you have the [storage] area, you don’t want to leave equipment there for six months before it gets installed because you would have already paid for it in full and won’t be able to invoice it [to the client] in full until it is installed. That could get you into a serious negative cash flow. If you’ve got too much time lagging between the time that you bring [plant and equipment] to the site and the time you install it, your cash flow will go into an unplanned negative. To avoid that unplanned negative cash flow, you need to execute your plan meticulously.”

Furthermore, JLW has been vigilant in what is manufactured and delivered to them at the site. Even if there a minor discrepancy in the measurement of a module, it will be difficult to install it in an already congested level 5 or level 54. JLW, at times, sends teams or agents to inspect the equipment at the prefab facility before it is delivered.  Boufarhat said: “We have to go there and make sure that the manufacturer is manufacturing what we’ve asked them to.” Moreover, the option of sending back an inaccurately manufactured product is cumbersome – a process that would take another three to four months to be made and shipped internationally.


Fadi Boufarhat, project manager, JLW Middle East

Summarising JLW’s work philosophy, Fadi Boufarhat, project manager, JLW Middle East, said: “We like to have a proactive approach to construction as opposed to a reactive [approach]. In a reactive approach, risk is not identified beforehand. A risk occurs, and then you go and resolve it. Like putting out fires as and when they happen. We like to adopt a more proactive approach of identifying the risks and challenges in engineering, procurement, construction, planning and coordinating. We use prefabrication extensively in our projects. It saves roughly almost 30% of the onsite construction time, which helps us adhere to the programme and constraints of the project.” 

MEP and LEED
The ICD project has been designed to achieve LEED Gold certification. The building utilises all the latest in electro-mechanical (MEP) systems currently available to Grade A, super-high rise office towers worldwide. All systems are designed to achieve a LEED Gold for Core and Shell.
Some of these systems include centralised fresh air systems utilising double heat wheel technology and incorporating demand and control ventilation based on occupancy, with fresh air volumes 30% above ASHRAE norms; ground floor lobby, podium summer garden and roof garden air-conditioned through underfloor distribution systems with all air delivery integrated into the architectural floor and bench finishes; 22MW of district cooling with three-pressure break chilled water systems designed with variable volume pumping, differential pressure control for tenancies and pressure independent control for air-conditioning units. JLW carried out a detailed simulated hydronic analysis of each system to optimise operational efficiencies. The system is designed and controlled to maximise design delta T during both full load and part load conditions; the building and MEP systems are designed to achieve a building energy use reduction of 30% below ASHRAE 90.1 baseline values, domestic water systems with 40% water use reduction, against LEED baseline values; air conditioning condensate recovery for landscape irrigation; around 16 distribution transformers across a 25MW MV network; smart building technologies connected through the IP-based Intelligent Building Management System (IBMS), including the lighting controls, emergency lighting and fire alarm systems; high-speed fibre IT backbone network with in-built redundancy; intelligent metering that is capable of monitoring and trending energy consumption; and fully-connected lighting controls system with KNX communications, integrated with the IBMS.

Boufarhat said: “Basically for us, in MEP, it was exciting to be involved because the client pushed for open protocol [in technology]. Open protocol means no matter what you install, one can still add to the technology. In two years’ time, if there’s a new technology, I can add that new technology from any other manufacturer into my building because it’s an open protocol.”

Once completed, the project will also feature a 31-metre high, 1,672m2 landscaped public area, framed by fine dining restaurants and a chef-driven food emporium. The public area will showcase a range of arts and cultural events that are a known feature of Brookfield Places around the world. A new retail connection and public garden will link the food emporium and public realm at ICD Brookfield Place to the existing DIFC
gate precinct.

Being part of such a complex project that pushes one’s capabilities is perhaps any MEP contractor’s dream.

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