HQ: Headquartering Inspiration

July 14th, 2010

Last week, I was fortunate to view an entertaining, interesting and awe-inspiring programme on one of the ‘news and knowledge’ channels — fortunate, because of the dearth of sensible programmes on television these days.  The programme I’m talking about showcases engineering marvels around the world, and the one in focus on that particular day was the world’s first spherical structure, the HQ building in Abu Dhabi.

HQ is a high-end, ultra-luxe and uber-glamourous commercial building which has been developed by Aldar Properties PJSC, one of the foremost real estate developers and managers in the Middle-East. The company enjoys close affiliation with the Abu Dhabi government, and is supported by a nexus of strong financial sources.

HQ has been designed by internationally renowned firm MZ & Partners. It enjoys the status of one of the most innovative buildings to have graced the Middle-Eastern landscape. The prestigious ‘Building Exchange Conference’ recognised HQ as the ‘Best Futuristic Design’, a notable achievement for not only Aldar, but also the Middle East. The developers of this ultra-modern commercial premises have undergone unimaginable challenges to design and construct an edifice which has truly revolutionised the face of an already infrastructurally advanced region.

I watched the show with child-like curiosity, eager to know what was next. Such was the footage. The show began with the conceptualisation of the mega-structure, and ended with the intricate construction of HQ. What began as a designer’s playful fancy soon caught Aldar’s attention. The rest, as is rightfully said, is history.

Every stage of the development process was a daring confrontation of the unknown. Designers, engineers, contractors and specialists, from diverse geographical, cultural, lingual and philosophical backgrounds, converged at HQ’s blue-print. One can say that HQ almost ‘headquartered’ a team of innovative visionaries who sought to translate a simple idea into a serious product.
It was amazing to see the dedication and patience with which this project was dealt with. Abu Dhabi isn’t blessed with many of the resources that go into the construction of such a complex structure. Money is perhaps one of the only resources that are available in the Emirate region with ease, after oil ofcourse. Steel, cement, glass, aluminium and other assorted elements, including custom-built toilet blocks, had to be imported from around the world.
The atypical design of the HQ made construction tricky; engineers and architects had to redraw the external skeleton of the building, because natural elements like sunlight and wind, both of which are in abundance in the region, posed safety problems for the HQ’s glass and steel structure. Wind and glass engineers were regularly consulted before any decision was taken by the designers and architects.

‘Wind’ and ‘glass’ engineers came as surprise; I mean I have heard of sound engineers, but never wind and glass! The determination of those involved with HQ was a valuable learning. Owing to its spherical design, even the manner in which components like the triangular glass panes and circular steel super-structure were manufactured was unusual. A glass-pane manufacturing mini-plant was set-up in the periphery of the HQ compound. This was done to accommodate last minute changes to the specifications of every single pane, because even an inch here or there could disturb the strength of the entire building. Massive cranes were erected, and each crane had a special role to play- while one of the cranes lifted the panes for fitting, another one orchestrated the joining of steel panels. Yet another one pushed down toilet-blocks through an exact-measuring internal cavity of the building.

Coordination between the various departments was seamless. A 19-month deadline for developing such a massive structure, complete with interiors suited to every client’s individual requirements, is anything but practical. However, for MZ & Partners and Aldar, it was an opportunity to defy the norms, which they did in style.

The project was complete in all respects well within the stipulated deadline. As the show concluded, I felt agitated. I knew I wouldn’t get to see something as enlightening in a long time to come. It also made me wonder, in a familiar jaded manner, that if Abu Dhabi can achieve something as superlative as the HQ, with a scarcity of resources required for infrastructure advancement, why couldn’t India? We are more or less blessed with resources, raw and manufactured, to meet any infrastructural demand. However, enterprise, the most important resource in such cases, is amiss. Be it trained designers, architects or engineers, the spirit of enterprise is woefully missing in our country. While it is true that the Emirate nations can rely on sturdy financial bedrock, they do face substantial deficiencies in labour and raw materials, vital for infrastructure development. In India’s case, both labour and raw material is abundant. India’s dependence on raw material imports is much lesser as compared to that of any Middle-Eastern country.

It’s not even the ideas that are in short-supply; Indians are among the most innovative and intelligent people in the world. It is the entrepreneurial will that we lack. Along with some oil reserves and companies like Aldar…

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