HQ: Headquartering Inspiration

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July 14th, 2010 Ushamrita Choudhury

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…

16 Votes | Average: 3.94 out of 516 Votes | Average: 3.94 out of 516 Votes | Average: 3.94 out of 516 Votes | Average: 3.94 out of 516 Votes | Average: 3.94 out of 5 (16 votes, average: 3.94 out of 5)
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9 Responses to “HQ: Headquartering Inspiration”

  1. Arun Says:

    The story reads very nice, no doubt. Honestly. I think I will read this once again. Maybe tomorrow.
    Also, India has talent, expertise and capability. But getting them work in Indian reality is a challenge. The logical answer would be that such grand projects can be executed by Indians, but outside India — maybe in Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Pakistan. I think this opens up opportunity if you count India out of this. Regards

  2. Kirti Says:

    I am not sure how the show was like, but Ms. Choudhury’s words kept me hooked till the end. I totally agree with Arun. Yet, I would like to add there is no harm in aspiring. In Mumbai we are continuously adding new structures to its skyline, whats the harm in doing so aesthetically?

  3. Abes Says:

    This is fast developing into a Poor - Rich cliche! Ushamritas’ piece homes in on a sensitive subject, entrepreneurial ability of the Indian mindset. It will be good to dissect that aspect of the report more than the architectural marvel that the HQ already is!

  4. Ushamrita Choudhury Says:

    Dear Arun,

    I do not disregard the real issues India faces. I thought of writing about the HQ simply because of the novelty associated with it. Nothing against our infrastructure, or the real problems troubling real India. This is meant to be a light read. Please look at it in that sense.


  5. Arun Says:

    Sanjay, there are couple of things we tend to miss while making our opinion about India. Any infrastructure project would mean a whole lot of suffering for the people, including displacement. This is specially the case with over-populous India. Take the example of metro and flyovers in Delhi. In getting them ready, the people of delhi have suffered immensely. They are still for the sake of commonwealth games. Nobody is caring how much damage these constructions have made to the environment when digging and constructions go on for years together.
    Second, construction projects including infrastructure ones are prohibitively expensive. Who foots the bill for such projects is a matter of great significance. If it is taxpayers money, I will oppose it. Such development is not natural and should not be undertaken at the cost of taxpayers. If private money is put into that, I (the common man) won’t have any problem. Now, Mukesh Ambani is getting his dream home ready. Wait for that.
    If you look at India, the way the world looks at it, it is a busy marketplace where you can sell just anything, because the people have money and the economy can sustain it. Who cares for how India looks? For everyone — policymakers to businessmen– India is a market. Not a lovely piece on the planet earth.
    Understanding modern development, which is not natural, and understanding India’s place in it can help us in rational expectations from this coutry. That will also be a tribute to the millions of poor people who keep India going despite in their poverty.

  6. Sanjay Says:

    Arun, agree with what you say - India has more pressing problems than how to spend oil-money on frivolous things. But, on the other hand I take another viewpoint on ushamrita’s article that to create such a marvel, they had to bring many things together and construct with precision - materials and skills in abundance in India and we are still struggling to create “good” basic infrastrucutre, forget about creating awe inspiring structures at all. Shoddy workmanship is everywhere - roads, buildings, railway stations, your own home furniture or structure, consumer durables / products - wherever you look its glaringly visible. That sense of building perfection or close to it is not there at all - in all matters we say “unnis-bees to hota hai” and reason out our shoddy work. Rather than be defensive, I would say we are concentrating on serious things which atleast we are doing with great care and perfection for future generations to come. Have a great day!

  7. bs gupta Says:

    I perfectly agree with what Arun says. thnks

  8. Mukesh Says:

    Well said Arun. Totally agree with you.

  9. Arun Says:

    Hi, Read the whole piece with patience and tried to understand your viewpoint. India would not imitate these cost-intensive constructions because our priorities are different. I had a similar opinion as yours when I heard about the palm city and saw a picture of that. I was in Mumbai and I asked a senior who was a Mumbaikar why we don’t have this kind of development. He was absolutely not impressed with the palm city. He said Arab Shaikhs are like that. It is foolish to have such cost-intensive constructions. I was dismayed at the prospect of not having something so spectacular in our own city of commerce and business. But I had and still have a lot of faith in his sense of judgement (Rajeev Pai at DNA). Soon, we all came to know how becasue of this mega structure the Dubai World went bust.
    India is a country with over a billion population and poverty is the real issue here. We specialise in matters of poverty. Many parts of the world look up to us how we are tackling the problems of food supply, creating basic infrastructure and such things. And, I think these projects are as magnificent as those constructions in the gulf or elsewhere.
    We are engaged with issues of more serious concern. As regards your admiration, you are fine as long as you found something engaging to watch on TV. I am sure many people in the world wold find Baba Ramdeva’s yoga equally awe-inspiring and all those adjectives that you have used for HQ. rgds


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