The Red Sea Project, the world’s most ambitious luxury tourism development, has made incredible progress in a short time span given its massive scale, and is gathering momentum with the total value of contracts awarded over the past three months having doubled to nearly SR 15 billion ($4 billion).
Spanning a 28,000-sq-km area along Saudi Arabia’s west coast, the project will be home to a vast archipelago of more than 90 pristine islands, mountain canyons, dormant volcanoes, sweeping desert dunes, and ancient heritage sites. Upon completion in 2030, there will be 50 hotels, offering up to 8,000 hotel rooms, and around 1,300 residential properties across 22 islands and six inland sites.
It is the huge tourism potential afforded by the natual beauty of the destination that its developer The Red Sea Development Company (TRSDC) is committed to exploring and honing through a focus on sustainabililty and use of renewable energy, while setting new benchmarks in regenerative tourism.
In fact, the highest value contract to date on the Red Sea Project was to provide environmentally responsible energy for the project, with the public-private partnership (PPP) having been signed with Acwa Power at the end of last year.
“A tourism project of this size (28,000 sq km), powered solely by renewable energy, has never been achieved on this scale anywhere in the world,” Ian Williamson, Chief Projects Delivery Officer at TRSDC, tells Gulf Construction.
“We want to deliver a tourist destination that limits the environmental impact through the provision of zero-carbon emitting and zero-waste generating utility services that truly sets new standards in regenerative tourism,” he adds.
The PPP focuses exclusively on environmentally responsible renewable energy, water generation and transmission, wastewater treatment and district cooling. Under the PPP, TRSDC will power the first phase of the destination by 100 per cent renewable energy, using solar panels and wind farms, with no connection to the national grid.
“As part of this partnership, we are creating the world’s largest battery storage facility at 1,000 MWh to enable the entire site to be powered by renewable energy 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Additionally, there are plans to create the biggest district cooling plant in the world powered by 100 per cent renewable energy. The resultant saving in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to the atmosphere is equivalent to nearly half a million tons each year,” he claims.
Launched in July 2017, the Red Sea Project will in its first phase – which is due to be completed in 2023 – see the development of 16 hotels and 3,000 rooms on five islands and two inland resorts, as well as commercial, retail and leisure facilities and other infrastructure. Design contracts for the 16 hotels have been awarded as have the first construction packages on four hotels. All Phase One assets are being developed by TRSDC.
The developer last month unveiled the Coral Bloom concept, created by architectural firm Foster + Partners, for its main hub island at the destination, Shurayrah (see Architecture & Design, Page 63, Digital Edition).
This phase also includes the development of a Construction Village to house the numerous workers that will work on the project; the Coastal Village, which will accommodate the staff working within the development when it opens; an international airport; and extensive infrastructural work including some 80 km of roads, power and desalination network and district cooling facilities.
“During the first element of this phase, we have focused on enabling the infrastructure to support future work and this work is well under way and, in some cases, completed. For instance, the landscape nursery is completed and operational. We have also completed our Construction Village, which will host up to 10,000 construction workers, as well as the Coastal Village to house 14,000 construction workers and then the future destination workers,” says Williamson.
The Red Sea Project has already passed significant milestones and work is on track to welcome the first guests by the end of 2022, when the international airport and the first four hotels will open. The remaining 12 hotels planned for Phase One will open in 2023.
The Construction Village, which is now in operation, is designed to set a benchmark for construction worker accommodation in the region and in the industry. The contract for its construction was awarded in July 2019 in two parts to an ARCCO-Speedhouse joint venture based in the UAE and to Saudi company Al Majal Al Arabi Group. Each company produced and installed 5,000 units on the site.
The facility management contract for the Construction Village was recently awarded in two halves to FMCO and Red Sea International to manage 5,000 units each.
Meanwhile for the Coastal Village, the first off-site manufactured units were delivered in July last year by Saudi Amana Contracting which won this contract.
Saudi Amana constructed 10 apartment buildings by the end of last year, delivering a total of 300 apartments.
Saudi Amana Contracting was also awarded the contract to design and build a 144-key management hotel at the project site which is set to open by the end of Q2 this year.
The construction partner for the design and build of the management offices at the Coastal Village is Al Majal Al Arabi, which also built 5,000 residential units at Construction Village.
The units are almost entirely finished with floor, wall and ceilings, and all major mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) installations. Bathrooms and kitchens are also complete. The plan is to have all units complete by the end of May 2021.
Amana Dubox has built a new factory at a site in Rabigh, to better serve the project’s requirements using local suppliers and manpower.
“Off-site manufacturing will minimise the carbon footprint, labour accommodation requirements, worker presence onsite and waste generation from materials fabricated onsite,” explains Williamson. “This approach has also generated more economic opportunities for the local community, with the factory in Rabigh creating jobs and stimulating the local supply chain.”
Last month, TRSDC awarded contracts to Saudi-based Al Bawani and leading Swiss timber construction company Blumer Lehmann for the development of its luxury hotels and resorts. Al Bawani will be responsible for civil and structural works across 40 hotel villas as well as utility works and site-wide roads on the Southern Dunes site, while Blumer Lehmann is responsible for timber construction planning and fabrication as well as supply works for a resort designed by Kengo Kuma and located on Ummahat Al Shaykh Island.
A number of other contracts were also awarded on the project last month (See Saudi Focus, Page 15).
An iconic international airport designed by the UK’s Foster + Partners will provide a gateway to the development which is strategically located 500 km north of Jeddah at the crossroads of Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.
Tenders for the airport landside works were received in late January 2021 and are under evaluation, Williamson says. The scope of the landside works includes the terminal building, hangars, baggage handling, and all airport operations facilities.
Currently, land levelling work is well under way to prepare the site, with more than 3 million cu m of earthworks having been excavated so far.
A contract for the airside package has been awarded to an all-Saudi JV of Nesma and Almabani while Aecom has been appointed for the airside construction and control quality. Daa International has been appointed as the airport operator.
The contract for the construction of airside infrastructure includes the design and build of a 3.7 km code F runway, a code B seaplane runway, helipads, infrastructure, roads, and buildings.
“The airport’s architecture was informed by the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape. Foster + Partners will ensure the airport is smart by design and integrated with cutting-edge technology to provide a unique experience for guests. The airport will serve over one million guests per year once complete, catering to both domestic and international flights,” says Williamson.
The eco-friendly airport will use shaded areas and natural ventilation to minimise the reliance on air-conditioning, in line with TRSDC’s commitment to creating sustainable solutions at every level of the destination.
Most of the project’s infrastructure works are already under way to prepare for the destination opening.
Binyah was awarded a contract to design and build some 80 km of roads, including a 10-km highway, a 13-km airport access road, interconnecting roads within the destination, and an access road to the bridge connecting the main hub island. Some 71 km have already been completed, including the new airport road which has been opened.
Marine jetties – two on the coast and two on the islands – have been completed by Archirodon, which has also constructed two 1-km causeway sections that form part of the crossing linking Shurayrah Island, the destination’s main hub, to the mainland. The middle section – a 1.1-km bridge – was recently contracted to Mofarreh Marzouq Al Harbi Company.
The landscaping nursery was completed in Q1 2020 by Nesma & Professional Landscape Company JV and is fully operational.
Meanwhile, a three-year solid waste management contract was awarded to a joint venture between leading waste management companies, Averda and the Saudi Naval Support Company (SNS). This prioritises recycling for the high-profile project which aims for ‘zero waste to landfill’ throughout the construction of Phase One. The scope also covers sewage collection services via tanker trucks to the sewage treatment plant (STP) in Yanbu until the temporary STP for the project is completed this month (March).
Well aware from day one that the scale and remoteness of the destination would be a challenge in itself, TRSDC committed to making significant progress in tight timelines, whilst ensuring it protected the natural environment.
“As such, we’ve invested heavily in innovative construction methods such as off-site manufacturing. This consists of building units in a modular fashion off-site in Saudi Arabia or beyond, and then transporting them to the project site for final assembly,” Williamson points out.
This apart, TRSDC started early on the marine works (jetties, causeways, piers,…) to enable it to get up to 80 m marine vessels off the coast and on to remote islands.
It also established a Base Camp early with accommodation, offices and recreation facilities and this has been a largely critical and successful asset, he adds.
“The project is ahead of schedule to support TRSDC plans to welcome the first guests to the destination by the end of 2022,” says Williamson.
Among major challenges, he says, is TRSDC’s commitment to go beyond sustainability and set new standards in regenerative tourism, which often requires a more complex way of working to ensure it is preserving and enhancing the natural environment for generations to come.
“We’re aiming to achieve a 30 per cent net conservation benefit in the next two decades. This is a bold ambition and no mean feat for a project of this size,” he says.
“Our focus on sustainability also means that we must put additional procurement steps in place to ensure we are working with the right suppliers. We have developed a supplier code of conduct form which all our partners sign to enable us to have the confidence that they share our principles when it comes to the environment,” he says.
TRSDC has partnered with green concrete experts, AlFalah Ready Mix, to supply a part of the destination with structural low-carbon concrete, manufactured using recycled raw materials. This partnership is well under way and is currently producing around 1,200 cu m of concrete per day.
“Whereas standard concrete cement has a relatively high-carbon footprint, using green concrete reduces the CO2 emissions significantly (from 0.96 kg/ton to 0.11 kg/ton).
Given the scale of development at the project, this has the potential to make a significant overall impact on the destination’s environment, particularly as construction ramps up on-site,” Williamson says.
In line with the project’s Dark Skies initiative, Cundall is working with the engineering and delivery teams at TRSDC to review the existing project design and advise on possible measures to reduce light pollution.
“We are well advanced with the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) on the vision, plans, processes, and measurements to achieve Dark Skies objectives.”
Health & safety
Like most businesses, Covid-19 has impacted how TRSDC operates and the company has been able to maintain its workforce onsite safely while monitoring government guidelines carefully.
To ensure its workforce has enough space to social distance, TRSDC has coordinated with the local government to move a proportion of its workers at the Construction Village, to temporary accommodation, including at four local schools.
“To negate the effects of restrictions on importing and movement of people we worked closely with our contracted partners and minimised times lost to four to 16 weeks dependent upon the nature of the works,” he says.