UAE is home to some of the most spectacular and record breaking structures in the world including Burj Khalifa - the tallest building and manmade structure in the world, the Infinity Tower, the tallest high-rise building with a twist of 90˚ and the most recent example - The Dubai Creek Tower, still in its construction phase, is set to be the 21st century’s new global icon, designed by the renowned neo-futuristic Spanish architect, Santiago Calatrava. This gravity-defying structure is inspired by the lily flower and traditional Arabian minarets. No doubt, these structures are a talking point worldwide amongst the design fraternity and have been continuously attracting a large number of tourist footfalls from around the globe. One can imagine the efforts that go into conceptualising, building and maintaining these structures; but have you wondered whether these elaborate design are a challenge when it comes to maintaining them? Alain El Tawil, Founder and CEO of Grako and Gecko talks about some onsite challenges his team has come across.
In recent years, we have been observing a revolution in architectural design moving away from four sided cubical designs. Master developers compete on location and uniqueness of design to attract the different clientele whether commercial, retail, F&B or residential customers. You will also see that curved ceilings have been adopted in the likes of Dubai Metro and the Museum of the Future as it naturally repels dust and self-cleans during rainy season. However, special consideration is required for concaved ceilings as they are very tricky to access. Mashrabiya is another design feature that we come across often, it offers a unique identity to the structure and adds an artistic touch that stands the test of time; however again consideration of material used and how to maintain the windows underneath it should be a priority for the designers and the developers.
Design is very important for facade painting, cleaning and maintenance services; if access is considered right from design conceptualisation, then most often there will be no issues. A great example would be ADNEC tower and Abu Dhabi’s new airport; both have a comprehensive, diverse and integrated access systems to ensure every corner of the building is cleaned inside out without interrupting the operations of the site or the human traffic expected. That is just ideal.
Design aspects considered before cleaning
We look at the material, curves, louvers, height and width of the building. Also, balcony design, pedestrian zones and retail areas at the bottom or lower levels, landscape surrounding the building, weight bearing capacity of the pavements on ground level as well as the nature of the occupancy. All these factors need to be taken into consideration when assessing the site for a cleaning or maintenance scope.
Measures taken for best cleaning practices without causing any damage to the structure
One of the measures is using the right material for edge protection, the protector material differs from metal to concrete to sharp and soft edges. Another is using the right water pressure setting and appropriate detergent or rust removal agent to avoid surface damage. As from a MEWP access, we deploy highly experienced machine operators and support them with sufficient ground staff to avoid accidents that may damage the facade. Above all we implement high safety practices to avoid any damage to the property and ensure public safety such as barricading work zones and protecting floors or surfaces that can be affected by the job, in case of painting and cleaning is also taken into consideration.
Dealing with complex designs during external facade cleaning
Some contractors consult us during the last stages of construction to help them study the access system appropriate for the building. An integrated building access systems could include anchor bolts for rope access technique, and/or a rail system for BMUs access and for some surfaces MEWP machines need to be highly considered as it may be more efficient time and cost wise. In other cases, on an existing building where we find access challenges, we first recommend the installation of anchor bolts since that is the most time and cost effective method, which is also least intrusive to the occupants. If not possible then we use a and/or counter weights to clean using rope access. The counter weights method should be applied in accordance with design, IRATA guidelines, best HSE practices and consideration to the building’s surroundings; but it is not an ideal solution as it typically requires more time to progress from one drop to the next.
The most challenging design features for cleaning
Mostly facade inward curves and deep louvers such as The Dubai Opera building. Also, the bottom portion of balconies hanging outside the facade, like Marsa Plaza building in Dubai Festival City. Sharp edges is a very common design challenge. Roof top design can be challenging in some cases. For example, it takes us an hour each day to reach the roof top at the Abu Dhabi World Trade Center Tower 2. In other instances, we need to build a scaffolding to be able to hang off the roof parapet like at Sun & Sky Towers, Silverwave Tower and Al Aryam Towers in Abu Dhabi; each building has a parapet taller than three meters high!
Difficulties faced by the cleaning staff and how they are overcome
Common difficulties we face could be a BMU system that doesn’t give complete access to the building in which case we escalate internally to see what other methods we can employ. Or internal ceilings without an access system for which we create a bridge made from ropes to access the ceiling with certified rope access technicians. Or not having enough anchor points on a curvy facade, in which case we use a longer cleaning squeegee. We always find a solution but there is always a trade off, either extra time or extra cost in case of machine rentals or installation of a new access system if required.
Special training programme for this kind of cleaning regime
We have been in this business for 15 years, we have learnt a lot and have retained our key supervisors, technicians and certified operators for 5-10 years. We basically work hard on retaining the practical experience and knowledge we gain from the market and keep on transferring these new skills and knowledge regularly on daily basis through our internal continual learning and training programme.
Cleaning during extreme weather conditions
On an hourly basis, we measure wind speeds; if wind speed picks up above 25 knots, rope access work is paused, and anything above 15 knots, BMU work is stopped. On our part, we usually provision extra days and manpower for windy months (November to March) to ensure we meet overall project timelines. In case a strong wind storm attacks the workers while on ropes we ensure they follow IRATA’s safety procedure to land on the nearest platform. However, we avoid this scenario by anticipating bad weather one day prior to starting the work and on hourly basis measure the wind speeds. We also provision to secure our rigged ropes by adding extra weight to the baskets where the ropes are tied down at the end of a working day. During sand storms poor visibility and communication is the potential threat; in situations like these we typically stop until visibility is back or until the weather conditions stabilise thus ensuring the health and safety of our people is not at risk.