A model of Emaar’s 2,000-seat opera house on display at Cityscape. Sarah Dea / The National
A model of Emaar’s 2,000-seat opera house on display at Cityscape. Sarah Dea / The National

Emaar’s opera house project in Dubai will be a multi-purpose facility



A multibillion-dirham opera house in Downtown Dubai will be built using technology that allows the 2,000-seat theatre to be converted into a banqueting hall or exhibition space, the designers say.

The facility will be built in a way that 900 of the 2,000 seats can be removed with the use of hydraulic technology and stored in vast garages beneath the theatre until they are needed, according to the designers of Emaar's 60,000 square metre theatre and opera house that is shaped like a traditional sailing vessel.

At the Cityscape Global exhibition in Dubai, the three firms involved in designing the opera house demonstrated how the interior could be reconfigured from a concert hall seating thousands, to a traditional theatre, a venue for weddings or exhibitions.

It will be possible to move the 900 seats in segments on wagon systems and tuck them away for storage through a huge space in the auditorium.

“Everyone’s been to a school gym and sat on a rickety bleacher. And you know it folds away and it feels like you’re sitting in a gym. We’re trying to hide that,” said Tom Davis, the director of specialist designer Theatre Projects Consultants.

“What we do is use a series of mechanisms that collapse into each other. It’s a process called spiralling. The seats are compressed into a cassette at the bottom and then into a column. It has been used before in a number of venues, but the challenge for us is to do it on this scale and to world standards.”

The design means that 60 per cent of the building will be taken up with back-of-house operations, including seat storage areas while only 40 per cent will be used as the auditorium or lobby, according to Emaar’s consultants.

The opera house is set to open in 2015. It was announced in March last year by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, as the centrepiece of Emaar's new 500-acre cultural district close to the Burj Khalifa in Downtown Dubai.

“You could see not only shows like Cirque du Soleil or the Lion King in this venue, it could receive pretty much any show in the world,” said Dene Murphy, the founder of South Africa-based Mirage Leisure and Development, which advised Emaar on the Culture District.

Mr Murphy said most big shows required at least two years’ notice before they could be booked, so Emaar had already been in discussions with a number of acts.

“Promoters need to understand that this is a credible place to come to, so that this place becomes part of the world circuit,” he said.

He declined to give any details about the cost of the project.

The consultants reported that Emaar had already started piling work on the Atkins-designed project and a general contractor was expected to be appointed over the next few weeks.

Emaar said the cultural district would include a modern art museum, galleries, two “art hotels”, flats and serviced apartments, a retail plaza, restaurants, waterfront promenades, recreational spaces and parks.

Plans to build an opera house are not new. Earlier proposals to build a 2,500-seat opera house, designed by the Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, on an island in the Dubai Creek that was announced in 2008 were shelved during the property crash.

lbarnard@thenational.ae

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Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

“What we have seen is a desire for higher returns in what has been a low-return environment specifically in various fixed income or bonds,” he said.

“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”

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