Burnt out Dubai Marina tower to be rebuilt in Dh25 million project

Zen Tower’s owners say it will be fitted with flame-retardant cladding and fire safety systems

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A residential tower ravaged by fire is being rebuilt with retardant cladding and new safety systems.

Zen Tower was badly damaged when a blaze spread through the building in May 2018.

The building on the southern edge of Dubai Marina has remained a partly burnt-out husk visible from Sheikh Zayed Road. The building's tenants have moved on while owners living in their own apartments had to rent elsewhere.

Work to clean up the building and remove charred material had begun when The National visited at the weekend. Several wrecked vehicles that were hit by falling debris remain at the site.

Once complete, construction can begin to replace windows, external walls and the fire-resistant exterior.

We have been forced to do this, but in the long term it is a good thing for safety and it will hopefully reduce our insurance premiums

“When the work is complete, Zen Tower will be one of the few buildings fully compliant with the new fire regulations,” said Ashfaq Bandey, chairman of the owners’ association.

“We have been forced to do this, but in the long term it is a good thing for safety and it will hopefully reduce our insurance premiums.”

Investigators said the fire was triggered by an electrical short circuit and spread to furniture stacked on a first-floor balcony, then to the building’s external cladding.

As with other recent fires in high-rise buildings, the flammable cladding was blamed for much of the damage as flames engulfed the tower’s exterior.

The UAE’s updated fire and safety code, introduced in 2017, banned the use of cladding with a polyethylene core. The material, which is widely used in buildings in the UAE and abroad, is similar to that used in panels at Grenfell Tower in London, where 72 people died in a fire in June 2017.

The rules on cladding are related to new buildings only and there is no mandate from the government for existing structures to be retrofitted.

Even so, a small number of buildings have been retrofitted by owners to meet the code, while other developers have looked at more affordable options including fire-breakers.

After lengthy negotiations, Zen Tower’s owners came to an arrangement with the building’s main insurer to repair the building, which has been uninhabitable since the fire.

Not sure if I had permission to take these. Was stopped from taking close ups. 

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - August 17, 2019: Update on Zen Tower, Dh25m refurb due to begin following fire there in May 2018. Saturday the 17th of August 2019. Marina, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Vehicles hit by burning debris remain at the scene today. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Owners will pay to replace 50 per cent of the cladding that was undamaged by fire. That is expected to run into several million dirhams, split between the 70 or so owners.

Mr Bandey, a banker who owns a three-bedroom apartment in Zen Tower, said owners were left with few options but the repairs will “ensure it doesn’t happen again”.

“The building is being cleaned up so work can begin,” he said.

“Hopefully, they should be finished in 10 months or so, and then we need to have the building tested and passed off.”

On the day of the fire – a hot, dusty and overcast May morning – Mr Bandey was at work but his parents were in the apartment.

“I had some calls from my mum while I was in an important meeting,” he said.

“I assumed she was calling to tell me off for not having breakfast so ignored the call. On the fourth call, I answered and she was gasping for breath.

“Someone had helped her out of the building – fortunately everyone else was also out.”

After spending more than a year in rented accommodation at nearby Trident Grand Residence hotel, like many of his neighbours, Mr Bandey will be glad to go home.

Once the multi-million-dirham refit is complete, the building will have detectors, alarms and automatic sprinklers.

Seven Tides Owners Association Management, a facilities management company, has been appointed to oversee fire safety compliance.

Cladding replacement at the 15-storey Adriatic building on The Palm Jumeirah has already been completed following a fire in 2016, also caused by an electrical fault.

Similar work has been completed or is planned following three recent fires at the Torch Tower, Tamweel Tower in Jumeirah Lakes Towers and the Address Downtown Dubai hotel.

Rob Davies, from the Middle East office of WSP, an engineering firm specialising in facades, said a range of fire safety measures is more important than simply replacing cladding.

"Fire safety improvements can be made across the board," he said.

"Just one element like cladding does not make a building any safer, there are many factors to consider that need to work together to ensure that happens.

"Replacing all building facades along will not mitigate all fire safety risk entirely, it will always be there."