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- 14 Dec 2010
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Abdul Majeed Ismail Al Fahim, Chairman of Pearl Dubai

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Abdul Majeed Ismail Al Fahim is building a colossal but considerate luxury community for Dubai, with a game-changing ethos behind it


Dubai Pearl is obviously not your ordinary mixed-use mega-development in the United Arab Emirates. Due to be completed in 2013, it will be anchored by a superstructure of four towers capped with a sky walk, overlooking a dozen other high-rise buildings within a green pedestrian perimeter and a panoramic view of the Palm Jumeirah islands.

Besides five star hotels, sleek office towers, penthouse apartments, a luxury retail zone, fine dining establishments and arts & entertainment venues, the 20-million square foot complex also includes elements which make it stand out as a real community — such as mid-price retailers, schools, libraries and even a hospital to serve the 9000 residents expected to move in.


Mr. Al Fahim, given its unique mix of facilities, is the Dubai Pearl what you are calling a ‘luxury community’?

AL FAHIM: We believe that luxury is all about convenience and comfort. A true luxury mixed use development could not be called mixed use unless it can offer all the facilities and services you would require. This spans from your very basic needs to the highest level of indulgence – Dubai Pearl will offer all of these. What also makes Dubai Pearl unique is that it combines this ultimate level of luxury with genuine sustainability thus ensuring the longevity of the project.

One of the criticisms levelled against many of Dubai’s upmarket urban development projects is that they are isolated from the rest of the city’s communities and socio-economic groups. By calling it a “city within a city”, does this imply that although the Dubai Pearl will have a luxury character for residents, it will also serve the social needs of its 12,000 commuter workers in some meaningful ways besides providing them with employment?

AL FAHIM: We have spent many, many hours planning, testing and re-planning our masterplan to ensure that Dubai Pearl will exceed all levels of expectation from the very diverse community it will serve. While we will be providing a luxury development for all, I believe it won’t isolate those that will be visiting Dubai Pearl for work or for leisure.

 How would you convince sceptics that the Dubai Pearl’s environmentally-friendly character is about a genuine new ethos? 

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Dubai Pearl


With its core concept around sustainability and a commitment to achieve LEED Gold certification, clearly the project is a big step in a new direction for real estate developments in a city which has become famous for its fast-pace and decadence.

How much of your motivation is to create a “point of difference” to attract eco-conscious businesses, residents and consumers? And how much of it is to make a grand statement that it is time for Dubai to reconsider how it defines luxurious living? In other words, how would you convince sceptics that the Dubai Pearl’s environmentally-friendly character is about a genuine new ethos rather than a business trend?

AL FAHIM: Anyone who believes that being eco-conscious is a trend or a fad doesn’t understand longevity or sustainability. There is no point in embarking on projects that because of their reliance on, for example fossil fuels, they become too expensive to manage and operate in the future. Dubai Pearl has been designed in terms of the sound principles of economic, social and environmental sustainability as it makes good business sense. Dubai Pearl is thus able to adapt to changing lifestyle demands, where people have time restrictions and expect quality and style, but not at the expense of convenience.

Looking back at when you took over leadership of the project from its previous developers, when was the “eureka moment” that helped crystallize its concept for you?

AL FAHIM: It is impossible to pinpoint one specific ‘eureka moment’ because Dubai Pearl is very complex and as a result it has been meticulously designed to ensure that we have a project that will remain a benchmark in luxury mixed use development for many years to come. We followed the principle of form following function, and designed the project from the inside out, creating a highly functional and very efficient project.

Does the Dubai Pearl mark the beginning of a new aesthetic era in a way? Obviously, as a colossal landmark in the city, it is still very impressive. And as a luxury development it is still dramatic in some ways.

But you yourself have called it “sensitive and intelligent design”, almost suggesting that it was conceived to be in contrast to the ostentatiousness which seems to still dominate the city’s architecture. Overlooking the mighty Palm Jumeirah archipelago, do you think the Dubai Pearl will somehow help to ‘tame’ its neighbouring landmarks?

 I wouldn’t say we’re looking to ‘tame’ the neighbouring developments 

AL FAHIM: I wouldn’t say we are looking to tame the neighbouring developments. They are outstanding landmarks and make Dubai what it is; however, Dubai Pearl will be a landmark in its own right. As I said before, we are looking to do things differently, it will be a unique development, it is architecturally refined and the style of architecture is more fitting with where we are in the world today. Places evolve and design changes and we are developing a new city for the future.

Another unique selling point of the Dubai Pearl seems to be its commitment to arts and cultural facilities like the 1,800 seat opera and music house, two performing arts theatres, a cinema complex, art galleries and an academy for the arts. Is it fair to say that, as a native of Abu Dhabi, this is some of your hometown’s character rubbing off on the project which you’re steering?

AL FAHIM: Culture and the arts are very important elements and need to be cultivated; they contribute to a sustainable community. Abu Dhabi has established a wonderful art and cultural movement that we are all very proud of. Dubai Pearl is committed to arts and culture not because we are trying to copy anyone, but because it is one of the pillars of sustainable development from a social point of view. We’re creating a place that will bring people together and provide a communal experience for all to enjoy.


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A CGI rendering of a bedroom in the Baccarat Residences tower


We’ve heard that you’re also launching a Dubai Pearl Creative Foundation that will support what the UAE has identified as its four main creative disciplines: music, cinema, fashion, and humour. How will that work?

AL FAHIM: The Creative Foundation will play a significant role in making Dubai Pearl a unique concept for the Emirate. We really want to encourage the arts; we want to nurture talent and provide a platform to showcase local and regional creativity. So alongside the development of a number of cultural and entertainment facilities – including a fully integrated 1,800-seater state-of-the-art auditorium, art gallery & boulevard, art studios, etc – the foundation will support the creation and development of four main disciplines in the UAE encompassing, as you say, music, cinema, fashion, and humour. The Foundation will primarily aim to expand Dubai’s cultural landscape while highlighting the emirate as a world-class destination for the appreciation, preservation and evolution of the arts and culture.

In the seven hospitality zones, Dubai Pearl has already secured four marquee hoteliers: Bellagio, MGM Grand, Baccarat and Skylofts. These of course make good sense because they are relatively underexposed in the region but how will you go about offering something different for the remaining luxury hotel spaces?

AL FAHIM: I think, as you’ve said, the fact that they are underexposed in the region makes a unique proposition and each hotel has a very different offering; from the centuries-old refinement of Baccarat to the exquisite elegance of Bellagio and the glitzy highlife of MGM Grand. The remaining three brands that we are currently talking to are all unique in character and new to the region. In some cases they are new hotel concepts all together.

And what about the fashion, luxury goods and other retail zones. With the initial handover of the first phase being in 2013, it is probably still too early to name names of tenants but, again, how will you differentiate this retail space from Dubai’s many luxury malls? What do you say to analysts who say that Dubai is close to saturation point?

AL FAHIM: It’s too early to say I’m afraid but we are looking to offer approximately 580,000 sq ft of retail space in various forms within the development.


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A CGI rendering of a living room in the Baccarat Residences tower


In a recent statement you’ve said that more than 500 residences have been pre-sold, accounting for 95% of the initial release of units and that the second release will go on sale via a road show in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Won’t this attract speculative property investors? Or do you expect real buyers to emerge from China?

AL FAHIM: While we did organise road shows in those cities we’re not just looking to China, the current sales reflect almost 40 nationalities, illustrating the truly global appeal of Dubai Pearl and we aspire to be cosmopolitan. There are very few luxury products being developed at present, certainly not of the calibre of Dubai Pearl and we believe that international investors will play a growing role going forward.

With the shocking property market dive and the overall financial crisis still casting a shadow over Dubai – and indeed so many other delayed or cancelled developments in the city – aren’t investors and buyers right to be concerned? There have been reports of a lot of defaults among pre-sale buyers of Dubai Pearl properties too. How would you reassure the market that Dubai Pearl won’t add to the oversupply of residential or commercial space?

AL FAHIM: I won’t discuss market rumour or speculation but I will say we are committed to providing financial updates at appropriate stages of the funding programme. Dubai Pearl is a US$6 billion development project being completed in two phases. The project cost for the first phase is approximately US$2.5 billion and is being funded by equity, quasi-equity, promoters loans and concluded pre-sales.

There will inevitably be periods of high and low activity throughout any construction process but the development remains on schedule and the initial handover is expected to commence in end of 2013. Given the size and scale of a development such as Dubai Pearl, it is not unusual for some buyers to potentially default on their payments during the course of the construction process. However, the Dubai Pearl team has worked hard with any investor experiencing difficulties to manage this process appropriately, to try and avoid this from happening wherever possible.

It is also important to remember that everything that made Dubai special in the eyes of the world is still here; no crime, no taxes, the best infrastructure, growing tourism and the rest. Dubai is now also more affordable and property prices are very good value for money when compared to most other cities in the world.

 Everything that made Dubai special in the eyes of the world is still here; no crime, no taxes, the best infrastructure, growing tourism and the rest 

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A CGI rendering of a living room in the Pearl Residences


Some observers are encouraged by the recent recovery of luxury goods sales in Dubai. But what about the likes of Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi each flexing its own muscle as a luxury retail and lifestyle destination? How concerned should the luxury industry in Dubai be that its neighbours in the Gulf will steal away a significant market share?

AL FAHIM: As in all regions of the world, Europe, Asia or wherever, there is competition amongst neighbouring markets. Dubai is a very strong force in the Middle East luxury goods sector and I see no reason why this will not continue. We’re not trying to compete with other retail destinations, our retail offer will complement the other elements of our development, from indoor and outdoor luxury stores & bespoke product outlets to everyday convenience retail facilities. Dubai remains the hub of the greater region. Dubai International Airport is now ranked as one of the busiest in the world and is growing. There are very few cities in the world with the quality and quantity of first class infrastructure that Dubai has, and this is being improved on a daily basis.

Finally, in a broad sense, have your own personal views on the notion of luxury changed since you first undertook this project? After all, we’ve undergone so much change in the past few years…

AL FAHIM: Lifestyle, a way of life, it’s not just about bricks and mortar, equally it’s more than what and how we consume material assets. These contribute to a lifestyle in the same way that facilities and amenities contribute to how we wish to live our lives. One of the most important elements to any place is how it makes people feel, the strive to create a development that will do just that, people want to live in and belong to – a place that is both inspirational and enjoyable.

We will have an extensive public realm, with boulevards and walkways for entertainment and social interaction and we’ll deliver a bespoke development with the right ambience and environment for everyone to go to. So in this sense and in relation to Dubai Pearl, I think the notion of luxury is unchanged. A luxury lifestyle is one where the individual can conduct business, socialize, relax and reside in elegant surroundings, in close proximity. The equilibrium of work, play, stay and live, a perfectly balanced life. And this is the very essence of Dubai Pearl.