Al Barari: Completing the journey

Al BarariImage Credit: Courtesy Al Barari

It was the spring of 2010 when the first residents moved into the luxury homes nestled within the 14.2 million sq ft oasis of AI Barari. Since then, the developer of the project, the Zaal family, has been working on refining the rest of the elements of the dream development, which the Zaals also call home.

This year, they're putting on the final touches to bring about the lifestyle they have envisioned for the community.

"Phase two is now bringing the whole story together to become the heart of AI Barari," says Mohammed Zaal, CEO of AI Barari. "This will be where you can go for a walk from your villa for around two kilometres to go for dinner or buy a few things and walk back. The whole journey is through beautiful gardens.

"We completed the villas and are now focusing on bringing more amenities and hospitality components to bring that lifestyle we envisioned for the community – a destination where one can spend more than just a few hours at The Farm."

The residential area currently features the organic food restaurant, The Farm, which has quickly become a popular escape for Dubai residents desiring a change of scenery, and the Body Language Gym. which offers early morning yoga sessions and newly opened tennis courts.

"We also organise pool movies and popcorn nights for kids, just to bring people together,” says Zaal. "We also have a spa with a beauty salon."

The developer, though, decided to not press ahead with a planned mini convenience retail area, as two supermarkets and a coffee shop have opened nearby in Majan. Moreover, phase two will feature a hub for food and beverage outlets.

The master plan and its components were already in place four years ago, but the economic downturn caused a delay in its implementation. The components have not changed as it will still include residential apartments, a boutique resort and spa, offices, spaces for art and entertainment, a souq and a grand mosque on an island.

Gardens and waterways
"We also kept the number of units more or less the same, but obviously over time we have modified the architecture. We looked at redesigning things and bringing them more up to date. We have some beautiful new designs. Like some other things, we moved around the mosque to make sure it is suitable," says Zaal.

AI Barari already boasts a myriad of botanical gardens and meandering waterways crisscrossing the property, as 80 per cent of the development is reserved for nature.

"We will add more botanical gardens," says Zaal. "The whole area is interconnected, so you have the waterway from phase one running into phase two, going all the way to the main lake area, which is surrounded by the food and beverage and retail area - it is a floating market, actually."

The master plan's design is geared towards making the development flow, according to Zaal, so one could walk seamlessly between the various commercial outlets, from the organic food store and organic restaurants to the floating market, on to the high-end food and beverage outlets and to the fashion retail area.

"You experience a journey,” says Zaal.

Unrestricted views
The boutique art and retail spaces are placed in sunken areas, hidden under mounds next to the water feature.

"We didn't want to restrict the views. When you look out from your home, you want to see gardens all the way."

The entertainment space, meanwhile, will have to be expanded as demand rises.

"We have about 20 requests a week, from corporate events to weddings, and right now we just don't have the space for all of them. We really need to cater to that, as there is demand for something different."

The developer launched Seventh Heaven in February, showcasing its own unique residential concept. Seventh Heaven comes as two sets of interlinked cascading apartment buildings, each with 157 spacious homes. One-bedroom units start at 2,000 sq ft, two-bedroom units at 2,850 sq ft and three-bedroom apartments at 3,900 sq ft.

"The apartments offer an unusually huge space, similar to villas in size, design and features. That's how we differentiate ourselves. We actually prefer to call them homes.”

Not easy to build
Explaining the architectural design of Seventh Heaven, Zaal says: “We linked the buildings for optimum use. The large terraces cascade down the buildings and the architecture kind of moves the building along on all sides, giving a flow to it. We also integrated vertical gardens in the pockets where the lifts are, going all the way up. It is quite hard to build."

More than 80 per cent of the homes are facing north, as it offers sweeping views of Dubai's skyline, including the Burj Khalifa.

"We are lucky to have a great angle with unobstructed views, allowing for that connectivity with the city, while overlooking nature - our gardens - at the same time. In the future, we'll be overlooking part of Mohammad Bin Rashid [MBR] City as well."

In terms of sustainability, the buildings were modelled on thermal massing and wind movements, with terraced parts extending out to provide shade.

Green components
"With this you have less reflection and we were able to use a lot of clear glass, which makes the building look more beautiful and provides a clear view. Even in the summer, you can see the right colours in the garden, instead of a harsh tint."

Phase two will feature many of the sustainable components of the first phase, including solar lighting in the common areas such as the gardens and streets. Water is recycled in the development's sewage plant and is used to water the millions of plants in the development, while excess ground water is pumped back into the system.

"We're reducing the loss of water as much as possible, while the amount of greenery we have increases the atmosphere’s oxygen and reduces the temperature by two to three degrees Celsius, depending on the season. The humidity is also less, as it is further away from the sea."

The underground waste system from phase one will also be employed in phase two. ''We had great success with it, with zero problems from day one."

The Reserve
Seventh Heaven is being constructed by Sustainable Developers, which is also building the palatial homes at The Reserve at AI Barari.

"There are only a few plots left [at The Reserve]. We sell the land at Dh780 per square foot. It is very unique; you can't get plots like this in Dubai any more. People can build in accordance with our architectural code, and although they could choose their own contractor, all of them have asked us to do it. The capital increase of ready property is phenomenal, as some residents have already moved in."

Thanks to Al Barari’s initial success, especially with The Reserve villas, the developer said the 157 units at Seventh Heaven were sold out in three days.

“We invited existing residents on the first day of the launch, and 20 per cent was sold on that day. Then the next day we didn't plan to sell, but people showed up. I even had to give up the apartment I had reserved for myself to a Dutch couple. But it makes me feel proud and happy that people want to be part of this community."

Zaal says the two-bedroom show home they built gave a tremendous boost to the sales team and also helped attract diverse buyers, including Europeans and a number of UAE nationals.

“We sold out quickly because we showed people exactly what they are getting. They could walk in and touch the materials, see the wardrobes, test the collapsible windows, the kitchen, etc., and not just rely on a visual rendering.

“The percentage of UAE nationals was quite unusual for us. A lot of younger couples now want to buy their own place."

The homes were sold for between Dh1,500 and Dh1,900 per square foot. "We don't want to overprice things. We want people to have a lot of potential for growth when the apartments are completed."

The launch of the second and final part of Seventh Heaven is not due until after summer. In the meantime, the developer has launched another residential project, Ashjar, which means trees.

"Ashjar is very different. Certain types of people will really enjoy this canopy living. We are kind of sinking these very low-rise buildings by surrounding them with trees we’ve already started planting, so you look out from your balcony and you are at the tree-top level. It has a jungle feel to it."

Ashjar will have G+3 and G+4 buildings, with only 12 and 15 apartments respectively, to be built in four clusters and launched in stages.

"These buildings are placed organically in very cozy clusters within gardens, so you step out into common gardens in your ground floor apartment and see plants instead of a wall in front of you. You'll be able to walk by the water. There are no roads, bar one from behind to drive into the cluster, taking you underground into lit basements and sunken gardens. When you go up, you're suddenly in a park."

Ashjar will have 300 residences, with 1,500-sq-ft one-bedroom units, 2,500-sq-ft two-bedroom units and 3,50D-sq-ft three-bedroom units to choose from. The developer set a price of Dh1,800 per square foot during the launch of the project. There is also a mock-up unit for potential buyers to see what they will get.

Half of Ashjar went on sale in April and 50 per cent of the units offered were sold in 30 days.

Time frame
Construction of Ashjar is expected to start this month and will be completed around six months after the completion of Seventh Heaven.

"I'm signing a 30-month completion deadline with contractors. Then we move on to the next phase, which is to start construction of the hotel and all the retail areas, up to the last residential phase. Inshallah, within three to four years everything will be done.

The developer says being located next to MBR City is helping speed up access to the development. "'We're now focusing a lot more on the infrastructure of the surrounding areas and are working with government entities to make sure we are a lot more accessible. We have a new road coming up at the entrance of AI Barari, a highway, which will lead to Shaikh Zayed Road."

The Zaal family is self-financing the development, which is worth more than Dh6 billion, and is also sourcing funds from off-plan sales.

"We're proud of creating this destination. We have been mitigating risks by not overstretching ourselves and moving things slowly but surely, as we want to make sure we deliver and don't get stuck with debt. We put our money where our mouth is.

Expansion plan
"Even on the AI Barari villas, no one ever lost money. They were sold at Dh1,200 a square foot at launch, then rose and fell back to this level to rise again. We are very happy moving forward, as our clients are end users who are looking for long-term homes, so they aren't concerned about natural market fluctuations. We have very few homes changing hands."

The AI Barari concept is unique in the region, although the family plans to bring the concept to other countries once the project is completed.

"Oman will probably be one of the first places where we would embark on something similar. But not before we are done here."


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Source: Nicole Walter, Special to Property WeeklyPW

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