Creating new bodies of water in the middle of the desert

Waterfront living has become one of the most desirable lifestyles in the worldImage Credit: Courtesy of Crystal Lagoons

In Dubai's ever-changing property market, one constant remains: the demand for waterfront property. The city was quick to cotton on to the need for sea-facing real estate, creating groundbreaking residential districts such as the Palm Jumeirah and Dubai Marina, and unveiling the new Dubai Canal initiative, in a bid to offer new opportunities to developers seeking to capitalize on seaside locations.

But what if creating waterfront development opportunities didn't require access to the sea? What if, instead, entire new areas of flooded ground could be created, sustainably, in the desert? That's exactly what Chilean firm Crystal Lagoons is doing. Just eight years after its creation, the company has more than 300 projects under way across 60 countries, including five in the Middle East, installing its crystal-clear, azure blue water bodies to create new space for real estate and leisure development.

But while its 12-hectare lagoon in Egypt's Sharm El Sheikh holiday district currently holds the record as the world's largest, its upcoming development in Dubai's Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum City — District One is set to dwarf it. Covering over 40 hectares, the series of interconnected lagoons will form the centrepiece of Meydan Sobha's newest luxury residential district.

With one lagoon already flooded, and the first handover of property expected late next year, work is well under way. Property Weekly spoke to Carlos Salas, Middle East Regional Director for Crystal Lagoons, to find out more about the firm's work and its ambitions for the future.

- Where did the idea for Crystal Lagoons come from and how did the company start?

The company was founded 2007 by Chilean scientist, entrepreneur and real estate developer Fernando Fischmann, with the aim of transforming any location into an idyllic beach paradise. The first Crystal Lagoon was built 17 years ago in San Alfonso del Mar, Chile, and quickly became the most successful second home resort in the southern hemisphere, surpassing competition and selling units at much higher prices and at unprecedented rates. Due to this and other success stories, real estate, construction and development leaders are now keen to utilise the trend to maximize their projects' demand and profitability.

In a nut shell, these lagoons can be built almost anywhere thanks to a liner developed according to our company's specifications and brand, which is exclusively produced in the United States. The characteristics of the liners vary from project to project, and are determined by our interdisciplinary engineering team based on the geographic, geologic and meteorological conditions of the project.

The lagoon's hydraulic and mechanical systems are monitored, controlled, and operated remotely by Crystal Lagoons from their control centres. This ensures that water quality is maintained within established parameters, guaranteeing high, standardised quality no matter where in the world the lagoon is located. Crystal Lagoons' concept and technology allows the lagoons to have very low water consumption. They work on a closed circuit in which it is only necessary to compensate for evaporation.

- Tell us about your role at Crystal Lagoons.

I will be responsible for taking forward expansion plans in the Middle East, a region where the company already has many projects, including Citistars Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt, two developments in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, another one in Jordan and the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum City — District One complex in Dubai.

- Are you excited?

As the only company in the world able to provide this technology, and with patents in 160 countries around the world, there is a lot to be excited about, particularly given that we can make beachfront real estate a reality in places where previously it would not have been possible.

- Is it costly to develop and maintain a lagoon?

The cost to develop and maintain a lagoon is very similar to the development of a park or green area of the same size and uses 10 times less water than a golf course. Furthermore, Crystal Lagoons not only has an impact on the success of the real estate market, but also significantly on the local economy.''

- Have you experienced any challenges because of the scale. Is the technology easy to scale up?

The ambition and vision of Dubai has been integral in minimizing any potential challenges. Prevalent throughout the process has been the recognition that something of this magnitude can be achieved, and we look at this development as the benchmark for the rest of the world. Crystal Lagoons also believes the timing of the launch of the project is quite unique as it will be enjoyed for all to see at the World Expo in 2020.

- How does a crystal lagoon differ from other bodies of water. What are its advantages over a normal lake or lagoon?

Crystal Lagoons' unique selling points are in plentiful supply. Firstly, they are sustainable, allowing limited resources such as energy and water to be used efficiently. They can use any type of water — salt, fresh or brackish — while fully complying with the most stringent international water-quality standards. Developers also reap the benefits due to the feasibility of otherwise unviable projects and increased density, sales velocity and sales prices.''

- How big a concern is environmental impact when creating a new design. Have you seen a change in customer attitude towards green projects?

First and foremost, Crystal Lagoons is a transformative real estate tool, allowing the developer to take a certain location they otherwise would have discounted. Nonetheless, our green credentials set us apart from anything else on the market. We use 100 times less chemical additives than a conventional swimming pool and only two per cent of the energy required for traditional filtration systems.

The cost and energy saving are therefore incredibly appealing to developers and prove popular with consumers looking to play their part in helping the environment.''

- How will the lagoons be situated on-site?

The initial phase lagoon has been completed and covers a surface area of 1.4 hectares, but once fully complete, the site will host a series of interconnecting lagoons covering 40 hectares — almost four-times bigger than the world's largest existing lagoon. It will be complemented by a sandy beach and surrounded by a boardwalk, the perimeter of which will be decorated by lush, green landscaping which gives the impression of an oasis setting.

- Are they a cosmetic feature or do they offer leisure opportunities?

Far from just cosmetic, they're ideal for a wide range of recreational activities including swimming, kayaking, paddle boarding and sailing, all of which can be done in a safe and fun environment.

- What features will the actual development have?

The completed development will feature luxury residences and will deliver a phenomenal range of features and activities including parks, beaches, water sports, and even a world-class equestrian club with riding trails. The development will also feature a promenade with a wide selection of stores, restaurants, cafes, lively bistros and entertainment options. The aim for the developers, Meydan Sobha, is that they can turn it into one of the world's prime residential locations, delivering a new, vibrant green heart for Dubai.

- Why do you think waterfront property holds such strong appeal?

Waterfront living has become one of the most desirable and sought-after lifestyles in the world, but with this particular project, I'm sure the exclusivity, the status and the rewards of such a location will see it become a global icon in terms of waterfront living.

- Who are the typical persons who would want to live here and what sort of community are you aiming to create?

Our customers are predominantly end-users looking for space — and quality — while still being in the centre of town. This is a location that cannot be repeated and our product offering has to reflect the premium nature of the location.

- How has the company managed to expand so rapidly and how do you manage so many different developments?

All the Lagoons are remotely monitored from a centralized location, negating the need for a specialized team to visit every lagoon to test water quality and make the relevant adjustments — it can all be done from a distance. Construction and maintenance costs are low too, although quality is of paramount importance.

- How does Dubai differ from other markets? Have you experienced greater or fewer challenges here?

Dubai has always had the ability to take on and execute the most adventurous projects. The ambition of the government and the drive to make it happen in such a short period of time is like nothing else around the world.

- What's next for the company?

Crystal Lagoons also has an industrial applications operation, providing closed-circuit cooling, cooling ponds, water desalination and applications for the mining industry. There are big growth opportunities in the coming years on the industrial side of the business, however, we are a technology company that owns intellectual property and we are confident we can be very effective as a small, nimble company with a global sales force.

Here's a glimpse on Dubai market which is less volatile and more predictable

Source: Jennifer Gibson, Special to Property Weekly


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