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Construction firm finds success against all odds

By Ren Xiaojin | China Daily | Updated: 2019-04-25 09:09

Employees of China State Construction First Building (Group) conduct inspections at the construction site of the C07 and C08 office tower in Cairo, Egypt. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Office tower complex in Egyptian capital helps company gain traction

Summers in Egypt can be unusually warm and last July was no exception. As the temperatures soared to 70 degrees Celsius, the massive construction site of Egypt's new administrative capital was almost heated up like a sauna.

But Zhang Yiqing did not appear to be much affected by the rising temperatures. As the project manager of China State Construction First Building (Group) Co Ltd, the company responsible for building the C07 and C08 office tower in the Central Business District of Cairo, the Egyptian capital, he had much bigger problems to worry about.

In 2017, China State Construction Engineering Corp Ltd, a State-owned construction and real estate firm, inked a $3 billion contract with Egypt's Housing Ministry for construction of the first phase of the new administrative capital 45 kilometer east of Cairo.

When completed, it will be the single biggest property project carried out by a Chinese company under the Belt and Road Initiative.

But Zhang knows that such projects also face the risk of being behind schedule due to unforeseen delays.

"704 piles need to be put into the ground to support four extremely tall buildings weighing over 915,000 metric tons," said Zhang. "As per the work plan furnished by the Egyptian side, putting the piles 56 meters below the surface is going to take a considerable amount of time as it would be possible to finish just one or two piles a day.

"Logically there is no way that we can finish the entire project within a year, but we want to prove our detractors wrong," Zhang said.

The project contractor - China State Construction First Building - believes that it can use its rich experience of building mega buildings to successfully complete the project on time. It has already built 50 percent of the world's extremely tall building and 85 percent of the skyscrapers in China.

For Zhang and his team, the answer to speedy execution of the project lay in the work undertaken for the Tianjin Global Financial Center.

"The post-grouting pile technique was applied during the construction of the Tianjin Global Financial Center, and by using the same technique here, we were able to shorten the time needed for setting up 704 piles two-and-a-half months," said Zhang.

"In the post-grouting technique, the pile is nailed just 33 meters below the ground," Zhang said. "Each pile is capable of bearing weights of up to 1,300 tons."

The process was also efficient and cost-effective, as the team could finish six piles a day and cut total costs by 2.9 million yuan ($433,000). After gaining approval from the local authorities, Zhang's plan took effect and was subsequently proved right.

Zhang's experiences were just one of the many obstacles that China State Construction First Building overcame during its project in Egypt.

According to the company, it faced challenges from various aspects, such as a lack of geological prospecting labs and the unexpected complexity of the local geological conditions.

Abdel Rahim, chairman of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce & Industry, appraised the project for its high quality and sustainability, and said "it was a miracle".

By April 15, three million cubic meters of rock and earth were excavated from the project site, which was 95 percent of the total excavation volume. Raft concrete replacement - 61,000 cubic meters' concrete - for six buildings was done. The company has also built 50,000 square meters of temporary housing for over 3,000 Chinese workers.

The project also included the 385-meter tall Iconic Tower, the largest of its kind in Africa, when completed.

The building of the Iconic Tower commenced in June 2018, and was expected to be finished by March, 2022. It was described as "a miracle by all means" by Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly during his visit to the site in February.

Ahmed al-Banna, the project manager from Dar Al Handasa, the Egyptian designer and consultant of the project, said China State Construction Engineering Corp, the parent company of China State Construction First Building, was "not only the right choice for this project but also a beginning for new techniques to be witnessed in the history of construction in Egypt."

"This was the first time that we were dealing with a Chinese company and Chinese people in general. They are very friendly, organized and hardworking. We also learned from the Chinese how to use manual piles and post-grouting piles in construction for the first time in Egypt," said the Egyptian project manager.

"The CBD project was a landmark for the Belt and Road Initiative," said Hao Peng, Party secretary of the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission. "Such projects are a crucial part of Egypt's future development. The fact that the Egyptian government handed this task to CSCEC shows how much it trusts the company."

"The CBD project for Egypt's alternative capital was the biggest overseas real estate project that Chinese companies have carried out and was the biggest one of its kind in the world," said Chang Weicai, general manager of CSCEC's Egypt branch. "Most of the projects involved in the Belt and Road Initiative are infrastructure ones."

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