Thursday, April 28, 2011

It Begins

I'm happy to say that we've finally started construction activities on our project. It still doesn't look like much because we need to spend the time to establish our boundaries and elevations correctly before pouring the critical building foundations. Once the slab for the lowest level is poured the speed will begin to pick up, hence the 45-day duration for the first level completion and the 30-days for each of the remainders.

Following are the photos from the first three days of construction. The contractor brought framing lumber from another project he was finishing up, and dropped it off at the site.

(we have lumber! the first activity on the site in weeks)

(close up view of the same)
Next the crew began to set up a wood frame (called "Iswerah" or bracelet) around the limits of construction. This frame will allow us to mark both the location and elevation of the axis for the footings, the foundations and the slab for the lowest level.

(crew setting up the bracelet)

(there were 4 workers on site this week, 2 "masters" and 2 helpers)
Once the level perimeter is set up, the surveyors came and marked the axis of the 2 outermost foundations on the boards, as well as gave us an elevation benchmark. From those 8 points and that elevation mark we are able to calculate the location of the intersections / centers of all the footings and will set up frames for the reinforced concrete pour in the coming days based on those locations and the design details for each footing.

(the bracelet almost complete)

(view of the completed, marked bracelet from the site office)
Next week, in addition to setting up for the footing concrete pours, we will finalize negotiations with concrete, steel and stone providers for material pricing, receive and set up the site office furniture, and complete the design for (and put up) the site project sign to create more visibility.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Time It Takes

Two months into our stay here, and I'm just now starting to get used to the pace of life in Ramallah. My initial frustrations at the slow pace of business and the inevitable delays we run into at every turn (which I was perceiving as lost time) has been replaced with the relief from the never-ending pressure of the daily grind that characterizes the rat race in the US, and the joy of spending more time with my family. I'm re-learning how to enjoy the cup of arabic coffee or mint-infused, sweet black tea served at the beginning of every meeting, the expectation that you start the meeting with discussions about anything except the business at hand, and the many other cultural norms (or "isms" as my brother would say) in the Palestinian society.

This is just how long things take here, for better or for worse, depending on how you want to look at it. I admit that I'm getting anxious to start construction, because we've had the site excavated and contractor-ready for at least 4 weeks now. But things happen for a reason, and today we find ourselves:
  • At the conclusion of partnership negotiations with a builder to to set up a contracting company and perform the development work on the project ourselves, improving the proposed Return On Investment for the overall project. This after coming within hours of signing a contract with a different, more expensive General Contractor who would not have provided the same synergies to the group.
  • Under contract with a graphic design artist to create a design for our new website, newspaper ad(s), project sign and (possibly) a billboard ad.
  • At the end of electric wiring, insulation and sheetrock, and window installation at the mobile office. Painting, fixtures and furniture remain to be coordinated over the next few days.
  • Having a much better understanding of our ability to finance this and future projects with the banks' assistance, and with the framework for a strategic plan for our operations for the next 5 years.
The plan as of today is to start work at the site next Monday, after the crews we hired wrap up work on another project, then the clock starts ticking. We budgeted 45 days for the first level, and 30 days for each floor after that to complete the 'Adem (frame) phase, around 8 months total for the 7 stories. the Tashteeb (finish-out) will dove-tail into it and the final two or three floors will wrap up 3 to 4 months after the framing of the roof floor.

Meanwhile, here are a few photos of the only physical activity going on at the site ... improvements to the shipping container / site office:

(frames added to attach sheetrock onto)

(work in progress)

(how many Palestinians does it take to put up a panel of sheetrock?)

(the new view from inside the - now smaller - office room,
after partitioning an area for a guard's quarters / tool storage)

Hopefully, next time I post it will be with pictures of the set up for foundation pouring. Or as we say here in Ramallah: Insha' Allah.

(With thanks for my brother for inspiring the title to this post from a song off his new album).

Thursday, April 7, 2011

More Rain and Sunset

We've had a few more rainy days in Ramallah, and it's given us a chance to finalize our agreement with a contractor and follow up on a few more administrative items, namely:
  • Prepare a preliminary wastewater study to figure out the best way to connect to the city's wastewater system, and coordinate a service extension request with the city. We still need a consent letter from the neighbor who's property we'll need to go through, as well as a route survey just to submit our application to the city. I'm sure I'll post more about this in coming days.
  • Coordinate meetings with a graphic designer to help us with our marketing needs, including a new website design, a brochure, print ads (we're planning on a couple of newspaper advertisements in the coming months), a site / project sign design and possibly a billboard.
  • Finalize arrangements with the subcontractors who will work on the interior finish of the site office, arranging for electricity, insulation and sheetrock, and office furniture.
  • Preparing a project budget and schedule, as well as a few development scenarios to get an idea of our cash flow situation for the coming months.
  • Interview contractors for the second phase of the development. Typical construction here takes place in two stages, the building frame (called 'adem, or "bones") that includes the reinforced concrete walls and the stone facade, and the finish-out (called tashteeb) that includes plumbing, electrical, interior walls, paint and wood framing, metal work, flooring and finally the kitchen and bathroom fixtures.
There's plenty to keep us busy, but I'm excited about getting the 'adem contractor signed up and getting the construction started. Weather forecast calls for a few more cloudy / rainy days up ahead but I'm hoping we'll start work on the foundations by the middle of next week.

In the meantime, I thought I'd post a few more photos of the diplomatic subdivision from the outside looking in, as seen from the west Ramallah neighborhood of Al Tireh. You can see the massive amounts of earthwork used to nestle the subdivision into the hillside:

(diplomatic subdivision - click on image to enlarge)
For someone who values the natural beauty of this place (and all other places as well), it's sad for me to see the land planners' apparent disregard for the topographic constraints they're working within and choosing not to design with nature. We're probably an even longer way from introducing biomimicry to the design industry. 

I took the next set of photos last week on my trip to that subdivision, and I was struck by the size of the retaining walls looking out from one of the villas. These walls were probably 15 meters tall in some places (~50 feet) and we were told that the builders were asked not to fill behind them because the weight of the fill material would be too much to design support for, so instead they were using a reinforced concrete floor at a higher elevation along the wall, then only filling above that for the uphill villas. Here's a set of three photos that I crudely merged to try and give a sense of the scale:

(retaining wall at diplomatic subdivision)
As for our site photos, I have a couple from the blacksmith's visit to our site office to install a door and windows:

(new office door and windows installed)

(the view from our future office)
Speaking of views, I'll end with a sunset view from a hilltop a couple of minutes away from our project site:

(Ramallah sunset)