RIYADH: Brett Smythe has an important and difficult task ahead of him. Smythe, who is NEOM’s Director of Projects, was tasked with his team to turn Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious dream of a futuristic $500 billion megacity into reality.
And that’s exactly what it does.
“When Saudi Arabia’s visionary NEOM project was announced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2017, it captured the world’s attention with its ambition and scale – an attempt to achieve something that had never been achieved before, redefining livability, business and conservation. A cornerstone of Vision 2030 that drives economic diversification in the Kingdom,” Smythe told Arab News in an exclusive interview.
Since then, NEOM’s strategy has grown, with major developments underway.
All regions of NEOM will be built simultaneously, in line with the project’s mission to accelerate and achieve progress, he said.
Smythe gave detailed explanations on the progress of the project.
“Work has also begun on The Line, a series of communities built along a 170 km stretch of land from the Red Sea to the interior of Saudi Arabia, incorporated into The Spine, the transportation and logistics backbone that will serve The Line. Early grading work has already begun and major contracts are progressing for The Spine infrastructure with Bechtel (executive project manager), AECOM (lead designer) and China Railway Construction Corp. (access and portals),” Smythe noted.
Work on OXAGON, a radically new model for future manufacturing centers, as well as the civil engineering and infrastructure of its water innovation hub has started.
“Construction has made significant progress on NEOM’s road and utility backbone, its first permanent villages, marine works and social infrastructure,” Smythe said.
He also pointed out that the world’s largest mass-density modular fabrication facility at NEOM is also being established and that additional work is beginning on major energy, water and transportation assets, hospitality venues, airport upgrades, island tourist destinations and a marina.
Smythe promised that 2023 would see an acceleration of permanent large-scale construction across the board. Of its 26,500 square kilometres, covering both land and sea regions, the above scale of development still only represents 5% of total NEOM, which maintains the conservation goals of the project and promises to shape a future in harmony with nature.
He proudly indicated that the scale of work on this project had never been seen before.
“We are building something on a scale never seen before, using new technologies to bring to life one of the most exciting and disruptive projects in the world. As NEOM progresses with the construction of the project, it will create the world’s most advanced economic construction ecosystem, which will continue to contribute to NEOM’s long-term gross domestic product, in Saudi Arabia and beyond.” , Smythe said.
Smythe and his team are putting the finishing touches on building critical support infrastructure.
“We are finalizing the construction of essential support infrastructure, including logistics parks, roads and utilities. Large-scale permanent works are intensifying and will continue for the rest of this decade,” he said.
The teams had a solid work pipeline and schedules set for the next 18 months.
“Our master plans have evolved considerably, to such an extent that we are considerably opening up our permanent construction sites. We are open for business and have welcomed 300 design and construction managers to NEOM who received a detailed overview of how the project vision comes to life. »
There are currently over 11,000 workers from 44 contractors on site; over 8,000 pieces of plant and heavy equipment and over 34 million hours of work completed to date.
Work on permanent installations has already begun at OXAGON, as well as at the NEOM Logistics Park. The 12 km2 park includes new construction villages that will support the initial communities of 30,000, expanding to over 150,000 over the next two years, and will specifically meet construction requirements.
Additionally, the logistics park will include manufacturing and distribution centers serving long-term construction, as well as 30 initial concrete and asphalt plants, and waste sorting and recycling areas. This infrastructure will complement and enable the latest advancements in offsite manufacturing, design and construction automation.
Smythe pointed out that Saudi Arabia is about to experience the biggest construction boom in the world.
“It is essential to take advantage of this development for the benefit of NEOM and the whole Kingdom. We will work with our partners to create a design and build economy, including the full value chain, to serve as a construction hub for businesses in NEOM and Saudi Arabia,” he added.
Smythe said the NEOM build ecosystem is launched to address the challenges of project scale and pace.
“We are committed to positively disrupting the way projects are designed, planned and delivered. NEOM will serve as a living laboratory for the research and development of design and construction processes and materials. In fact, the entire development process, from planning to design, construction and operation, will be enabled by advanced technologies designed to increase efficiency and sustainability, creating the largest ecosystem of construction methods. (MMC) in the world and leveraging best practices with worker well-being.
To build at the required rate, a significant portion of the structure will be moved offsite to be prefabricated in the factory. The application of MMC for infrastructure and buildings, integrated with innovations such as 3D printing, autonomous vehicles, new materials and structural forms, will lead to advantages in terms of speed, cost, quality, health and safety and sustainability. Additionally, developing these capabilities will position NEOM as a global best-practice center for construction innovation, creating new businesses and skilled jobs.
In his view, better planning, design and execution, using MMC and supported by a variety of digital tools as well as recycling, will enable NEOM to send zero construction waste to landfill, use fewer natural resources and reduce emissions from construction and operation relative to these. to traditional buildings and infrastructure. This has significant sustainability benefits.
Circular economy techniques will also be extremely important to NEOM.
“Our focus in our master planning process is to design buildings and communities for both their intended use and their next life; details of the materials used will be recorded so that we can plan their next life.
The Smythe team is committed to dramatically reducing embodied carbon, using scale, and working with industry to reduce emissions from concrete, one of the biggest sources of CO2 in construction.
NEOM’s long-term ambition is to be able to deliver net-zero carbon communities in the future, and the starting point is how we build.
“To achieve this, we are exploring alternative structural forms and building materials, and working with the entire supply chain, including cement manufacturers and vehicle suppliers, to minimize the carbon footprint of our construction business,” Smythe said.
NEOM envisions major pilot projects that will adopt the use of materials and structures that will reduce the demand for concrete by more than 30% and will gradually introduce tools, techniques and powertrain changes over time to develop viable large-scale, zero-emission construction equipment and vehicles to reduce emissions even further. In the longer term, NEOM will install a renewable energy grid on NEOM construction sites.
According to the CFO, digital technologies will play a fundamental leading role during NEOM’s planning, design and procurement processes, throughout construction and, critically, throughout the lifetime operations and management.
NEOM will tap into its central digital backbone early in the design and build phase; Singapore is the only place in the world that has something like it, and it was launched recently and retroactively.
By digitizing all its systems from the start of development, NEOM will be able to optimize all of its processes in the design and construction life cycle.
AI, machine learning
The development team explores the integration of virtual supply chain platforms, the future of sourcing, and digital backbone vendor relationships.
“This will be further enhanced through the use of AI and machine learning to constantly improve efficiency, reduce labor hours and enable rapid construction while improving quality and sustainability. In short, we will deploy advanced MMCs using sustainable and digital technologies and through this we will support the journey of the Kingdom and the global construction industry towards a new paradigm,” Smythe said.
Invest in humanity
The team builds a new region and with it comes obligations to change the role of the workers in the construction.
The goal is to create an industry characterized by high skills, automation, factory work and where traditional risks are no longer tolerated.
This will be a significant change agenda, and it’s one that underpins NEOM’s overall approach to health and wellness, training and engagement, according to Smythe.
“Technology is a key enabler, but much more than that, we’re looking to dramatically increase the value of a man-hour in our industry. We’re taking a different approach to housing design, training, work environment and ultimately integration into society. This will continue to underpin every decision we make,” he concluded.