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Cement creation
Part of Morocco Malls attraction, apart from its sheer size, is the
enormous amounts of concrete needed for its construction. This
also posed a major threat to construction timelines and proved
challenging in the initial stages of the project for the contracted
engineers, Arup. Much of the cement construction is, however, to
be covered by the buildings faade.

The construction on site was already

nearing completion when Building
Africa visited the site.

Photographs by Dominic Uys

4 Building Africa October 2011

The Aksal Group
The Aksal Group
Principal agent architect
Design International
Main contractor
SGTM Construction
Post-tensioned concrete design,
supply and installation supervision
Engineers (civil, electrical, mechanical
and structural)

Morocco Mall

concrete creation
Not only is Moroccos first post-tensioned concrete specialist
constructing the countrys largest shopping mall almost entirely
out of concrete, but the team also looks set to meet this months
construction deadline. Dominic Uys investigates.

certainty at the moment is that the con- were finally constructed out of flat post-tensioned
struction activity in Morocco is extensive cast in-situ concrete. An intensive endeavour when Project at a glance
evidence of a large investment and focus evaluating quantities to be used and deadlines to Project name
by the government. A further certainty, at least be met, the project immediately grabbed Building Morocco Mall
according to this writer, is that the construction Africas attention. Project value
industry will not be slowing down in the foresee- US$253-million
able future. Among the legion of large construction Redesign necessitated Size
projects happening throughout the country, one There are advantages and disadvantages to being 165 000 m
site in particular has managed to capture and hold located in Africa. One disadvantage is the apparent 650 m-long structure
the attention of the rest of the world: Morocco unavailability of new technology available on the Location
Mall. This is for two reasons: the sheer size of the international market. Casablanca, Morocco
project and the large quantities of cement used in The original specifications for the building stipu- Timeline
its construction. lated that it be constructed mainly from precast Mid-2008 to October 2011
concrete slabs with cast in-situ drop beams, slab Challenge
Mall manifesto columns and shear walls. The slabs would be man- Large amounts of concrete were to be
The Morocco Mall in the city of Casablanca is ufactured and stored on site and then moved into used in the construction, which would
hailed as one the largest shopping complexes to be place. Engineering firm Arup was brought in to con- necessitate a large number of expansion
joints, and large numbers of precast
constructed in Africa. Constructed at a cost of sult on the structural, mechanical, electrical, fire
slabs were to be manufactured, at odds
around US$253-million by one of Moroccos largest and faade engineering of the building, and imme-
with the tight construction timelines of
firms, SGTM Construction, work on this diately spotted a major challenge to using the
the project.
165 000 m2, 650 m-long structure was started in planned method.
the second half of 2008 and is set to be completed There were a number of issues related to using
Replace the reinforced concrete floor
this month. reinforced concrete slabs, according to Arups Italy
slabs and the precast panels with post-
On the whole, the project seems relatively group leader, Maurizio Teora, who was involved in tensioned concrete.
straightforward. The building has a more or less the project from the onset. The first of these was
elliptical shape with rounded walls, achieved by the fact that the production of the precast concrete
means of fixing a faade to the buildings outer components would be relatively slow. Given the
shear walls. On closer inspection though, the fact that this project needed to be fast-tracked due
nuances to the construction of this massive struc- to the clients deadlines, Teora states that this
ture are somewhat intriguing and definitely more would have made construction timelines extremely
difficult than first imagined. problematic to adhere to.
Miguel Fernandes, one of Design Internationals The reason for this was the fact that, in order to
architects on site, comments that what makes this create the concrete slabs for the building, the con-
project complex is the sheer amount of concrete tractor would need to set up a factory for precast-
used. The building was, in fact, initially designed to ing. Setting up the site and manufacturing the con-
be constructed almost entirely out of precast con- crete slabs would therefore consistently eat into the
crete slabs with cast in-situ drop beams. All slabs buildings construction timeline.

Building Africa October 2011 5


Putting post-tensioning into play at Morocco Mall

1 The bigger picture


2 Anchor assembly 3 Stressing the strand

Advantages of Further challenges faced around 20%, Teora says. The post-tensioned slabs
post-tensioning Another major issue, according to Teora, was the also offer the same amount of strength that is offered
fact that the building would need to contain a large by the thicker reinforced slabs while still being lighter,
The advantages of using the post-ten-
number of expansion joints. Not usually a challenge, thus reducing the number of columns required.
sioning method have been widely publi-
in this case it proved problematic because the site is
cised. They include:
located less than 20 m from the Atlantic Ocean and Architectural insight
savings in materials (steel and
the basement level is below sea level. Leaks would The buildings architect, Davide Padoa from Design
concrete) used in comparison with
therefore not only pose a major inconvenience, but International, points out that the post-tensioned
reinforced concrete;
smaller deflections than with steel severely hamper progress. concrete had another advantage: The great advan-
and concrete, deflection can be A further design issue identified prior to com- tage that the post-tensioned system had for us was
controlled by adjusting prestress; mencing construction was the fact that the parking space. Firstly, we had severe height restrictions
reduced slab thickness; garage at the base of the building contained too imposed by the Casablanca authorities, so we
longer spans which results in many supporting columns which severely reduced wanted to maximise the clear height of each level
fewer columns; the number of parking bays. The building there- and this could be achieved if we eliminated the extra
resistance to cracking; fore needed to be redesigned to accommodate a concrete beams left over from the initial design as a
high fatigue strength; and new solution. post-tensioned slab system can remove the need
considerable reduction in for beams.
construction time. Savvy solution He adds that the decline of the construction
A solution was eventually identified. It was not obvi- industry in the Middle East in 2009 gave the team
ous at first, according to Teora, because the tech- the opportunity at no extra cost to switch to the
nology was not readily available in Morocco at the omega precast slab system, with a post-tension sys-
time of the buildings initial design. After some back tem, that they had first intended on using. It allowed
and forth communication with the relevant role-play- us to give the shops some extra 500 mm in clear
ers, however, Arup was able to replace the rein- height. This also benefited the rents revenue as
forced concrete floor slabs with post-tensioned con- some shops could introduce mezzanines and extra
crete. This not only allowed for the building to have storage space, says Padoa.
fewer expansion joints, but also for construction to
be sped up significantly. Post-tensioned priority
All in all, we are looking at a 20% reduction in Post-tensioned concrete slabs, as Teora explains,
everything. The slabs are around 20% thinner and are slabs that are embedded with cables (tendons)
lighter, and use around 20% less concrete and steel. that are tensioned after the slabs have cured. The
Curing and construction times are also reduced by cables compress the concrete slab, thereby

6 Building Africa October 2011

1 The bigger picture
The process being applied to the
second floor of the Morocco
Mall in the earlier stages of
construction (the roof of the
basement level).

2 Anchor assembly
The anchor assembly
graphically depicted. During the
process, a tendon will have
anchors on each end to transmit
the force into the structure.
Longer tendons, as used in the
mall, also have intermediate
anchors along their length.

3 Stressing the strand

Tension is applied by using a
hydraulic stressing jack which
bears against anchors
Photographs courtesy of CCL

embedded in the concrete,

pulling the steel to a
predetermined force or stress.

4 Grouting
Grouting involves the insertion
of grout into the duct where
4 Grouting
the strand is located to create
a bond between the tendon and
strengthening the slab. The cable duct is then resisted by the consulting engineers which pointed the concrete.
grouted to protect the strands from corrosion and to a number of areas where they felt that our system
ensure full adherence between the strands and the could fall short. However, we were able to prove
concrete, making the post-tensioned slabs behave that in the areas where the current design was lack-
like traditional reinforced concrete slabs. ing, namely space and time, our system would be
The technology most certainly is not new, having up to the task, Zein says.
been implemented in many locations around the This was our first project in the Moroccan con-
world, but it is rare in this part of Africa. Post-ten- struction sector, but we have since been pulled into
sioned concrete technology is, however, specialised a number of other projects being undertaken by
and Arup was unaware of any contractors operating SGTM, as well as by other construction companies,
in Morocco at the time. especially where high-rise and large-scale construc-
tion is concerned, he says.
Opportune timing
This proved opportune for CCL, a specialist com- Skills transferred
pany expert in pre-tensioned and post-tensioned On commencement of construction, CCL set to
concrete technology, which approached the build- work helping the on-site SGTM team become spe-
ings contractor and offered to assist in the imple- cialised in post-tensioned concrete construction.
mentation of the post-tensioned concrete technol- An important point to note here is that the system
ogy on site. This involved the design of a post-ten- we used really does not need specialised skills. The
sioned alternative, supply of the post-tensioning first thing we had to do was to gather the required
material and specialised equipment, and the super- skills which were already available in Morocco. We
vision of the installation on site. Morocco branch needed steel workers, carpenters and concrete
manager for CCL, Antoine Zein, tells Building Africa workers with their team leaders, says Zein.
that the initial proposal took some convincing. The CCL on-site team of workers is relatively
We approached the contractor, which agreed small, according to Zein, and comprises around 20
that this technology was a good solution to the con- workers to take charge of the supervision of slab
struction teams predicament. The project developer construction, compared to around 1 000 workers
was also immediately convinced by the benefits of for the main contractor. From our side, we
the alternative. This removed the drop beams to appointed two experienced technicians from CCL to
leave flat soffits, thereby facilitating the distribution supervise. We trained a further 10 local workers to
of electromechanical, air-conditioning, fire protection assist and a team to carry out duct manufacture on
and other networks. At first, however, the idea was site. Skills issue addressed, says Zein.

Building Africa October 2011 7


Closer to completion,
the building structure
resembled a skeleton
with the metal
structures to which the
faade was being fixed
clearly visible.

Photographs by Dominic Uys

Sea sighted
The location of the build site less than 20 m from the ocean posed a
challenge as the basement level is located below sea level. Damp and leaks
therefore became a certainty that needed to be addressed.

Pouring to placement
The slab construction process requires formwork to be installed and ten-
dons to be placed at specified locations in the slab. A small amount of
rebar is also added, in large part to comply with Moroccan building regu-
lations. The concrete needs to be certified to 35 MPa according to Zein.
After the concrete has been left to cure for about two days, jacks are
used to stress the tendons, which are anchored, and compress the con-
crete. The tendon ducts are then grouted to protect the tendons. As the
tendons are anchored, the slab is lifted slightly from the formwork which
can then be removed quite easily. The formwork is then moved for prepa-
ration of the next slab, says Zein.

Consistent integrity
Fernandes describes the ongoing construction of this building as
organic, meaning that while construction is taking place, the architects
are constantly involved in redesigning aspects of it here and there. This is
due to a number of reasons, one of them being that the new facilities
management team has requested a few changes to the building in order
to make it more manageable when operational.
A potential obstacle to the constant redesign is the fact that a number
of holes and openings, 15 000 to be exact, have had to be made in the
concrete slabs at the end of slab construction to accommodate electrical
wiring, plumbing and the like. This could certainly have negatively
impacted the strength of the overall build by compromising the integrity
of the slabs. Zein explains that because the slabs tendons have been
grouted, the slabs behave like normal reinforced concrete or better and

8 Building Africa October 2011

1 Constant support

1 Constant support
During initial design stages there
were too many columns in the
basement, reducing parking
capacity. Utilising the post-
tensioning technique allowed the
number of columns to be
decreased, while maintaining
their supportive strength.
Photographs by Dominic Uys

2 The finale
When Building Africa visited the
Morocco Mall site, construction
was nearing completion, with
contractors applying finishing
touches to the malls interior.
2 The finale

can accommodate the new openings in the slabs cost of construction on a project like this back to When compared to
without compromising their integrity. what it would have been, had it been constructed
with ordinary reinforced concrete. reinforced concrete
Vertically limited The main economy comes by dramatically
construction, I would
The system is, however, limited in its application. reducing execution time, several months of fixed
Zein adds that the one limitation of the post-ten- costs for example, which creates a substantial mar- agree that our method
sioned slab alternative is the need for vertical shear gin on the execution planning schedule and avoids
walls for lateral stability with post-tensioned thin delay penalties, says Zein.
uses 20% less in terms of
slabs acting as diaphragms, compared to the One thing that also plays a role in using a post- resources. This does not
columns/dropped beams frame effect. tensioned slab alternative is the length of the spans
We are researching remedies to this and it might between the columns supporting the slabs; post- necessarily mean that the
be quite interesting if we succeed, says Zein. tensioning will be more cost-effective with large method is cheaper at dry
spans and large cantilevers. In this case, the fact
Building bottom line that 95% of the buildings slabs were 8 m x 8 m cost, however.
Zein might make a strong case for CCLs system made it cost-effective to build in this manner. Had
but, as with most good ideas, costing usually spoils the slabs been 5 m x 5 m for example, we might
the party. However, with regards to the construction have advised the client to look for an alternative solu-
of the Morocco Mall specifically, Zein makes an inter- tion, says Zein.
esting point in this regard. Although ideal for this Morocco-based construc-
When compared to reinforced concrete con- tion project, it is not necessarily a universal solution
struction, I would agree that our method uses 20% for all concrete-intensive building sites. However, in
less in terms of resources. This does not necessarily Zeins opinion and this writers as well the use of
mean that the method is cheaper at dry cost, how- the post-tensioned slabs was worth it when offset by
ever. While we use fewer materials, the scope of the fact that the construction target date could be
supplies that we require with regard to specific mate- reached much sooner than initially speculated; that is
rials, like the tendons, has to be added bringing the to say, on time.

Building Africa October 2011 9