The Heart of Europe
The Heart of Europe Area Guide
The Heart of Europe is a group of islands in Dubai’s ‘The World’ archipelago being developed by The Kleindienst Group. When complete it will house private holiday homes, apartment buildings, hotels, floating palaces and a diverse range of retail, entertainment and food and beverage outlets.
The developer plans to recreate the look and feel of various European cities through their architecture, restaurants and entertainments.
Kleindienst originally bought eight islands for the Heart of Europe project, but decided to merge three of them into one large city-centre style complex. Four of the islands were to have villas and the fifth to contain the retail and office elements. Since then the masterplan has changed from a design for tranquil residential islands into something more akin to Disneyland.
The sky’s the limit for Josef Kleindienst who will, for example, stop at nothing to make it snow on Switzerland island, the ground works for which started at the beginning of 2018.
By mid 2018 the project is underway, with ten super-luxury villas (he calls them ‘palaces’ because they were all bought off-plan by a royal family) nearing completion on Sweden island, villas under construction on Germany, and the Portofino family hotel on Italy that, he says, will open its doors by the end of the year.
A clutch of 40 floating ‘villas’ called Sea Horses is being fabricated in Port Rashid and will be tethered to jetties around St Petersburg island.
History of The Heart of Europe
In 2007 Kleindienst Properties acquired six of the total 300 The World islands to create ‘The Heart of Europe’, a complex, made up of luxury hotels, designer villas, holiday apartments and shops, billed as ‘a holiday and leisure paradise’ off the coast of Dubai.
The six islands that Kleindienst had bought were Switzerland, Austria, Sweden, Germany, Holland and Belgium.
In 2009, when the project design got underway, a part of the Holland island was planned to be a leisure area with its own beach called Amsterdam. A luxury shopping arcade as well as two five-star hotels were to entice you to St Petersburg - not an island at all at that time. The main attraction on Austria island was to be the Sissi-Hotel, dedicated to Austria’s former empress and decorated in a style true to Sissi-Design (Josef Kleindienst, the developer, is Austrian). Oh, and not forgetting sports fans and animal lovers who were also destined to ‘get their money's worth’, a dolphin pool was to be an integral part of the Heart of Europe.
Kleindienst hired the Fraunhofer Institute to develop an optimal energy and water budget, environmentally friendly transportation, energy efficient cooling systems and an intelligent irrigation system. A large proportion of the islands plots were designated for use as green areas, such as parks and gardens.
In June 2009 the Spanish architectural practice A-cero was appointed to produce a masterplan for a residential resort in the Heart of Europe, effectively to urbanize the six islands. Tellingly, it was not only the promoter Kleindienst who was involved in the development process of the project, but also the Dubai government. If The World project were to succeed in attracting first investors and then tourists it needed kick-starting, and Kleindienst’s Heart of Europe project was the only serious contender.
The A-cero architects described the task in these terms: ‘More than 500,000 metres of construction consisting of six hotels, one of them 7-star, an aquarium, schools, day-care centres, light houses, congress centre, night life leisure (bars, discos) and residential area, everything with an exclusive design characteristic of the different “European countries” (Swiss, German, Swedish, Russian and Dutch).’
It was hoped to begin the building work after the summer of 2009, but the financial crisis put paid to that. And not only the financial crisis; how do you manage a construction project on a bunch of sand pits four kilometres out at sea with no bridges, harbours, electricity, water or drainage? The logistical nightmare was becoming a reality.
Notwithstanding, Kleindienst Group kept going and on 22nd December 2009 announced its construction plans and officially launched the Heart of Europe development - ‘a six-island, twelve-site luxury holiday destination’. Construction was to start on the Germany island in the first quarter of 2010.
The first development phase on Germany comprised twenty private holiday villas designed by A-cero. The plots, inclusive of sea frontage, ranged from 6,000 to 40,000 square feet on which investors could select their pre-designed shell-and-core scheme for a three-, four- or five-bedroom villa. Investors would be able to choose from a wide range of interior fit out options. The villas were primarily targeted towards end-user holiday home investors, a market which Kleindienst Group saw as a key driver of tourism and real estate growth in Dubai over the short to medium term.
When complete, The Heart of Europe would be home to 75 private holiday homes, six apartment buildings, six hotels, six lighthouses and six floating palaces, as well as ‘a diverse range of retail, entertainment and food and beverage outlets’. It would also be ‘a beacon of sustainability and innovative design, with green features such as zero-energy villas and a climate-controlled boulevard’.
Josef Kleindienst is reported to have said that three customers had bought plots on Germany island for Dh300 ($82)per square foot, after the company finished paying for the island and secured ownership. It was also reported that Kleindienst would complete the Heart of Europe project by 2015. That didn’t happen.
In February 2010 work began on Germany island. Before anything could be built on the islands, the sand they consist of had to be made load-bearing. To do this involves a process called ‘vibro compaction’ whereby electric depth vibrators mechanically agitate and lock the sand particles together down to seabed level, a depth of 18-20 metres. The technique is recognized internationally and is a standard procedure in the densification of reclaimed land and ensures that all construction on the island is stable and sound.
The aim was to complete ground settlement works by May 2010 after which construction of the twenty private holiday villas would begin. Eleven of them had already been sold off-plan and they were scheduled for completion in 2011. That didn’t happen either.
In March 2010 The Kleindienst Group announced that in the third quarter of the year work was set to begin on Monte Carlo, a 415,000 square foot island (originally ‘Austria’) that was to contain ‘a beach and pool club, a fine dining restaurant and bar, a nightclub and a dedicated event area for private parties, weddings and corporate events’. The island was being aimed at the yachting fraternity and had been ‘designed as a party island’ with access to the club restricted to adults only.
Work was expected to be ready by the end of 2010 in time for celebrations on New Year's Eve with a party and performances attended by owners and A-list celebrities. In July the developer said that the island was to be built in two phases, and that by the end of the year, a club house, the infrastructure, a pool and barbecue area and a dance club would be finished.
That didn’t happen. Instead, Monte Carlo island was renamed ‘Monaco’ and became the storage area for the construction materials needed to build on the other islands.
In May a trade licence for business operations on The Heart of Europe project was granted to Kleindienst Group. A hospitality and entertainment licence was also awarded to the company by the Dubai Government.
On 28 June 2010 City Diamond Contracting LLC, a specialist turnkey design-build contractor based in Dubai, began work on the first of the twenty villas on Germany, following the four-month stabilization process that had been completed the in May. The steel-framed villas were to be built on solid concrete floor slabs and the buyers were offered the flexibility of three-, four- or five-bedroom floorplans, with a choice of open or closed plan kitchens, and other choices over the final fit and finish.
By now 12 villas had already been sold, with the show home set aside for Josef Kleindienst himself. The show home was scheduled for completion by the end of 2010, with the rest to be handed over in 2011. That didn’t happen.
In July 2010 Josef Kleindienst was explaining the necessity for energy efficiency systems using solar power and other natural sources of renewable energy, such as a new generation of small and powerful wind generators. The six island development was to be served by its own power grid with wind and solar power feeding into it. Any shortcomings would be picked up by efficient diesel generators.
At this time the islands were Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Netherlands, St Petersburg and Sweden, on which were to be another six European destinations - Belgium, Geneva, Luxembourg, Monte Carlo, Poland and Sochi. Each country would ‘capture a different facet of Europe's unique character, such as music in Holland, innovation in Germany, style in Austria, wonder in Russia, tranquillity in Sweden and romance in Switzerland’. It was becoming difficult to tell what was an island and what was not. Part of the Netherlands island had been planned as a leisure area named Amsterdam with its own beach, whilst a luxury shopping arcade as well as two five-star hotels had been planned ‘to entice residents and visitors’ to St Petersburg.
One of the chief attractions on Austria island would be The Sissi Hotel, dedicated to Austria's former empress. It would be decorated in keeping with the Sissi design. Austria would be elevated at its centre so that the city was built onto a hill and Germany would have a tree-lined promenade.
The cost of developing The Heart of Europe was said to be Dh3.1 billion ($817million).
Josef Kleindienst was by now bent on dealing with the issues of logistics and self sufficiency. In October 2010, all machinery, construction materials and other bulk products were still having to be shipped to the island by a 120-tonne landing craft from Dubai’s Port Rashid at a cost of AED 8,000 ($2,180) per trip.
The islands would also have to be completely self sufficient. All power and water would need to be produced, all sewage processed, and all rubbish on the islands collected, compacted and sold for recycling. The six island development was to be served by its own power grid with wind and solar power feeding into it, while a vacuum sewage system would also connect the six islands and centrally separate grey and black water, portioning off the treated grey water for irrigation.
Germany’s villas would be fitted with enough solar panels to produce an oversupply of energy to help fill in any deficits in demand from energy heavy islands like Monte Carlo, while clean burning diesel generators were to be used should the solar photovoltaic systems not be sufficient once all six islands were connected.
Kleindienst then went on to say “We will also have, in our climate controlled roads, a rain system. We know people here love the rain. Rain is something typically European, so that means there will be times out there when it will start raining. People will enjoy the rain, they will go to the bars, restaurants, shops and buy something, or sit out and enjoy the rain. The rain will cool down the roads. We use the water from the dehumidification of the building, and this water will be used for the rain system.”
Come the end of the year, the New Year’s Eve party scheduled to take place on Monte Carlo island was cancelled and the island’s launch postponed until 2011.
Meanwhile, in February 2011 the island of Lebanon, not part of The Heart of Europe project, was showing signs of life with bulldozers moving sand around what was to become a small beach resort with palm trees. And then, in July, construction work on The Heart of Europe stalled owing to a $199m legal battle with master developer Nakheel for breach of contract. The impasse lasted almost two years until in May 2013 a Nakheel subsidiary signed an out-of-court settlement agreement with Kleindienst Properties under which the developer would pay the AED622million ($170 million) balance owing to The World LLC in return for permission to continue developing The Heart of Europe.
In 2013 the contractors were mobilised again, but now the project was anticipated to take until the end of 2016 to complete, and that didn’t happen.
By January 2014, Lebanon had stolen the crown and become the first island to have been developed commercially. Its Royal Island Beach Club is used for private corporate events and public parties.
In January 2014, perhaps to compensate for their slipped delivery dates, or perhaps to put Lebanon into perspective, Kleindienst released news of the shape of things to come. The Heart of Europe was to include not only rain-lashed streets but also snow, using state-of-the-art German technology to achieve the effect. Monaco would offer the ‘elegance and opulence of the French Riviera, with its magnificent, contemporary villas and luxurious yachts’. Sweden would feature a central marketplace ‘encompassing the tradition of Stockholm’s renowned Saluhallen markets.’ ‘The six stunning islands will offer leading hotels for families and wedding parties, landscaped gardens, climate-controlled plazas, street performers, snow and rain-lined streets and much, much more’, said the press release.
In March off-plan units in The Heart of Europe project were allegedly selling for Dh3,000 to Dh3,700 $800 to $1,000) per square foot. From hotel suites to floating villas, these were the first homes to go on sale on The World islands after the global financial crisis.
Mont Royal, a 5-star hotel, was now being built on the Main Europe island. To enable the construction plant and machinery to be moved from island to island a large floating bridge was built to link Monaco, Switzerland and St Petersburg to the Main Europe. During construction work on the six islands (which is still going on) Monaco is serving as the logistics centre, where equipment and supplies are kept and the labour camp is located.
More crazy-but-true news was released in May 2014. Two ancient Mediterranean olive trees, dated between 1,300 and 1,400 years old, were transplanted from Spain to the Heart of Europe as part of a consignment of 58 trees comprised of twelve Mediterranean varieties being planted. The varieties are Olea europea (Olive trees), Ceratonia siliqua, Ficus nitida and Ficus australis, Dracaena Drago, Ficus carica, Yucca elephantipes, Punica granatum, Chamaerops humilis multi trunk, Schinus molle, Tipuana tipu, and Chorisia speciosa. Qualified arboriculturalists from Europe had apparently assessed the trees’ ability to cope with the Middle East climate, and continued to monitor their progress as they adapted to their new environment. Three months later the ancient olive trees were said to have ‘settled in nicely’ and were producing new shoots.
In March 2014 Kleindienst signed an agreement with Ultimate Charter to provide access to luxury yachts; in April the developer struck a deal with Dubai’s transport authority, RTA, for water taxi and ferry links, and in August they tied up with Seawings, a seaplane tour operator.
By August 2014 construction was under way on Germany island, the first phase of the project. The second phase, villas on Sweden island, would be launched in September 2014.
That month’s press releases reported that ‘The Heart of Europe is designed to have climate-controlled areas with rain showers and snow-lined streets, an open aquarium, a convention centre and luxury hotels, including the Empress Elisabeth Wedding Hotel and the Mont Royal family hotel, which will have a floor under water and floating villas’.
In mid-2014 work began on raising the ground levels on Sweden island while vibro-compaction continued. Additional machinery was brought to the islands to accelerate the ground works in readiness for piling. The Sea Truck barge was now making weekly deliveries of water, diesel, materials and supplies to keep pace with the ground works, and stock piles of materials on the islands stood at 20,000 tonnes of aggregate and 8,000 tonnes of sand.
A fully-automatic, 1,000 cubic metre concrete batching plant was installed on Monaco island to provide high quality concrete for, piling, sub-structures and super structures. In July 2015 the batching plant, able to churn out up to 2,000 cubic metres every day, began producing concrete.
And let’s not forget the wild-life. Yes, swans and deer had been brought to the islands and now that they were acclimatised they were corralled in an area safely away from construction sites.
In September 2014 works started on Switzerland island and by October the vibro-compaction work on all six islands was complete. To put investors minds at rest in the light of press reports that the islands were sinking, Kleindienst issued a press release saying that ‘It has been calculated that in the next 50 years the settlement of The Heart of Europe islands when they are built upon, will sink less under building pressure than that of Dubai mainland. In fact, in total, our islands would only sink a maximum of 11.78mm once built upon, over the next 50 years. This also proves that The Heart of Europe islands certainly will not sink.’
In November 2014 excavation work for the Family Hotel area on Main Europe island began, and in December a nursery for trees was established on the far end of St Petersburg island, where plants could acclimatize before being used for landscaping around the other islands. The new coconut trees had taken well and were creating their own micro climate to enable more successful planting there in the future.
On Monaco island workforce accommodation for up to 400 workers was being built, and on Main Europe dredging had been completed and the dredgers moved to St Petersburg where around 1,000 cubic metres of sand was being ‘produced’ every day.
The Mont Royal Hotel continued to take shape and concrete modules were being pre-cast off-site for installation on the islands.
In June 2015 a new, 800-tonne barge began transporting workforce and construction materials from Port Rashid to the islands on a daily basis. It was estimated that 1,000 trips would be needed to complete the entire Heart of Europe project.
In the autumn more details of the plan for St Petersburg emerged. ‘Designed in the shape of a heart, St Petersburg island will be a vacation retreat with white sandy beaches, a large infinity pool, shallow lagoons, lush tropical gardens and an exclusive restaurant and bar. The island will be surrounded by Floating Seahorses which will be connected to the island and its exclusive facilities via floating jetties.
St Petersburg will be a holiday destination for adults and children, as it offers peace and tranquillity yet close proximity to Main Europe island, the hub of The Heart of Europe, where there will be all the amenities holiday makers will need, as well as the five-star Tzar Hotel.
The developer is talking about staging events that will include celebrating The White Nights Festival, and the very best of classical ballet, opera and music.’
In December the first Floating Seahorse was completed in dry docks in Dubai, ready to sail to The Heart of Europe at the start of 2016.
In February 2016 Kleindienst confirmed that St Petersburg island would be finished in October 2016, and that the first hotel, the Côte d'Azur 24/7 party hotel, would be ready in June 2017. They weren’t.
By May 2016 construction of the first two Sweden villas, that began in December 2015, was said to be ‘well underway’. The buyer for the first villa had asked for it to be ready in time for the 2016/17 New Year’s Eve celebrations and Kleindienst had accepted the challenge.
In May 2016 Kleindienst said that the heart-shaped St Petersburg was now to be a honeymoon resort, with 90 Floating Seahorse villas, each connected to the island by floating jetties. He reiterated the impossible delivery date, October 2016.
In summer the first two of the ten villas on Sweden island had reached structural completion and construction had begun on another two. The roofs, designed to resemble the upturned hull of a Viking vessel, were being made on the islands, but when Josef Kleindienst visited the site and stood on the top floor of the villa he declared that the roof should be glass so that the owners could enjoy the view of the Dubai coastline. The roof structure would not support the weight of glass, so it was back to the drawing board.
More details about The Heart of Europe were emerging. The Honeymoon Hotel on Main Europe was set to open at the end of 2018, Kleindienst revealed, and Switzerland island would have outdoor climate controlled technology twelve months a year. It would also have an infinity pool, shallow lagoons, tropical gardens, a pool bar and restaurant.
In September the design for the glass roof for the first Sweden Palace, as the villas were now to be known, was finalised and a contractor appointed to build the new steel frames to support the glass. Bentley furniture was ordered to give the palaces a luxurious finishing touch and July 2017 was set as the overall completion date for the ten palaces. It didn’t happen.
In November 2016 the developer announced that Portofino Hotel on Main Europe would be the first hotel in Dubai built exclusively for families. As a family hotel, Portofino would cater for children from babies to teenagers, and mothers ‘will have special areas to be treated like queens’. Building techniques such as using pre-stressed, pre-cast beams and hollow slabs were all being employed to ensure ‘good quality and speedy results’.
The 32 villas on Germany island were intended to be the first to complete, but the pressure to deliver the palaces over on Sweden seems to have elbowed the Germans into second place. Nevertheless, all the Germany properties, both beach and lagoon villas, were now to be constructed in three stages for completion in August 2017, along with the island infrastructure. It didn’t happen.
Kleindienst himself admitted that the challenges of building on these islands was constantly frustrating his completion schedules, but undeterred he continued to unveil new and more fantastic schemes. In September 2017 at Cityscape Global in Dubai, Kleindienst launched his Dhs2.5 billion floating resort called The Floating Venice, which will be located right next to The Heart of Europe. Indeed, it is now billed as another ‘island’.
The Floating Venice is essentially a ship; it is also an island as well as a resort able to handle 3,000 guests every day. It will have four levels, or decks, one of which is underwater. (We are happy to use the future tense here because at the time of writing the scheduled delivery date has not been announced or passed.)
The main entrance of the floating resort is based on Venice’s Piazza San Marco. Guests will arrive by boat, seaplane or helicopter and then check into the hotel at an underwater lobby. Gondolas imported from Venice will take guests to their cabins via the canals. There will be 414 cabins, a dozen restaurants and bars, including three underwater, and traditional Venetian-style shops selling artisanal products.
The resort is going to have 24 pools, some of which will have see-through bases to give swimmers a view of the 400,000 square feet of coral life planted below.
There will be twelve ‘floating beaches’ on which to sunbathe, two beach clubs and an underwater spa. There will be ‘intimate rooftop’ Bacari bars dotted around the resort too, serving traditional Venetian snacks and wine, as well as Venetian festivals hosted on the island, including the Carnevale di Venezia, Biennale di Venezia and Festa del Redentore. Perhaps you see what we mean by ‘Disneyland’.
The Floating Venice will be built using concrete for the underwater sections and then lightweight marine materials for the upper decks so that the whole thing can float. It is going to be built to have a lifespan of at least 100 years.
By September 2017 the forecast tally of hotels on dry land was twelve, including a six-star hotel on Monaco island. The first island to be finished as part of the project was going to be St Petersburg (the one that missed its 2016 deadline) with its Floating Seahorse villas attached to it. Sweden island would be home to ten ‘palaces’ with rooftop clubs or lounges; at the time these were all sold.
As 2018 dawned so too did the much awaited Alpine-themed complex on Switzerland where the ground was already being prepared.