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City Report: Al Ain

by Michael Fahy on Jan 27, 2014

CGI of plans for area next to Al Ain's new Hazza Bin Zayed stadium.
CGI of plans for area next to Al Ain's new Hazza Bin Zayed stadium.
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It is understandable that so much of the focus on construction in the UAE has been on Dubai and Abu Dhabi, with their increasingly ambitious and eye-catching range of skyscrapers.

However, this can mean that interesting work which takes place elsewhere in the UAE is sidelined, despite the fact that the levels of innovation in some of these projects are of a world-class standard.

Take Al Ain, for example, where last week a three-day ceremony took place to mark the opening of the new Hazza Bin Zayed stadium. The stadium is the new home for back-to-back UAE football champions Al Ain.

The 25,000-seat stadium, which was designed by Pattern Architects and built by contractor BAM International, is an engineering feat, that was covered in-depth in issue issue 496 of Construction Week. Yet it is just one part of a wider development, which says a lot about the city’s plans.

Like many of the live projects being developed in Al Ain, there is a desire for it to assist the city’s economic growth while ensuring that it doesn’t encroach on its heritage.

Al Ain is known as the UAE’s Garden City as it has grown from a natural oasis at the foot of the Jebel Hafeet mountain and has long been a centre for agriculture and Bedouin life.

Abu Dhabi’s Urban Planning Council (UPC) created a new masterplan for the city, Plan Al Ain 2030, in 2009.

This provides a blueprint for future growth and sets ambitious targets. For instance, the most recent survey by Statistics Centre Abu Dhabi reveals that the region has a population of around 586,000. The target is for this to increase to 1m by 2030 and for the number of homes to grow from 86,800 to over 202,000, with the bulk of these being created within Al Ain City.

The city, which is described as the “soul of the Emirate” by the UPC, due to the fact that its natural oases have continuously sustained life for over 5,000 years, has a high proportion of nationals. Of the 439,100 Emiratis who live in the Abu Dhabi region, 178,500 (40% of the total) are based in Al Ain.

Development plans are thus tempered by a desire to preserve its feel, meaning that its housing need can’t be solved by recreating the skyscrapers built elsewhere in the UAE. There are strict architectural guidelines in place – both in terms of the type of materials that are allowed to be used and in terms of scale.

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