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Dubai's Xeritown

on Mar 2, 2009

Solar panels are used to provide shading.
Solar panels are used to provide shading.
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Asked to create a sustainable city in the desert, X-Architects took the best of traditional Arabic design and married it with the latest advances in technology to create a custom-made solution.

A sustainable city in the desert sounds like a contradiction in terms, but with the growing focus on protecting the environment, it is a vision increasingly demanded of designers.

One company that has accepted the challenge with relish is Dubai-based architecture firm X-Architects in its creation of Xeritown, a proposal for a  sustainable mixed–use development located in Dubai.

Planned as part of Dubailand, the huge inland development in Dubai bordering the Emirates road, Xeritown is a 60-hectare space which has sustainability as its defining characteristic, as suggested by its name (the word xeri is taken from the term xeriscaping, which refers to water conscious landscaping).

The brief from the developer Injaz, a member of Dubai Properties, was for a sustainable city but beyond that there were few specifics, Farid Esmaeil, principal architect at X-Architects, recalls.

“[The client] said we want to experiment,” he says. “We collaborated with them, did research, held workshops, and worked with other consultants specialized in sustainability.”

The process threw up some interesting parameters, he says, with the obvious one being how to deal with the sun and use design to distribute volumes and create densities to create a shading strategy without using intensive technology.

Shading was in part created by the orientation of buildings. Structure of the built-up area - only 50% of the total space - is defined by alternating narrow pedestrian alleys and small squares, typical of Arabic towns.

In addition to maximising natural shading, the design firm also created artificial shading through the use of a solar tree. The tree consists of solar panels in different shapes and different levels positioned to provide shade at street level.

Wind was also exploited as a form of energy in the design. The design was planned so that the cool breeze from the sea is channelled into the public spaces while the hot desert winds are diverted above the development.

A third strand to X-Architect’s sustainable approach was social sustainability. Walking distances, for example, are planned at 200 metres enabling people to walk comfortably and encouraging social interaction in the development.

Making outdoor spaces comfortable is essential to a successful sustainable project, says Esmaeil. “The important thing especially in this part of the world is how we activate outdoor space,” he says.

“How it becomes a public space, how it is sensitive to the climate and to the culture of people. How the masterplan encourages people to walk rather than mono use of the car as a transportation means. This was the challenge we had in Xeritown.”

The landscape plan, which X-Architects devised together with German landscape design company Johannes Grothaus & Partners, is another important strand to the sustainable approach taken by the firm.

A central component of the plan is  the use of indigenous plants as a means of reducing water requirements. The move should bring significant savings, says Ahmed Al Ali, executive chairman of X-Architects.

“The most important thing that Dubai already realizes is that the landscape water use will be a nightmare in the future. TECOM, for example, spends US$1.36 million a year on watering of landscape,” he says. “We are cutting a lot of money in maintenance since we are using indigenous plants and since the landscape is done in such a simple way that it already uses existing nature.”