Site visit: Mushrif Central Park

Gerhard Hope visits Abu Dhabi park ahead of proposed transformation

ANALYSIS, Site Visits, Projects, Mushrif Central Park

Established in 1982, Mushrif Central Park is about to undergo a 22-month, $48.7m transformation that will see the park awarded a Two Pearl Estidama rating, a first for green spaces in the region. By Gerhard Hope

Awarding the main construction contract for the redevelopment of the former Mushrif Park, established in 1982, in the centre of Abu Dhabi into the transformed 14ha Mushrif Central Park marks the culmination of an intensive four-year design-and-consultation process.

This process itself has accompanied the development of the concept of sustainability in Abu Dhabi, culminating in Estidama and the Pearl rating system.

The end result is that Mushrif Central Park will be the first, and to date only, park in the region to boast a Two Pearl sustainability rating.

“Initially the park design had a number of sustainability features, and these have been carried through as the design developed,” says Milt J. Lanser, MD of S.A. Miro, a US-based architectural firm and consultant with an office in Abu Dhabi, and the appointed local architect and engineer of record on the project. The main contractor is Dhabi Contracting LLC, while Valley Crest of the US delivered the detailed design.

Lanser says that the four years has represented a “good process”. He explains: “One of the objectives of the Urban Planning Council (UPC) this year has been to enhance the park guidelines in Estidama, and I think this park has set the pace.

LEED is often very building-orientated, and to expand it into parks and to make the credits work well has had its challenges, but we worked closely with the UPC to make this work.”

The awarding of the main construction contract was preceded by the completion of surveying in order to be able to hand the site over to the contractor.

“The way it works is essentially there is a period at the beginning to demolish what is here and get the trees relocated, so they are out of the way of the utilities and the buildings. The design is such that it has tried to accommodate as many of the existing trees as possible.”

There are about 800 trees that will remain in place, while about 270 will be transplanted, which is a massive undertaking in itself.

“One of the intriguing things about the park is the trees. When we started to design the park, we asked what was its greatest asset, and we said probably the mature trees because of the shade and the feel they give to the park,” says Lanser. “It was a real effort to save as many of the trees as we can. The process of tree relocation is quite specialised.”

This also posed a challenge during the design stage, in order to be able to be able to accommodate the open spaces and buildings and “try to reduce the number of tree relocations”. Commenting on the “significant effort” involved, Lanser says this was still preferable “to beginning with an empty slate and a brand-new park.”

Looking at the construction programme itself, Lanser says this comprises both the site and the building side. “On the site side, there is the hardscaping part, getting around the park.

The park was designed essentially as a quadrangle. There is a main axis from the parking lot, where the main entrance will be retained, with entry controls, administrative and exhibition space and some food and beverage type facilities.

“Then you a kind of portal and get a sense of the park along the axis, and catch sight of a performing-arts venue on the other side, with a significant dramatic sculpture.

Then there is a water feature with a bit of a curve that will be anchored at each end of the park. The general concept of the park is a more busy, active part on the one end, and then a more passive part on the other end,” explains Lanser.

Features include a children’s garden, a botanic garden and a shade house, the latter described by Lanser as an “interesting structure. We used the traditional design of a conservatory with its curved sides, but it is an open shade house with particular plants in it.

We have two viewing decks, one at 4m and one at 17m, so you can experience some of the taller plants.” At 30m in height, the shade house will be a landmark building in Mushrif Central Park.

“It is open and not air-conditioned, but it has been designed in such a way to shade those plants. Education-wise it is our intention is to use this space,” says Tanuja Kothari, project manager at Al Ain Properties, a trained architect who is also overseeing the Mushrif Central Park project.

“The sustainability part of the project is tied into that, because we looked at the cooling requirements, so this gives us a building with a bit of a different atmosphere.

We did a particular analysis of the amount of light that comes in there to make sure there is enough for the plants, but also that we are getting as much shading as possible with just an outdoor space,” says Lanser.

“The children’s area is concentrated more on education. It has camps to demonstrate activities. We have a small petting zoo with local animals, although the strategy is not yet finalised.

There is a botanic garden terminating into the conservatory. This is a whole area where parents and children can get engaged. The aim is to have schools utilise this area in their curriculum, which is the best use of this kind of space,” says Kothari.

Another feature of Mushrif Central Park is a series of water features, including a single main one and various smaller ones. “The water features are really intended to be interactive.

They are fairly shallow as opposed to having fences around them; the intention is for them to be used and splashed around in. Over in the children’s garden, there is a pop-jet water feature and a natural stream.”

Lanser says the children’s garden is also intended to mimic various natural habitats of the UAE, from rocky terrain to the Bedouin desert.

“There is a more natural water feature in the botanic garden, and then also a more reflective type of pool. This is a kind of buffer so you can have a meeting or conference in the park, and are offset but still have a great view.”

A particular feature of the design-and-build process has been to encourage community involvement, says Kothari.

“We want people to get connected to this park; it is a people’s park in the centre of the city. If we do not involve the community during the construction, they are not going to buy into it.

A lot of programming has come from a lot of input from people, which is interesting. We appreciate their comments and want to incorporate them, because they are the end users.” Lanser adds: “That will continue as the operational part of the park starts to crystallise from the design and construction.”

Lanser adds that the construction programme “is working pretty well, because we have this initial period of moving trees, and then the concentration will be on getting the buildings and hardscaping into place, and then when the summer season comes again in late 2013-14, the new landscaping can be done. All site infrastructure will be in place by them.”

Nevertheless, it does represent a tight timeframe. “Things have to keep moving along because they are tied to each other. You have got to get the trees out of the way before you can put the utilities in; you have got to get the buildings finished so you can complete the landscaping.

One of the advantages is there is a lot of space. We do not have a constrained site, so a lot of things can start simultaneously,” says Lanser. He concludes: “After four years, it is really exciting to see it coming out of the ground.

Part of our objective, too, is to keep the neighbourhood informed about what we do during construction. Instead of just having a period when the park is closed off, we want to get people involved. Part of the excitement of a new project is to be able to see what is going on.”

Mushrif Central Park
The design vision has been to create an environment that honours regional traditions, while capturing the dynamic nature of Abu Dhabi and the UAE. The design approach has been to blend styles found in traditional Islamic gardens with contemporary trends in landscaping and architecture.

The five elements of Islamic incorporated in the masterplan are: quadripartite patterning, walls and gates, wind/water, vegetation and shading and pavilions.

There are about 250 broad leaf and palm trees over 25 years’ old, the oldest-known trees in the UAE. Trees this old are rare, as mature vegetation is hard to find in the UAE. A total of 150,000 new shrubs and 1,200 new trees will also be planted.

There will be over 30 different species of trees and 100 species of shrubs planted in the botanic garden, conservatory and around the park, in addition to the formal and informal gardens throughout.

Over 70% of the total site has been designed to reduce urban heat build-up naturally – for example, using tree canopies for shading and paving materials with a solar-reflective index. The use of reclaimed grey water will reduce the water consumed by overall landscape irrigation by 40%.

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