Design of the public realm

Aldar CEO Ronald Barrott talks about the role design of the open space plays in creating a unique development.

A range of public spaces is important.
A range of public spaces is important.

Aldar CEO Ronald Barrott talks about the role design of the open space plays in creating a unique development.

Well-designed open spaces enhance the overall urban landscape and contribute to the health and wellbeing of the community.

Creating spaces for public interaction encourages people to enjoy and stay in an area, especially if a variety of public spaces for different age and user groups is provided.

Al Raha Beach, which is under development by Aldar Properties in Abu Dhabi, has several different parks, gardens, water features, and public spaces.

A development should also have vitality and a unique sense of place, something to set it apart from other developments or parts of the city. It must also have the right mixture of uses and activities to justify public/private investment, and most importantly, attract residents and visitors on a regular basis.

Good developments will not only increase tourism and trade, but will also create employment opportunities, preserve and restore historic buildings, and truly enhance the city's image.

The Al Raha Beach development, and specifically its public realm layout and design, capitalises on the beach front appeal of Abu Dhabi and links the city to the water, improving public access to the water's edge, and providing recreational opportunities for the local and tourist population.

To ensure developments are planned in a holistic manner, an Urban Framework Plan needs to be established that sets out key criteria for streets, public spaces, landform, built form and land use thereby creating a specific identity and usage.

This encompasses a range of public open spaces that complement as well as supplement the existing park network and will maximise connections to the surrounding areas.

In Al Raha Beach, these spaces will include public parks, plaza areas and water features, with hard and soft landscaping and decorative lighting and signage.

Sufficient pathways and shading will promote a safe and permeable environment through the use of trees, awnings and canopies to encourage pedestrian movement throughout the development whilst the use of public transport will help reduce car travel demand.

Best practice Ecologically Sustainable Design principles will be integrated into the design and management of the public domain to the highest international standards.

Varied Transport

The streets are not just designed for cars, therefore the transport routes are designed to provide a legible street hierarchy that encompasses public transport by water, rail and road with a convenient and a safe pedestrian network.

This will reduce car dependency, increase opportunities for social exchange and will link all streets, parks, residences, shops, offices and public transport stops to adjoining areas.

There are key elements of public open space such as promenades, the foreshore reserve, neighbourhood open space and gardens that will define the structure of the development and its operation.

These will include strategic components such as water features, street furniture, paving, lighting, public art, public amenities and facilities to establish the branding of the developments and its individual identification whilst enhancing the pedestrian experience.


The orientation of streets, open spaces and canals will maximise views and vistas, whilst reinforcing the framework of the whole development. The landscape treatment will provide amenities and reinforce the structure of the public domain while enhancing its sense of place.

The Al Raha Beach development focuses on tranquillity, encouraging relaxing, efficient alternatives to driving is one of the many ways the public realm scheme is aiming to achieve this.

A good public transport network provides for sustainable and social benefits, helping in the development of compact, walkable communities centred on mass transit systems, and offering residents an alternative to traffic congestion and strip development.

Generally, cars will not dominate the public realm; there should exist a balance between pedestrian, cycle and public transport networks. Extending an increased priority to pedestrians in the more urban areas of the city may reduce the number of cars.

Designing the road in such a way that it discourages straight thoroughfares will also play a significant role in encouraging a reduced speed.

Vehicular access points should be strategically located from the main road into central nodes located along the boulevards and avenues with on-grade car parking access point to allow for the distribution of cars evenly throughout the development while minimising congestion and wait times.

Environmental concerns

It is increasingly necessary that developments, including public realm design in terms of landscape, are created with an environmental consciousness; there is a growing demand to see this environmentalism reflected in the landscapes with which we surround ourselves.

The measure of a project's success is increasingly dependent on its environmental, as well as economical and social, foresight. A truly well planned approach to sustainable design must recognise the impact of every design choice of natural and cultural resources.

The Al Raha Beach development is being developed with this all-encompassing approach to create a unique, sustainable, healthy living environment.

The urban design and architectural style should recognise the area's character, traditions, and ecology.

For example, the planting of street trees enhances identity. Ensuring good signage and legibility, providing high quality and well-designed furniture, reducing clutter and providing well-lit links at night promote evening use of the public spaces.

Ultimately, with any development that is home to over 100,000 residents it is necessary to create a sense of belonging.

For the residents, tourists, visitors, workers and investors to be associated with a place, seamless integration of landscape architecture with water gardens and parklands, canal systems and water features, and overall public realm development is vital.

The Al Raha Beach development is an excellent example of creating identity through use of the public realm design.

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