Desert spanned

FXFOWLE'S new 6th Crossing aims to be Dubai's newest architectural icon.

CAD version of the completed 6th crossing by day
CAD version of the completed 6th crossing by day

FXFOWLE'S new 6th Crossing aims to be Dubai's newest architectural icon.

In his 6th Crossing project, Sudhir Jambhekar, senior partner and head of design at FXFOWLE, sought to design something that was more than just a bridge.

Architects put life into a project like this; architects bring reality and liveability to it.

Clients RTA wanted a project that would make an architectural statement, and while they got their wish with 6th Crossing, Jambhekar is eager to build something that has a 'reason to exist'.

"From our point of view, a bridge is not just a connection between two points; it is far more than that," says Jambhekar.

"Bridges offer a chance to make a great sculptural statement; they offer more than just a way of travelling between two points."

By reducing traffic and combining a LEED Gold metro station, pedestrian walkways and multi-modal access to the planned Dubai Opera House, 6th Crossing will certainly be functionally relevant.

But, Steve Miller, FXFOWLE's managing director in Dubai, thinks its place among the city's iconic structures will be larger than that.

"By the time this is ready, everyone will be bored of the Burj Dubai because it will have been open for two years," says Miller.

"So it makes sense for this to be the next icon for the city. Dubai is a brand and every couple years it needs a new icon to refresh itself."

The concept

Considering the fluidity of the sand dunes in the desert it connects and the waves in the Creek it spans, 6th Crossing was designed to represent those natural shapes in built form.

Designed to be the longest (1.7km) and tallest (205m) spanning arch bridge in the world, 6th Crossing was inspired by elements of topography as well as typography.

"[The bridge] is like a wave. Waves are never just vertical. There is always a push and a pull. That idea of pushing and pulling is expressed through its shifted orientation," explains Jambhekar.

Jambhekar also used the rhythm of the daily lunar cycle and the gracefulness of Arabic calligraphy to inform the crescent moon-shaped bifurcated arches in the final design.

"If [the bridge] were perfectly vertical and just a link between two locations, it would be very easy structurally. Its orientation and depth of purpose offered more of a challenge and more of a dynamic quality," he explains.

The brief

The initial brief called for a link between Jadaf on the west side (Burj Dubai) of the Creek and the Lagoons and Festival City developments on the east side. "[RTA] just wanted a simple connection between Point A and Point B," says Jambhekar.

FXFOWLE was told the bridge needed to be 1.7km long and that it needed to somehow connect to the planned Dubai Opera House. RTA said the bridge needed to carry a train system (Green Line) and it needed to incorporate a train station and ferry station for the opera house.

RTA also wanted the bridge to accommodate six lanes of traffic in each direction, two emergency sidewalks and two pedestrian walkways.

FXFOWLE took a chance with a slight deviation from the RTA brief. "This particular brief described a single span," says Jambhekar.

"That meant that the face of the future opera house would be obstructed by fly-overs and exit ramps for the traffic. We thought that programme would completely diminish the importance of the opera house."

"People aren't seeing bridges anymore as just a functional form that joins two pieces of landscape. They want visually exciting forms," adds Miller.

With its deviation, FXFOWLE decided to create a single statement that would incorporate two separate spans with a reclaimed island connecting them. It proposed a bridge and train station as well as a ferry terminal, an amphitheatre and a pedestrian connection to the planned 'Opera Island'.

Incorporating the varied programme allowed FXFOWLE to frame the opera house in a way that would highlight its importance, while still maintaining the size and scope of the original brief.

"When we design something, we first try to find a sense of place within it; we try to create an inner meaning for each of our projects; we try to understand the programme and how we can respond to it; and, of course, we consider climatic changes between different projects," says Jambhekar.

Sustainable design

In an effort to achieve LEED Gold certification by the US Green Building Council, 6th Crossing has been designed to incorporate several sustainable elements.

If I go from home to work everyday and my journey is miserable, it makes my day miserable. Can you image how productivity would increase if that same journey were pleasant?

In this region, any consideration for LEED Gold certification must foremost encourage measures for water conservation, as well as reducing carbon emissions, energy use and waste.

The project aims to reduce energy by 35% and the use of potable water by 20% from the first day of operation.

To do so, the bridge spans will include means for vehicular, train and pedestrian passage as well as a metro station, which maximises the functionality of the space.

Public transportation is inherently sustainable as per capita carbon emissions are significantly reduced during travel times. Moreover, the shaded bikeways and pedestrian areas are designed to coax people out of their cars and into social interaction spaces.

Materials for the bridge will comprise recycled content whenever possible and will be sourced locally, which will reduce the amount of embodied energy associated with the project. Materials void of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) have been specifically chosen for their ability to ensure public health and landscaped spaces will include local vegetation.

The Opera Island Station will be constructed on grade and will thus reduce the need for additional stairs, escalators and elevators-which means reductions in materials and energy-to build and access it.

Architectural lighting

Central to the design theme of the bridge is the use of a lighting programme that mimics the cleaving of the moon as recorded in Islamic scripture.

The lighting of the bridge will change over the course of the month to highlight the New, Quarter, Half, Gibbous and Full moons.

"Within the Muslim context, the moon and the lunar calendar are the main point of reference. Therefore, the philosophy of the bridge is built around how the bridge will represent itself at night," explains Miller.

Working with New York-based lighting consultant AWA, FXFOWLE selected the lighting scheme for its ability to articulate the architecture of the bridge, cables and light rail during darkness.

"More than anything else, a bridge really makes a sculptural statement," says Jambhekar. "It is surrounded by open space and is usually a memorable form on the landscape. It offers a great opportunity to showcase lighting."


Within certain architectural circles, bridges are not seen as 'true' architecture but as purely functional structures akin to radio towers and motorways. FXFOWLE's architects think that to be short-sighted at best and at worst, simply untrue.

"Right now, the most celebrated bridge in the world is the Millau Viaduct in France, which was done by Foster+Partners," says Miller. "Bridges improve the ability of people to function within their environment. Civil and structural engineers are not trained to consider those factors, architects are."

Jambhekar agrees. To him, everything in our lives is built at some stage. Regardless of function or end-use, everything is constructed and therefore, everything is architecture.

"Everything is designed; everything is built. Any infrastructure design contributes to the quality of life of its users and therefore, is architecture," he says.


Client: Roads & Transport Authority

Design architect: FXFOWLE

Lead architect: FXFOWLE

Landscape architect: W Architecture & Landscapes

Structural engineer: Schlaich Bergermann & Partners

Architectural lighting: Abhay Wadhwa Associates

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