Ajman's jewel

Ajman has high hopes for the development of its new marina. Michele Howe finds out how masterplanner HOK intends to make the grade.

Night view of the marina.
Night view of the marina.

Ajman has high hopes for the development of its new marina. Michele Howe finds out how masterplanner HOK intends to make the grade.

Promoted as the prospective 'jewel in its crown', expectations are high for the development of the new marina in the UAE's smallest state, Ajman.

So far, Ajman, which is located along the Persian Gulf, has held a relatively low profile, at least in comparison to some of its more glitzy neighbours such as Dubai, but plans are now afoot to give it more prominence through a series of regeneration and development projects.

The pinnacle of these is the US$2 billion new marina, which is under development by Saudi Arabia-based investment company Tanmiyat Properties.

Tanmiyat is hoping to transform the marina area to give the emirate more of a 'competitive edge' and to better realise the commercial value of its beautiful natural coastline and close proximity to Dubai and Sharjah.

"With the launch of Ajman Marina, we are launching a new step in the Emirate's growth in order to reach the position that it deserves, both locally and regionally. We are moving forward to achieve all the visions that make Ajman a prime module of ideal growth, of which the local people and region will be proud," said H.E Sheikh Ammar Bin Humaid Al Nuaimi, crown price of Ajman and chairman of the Ajman Executive Council as the project was announced.

"The marina when complete will be a stunning advertisement for the emirate of Ajman," added Tanmiyat general manager for Ajman Marina Azad Nouri.

Tasked with realising the ambitious plans for the marina is design firm HOK International, which has produced the masterplan for the development.

Key to the masterplan was keeping the spirit of the existing Ajman port, explains Tim Gale, vice president, head of landscape planning and urban design at HOK. "In Ajman, the marina is the old dhow port and is where the fishermen came in, but there was also a base for trading with Iran. So it was very much the heart of how Ajman grew up as a trading port and that is something important for both the government and the client [to retain]," he says.

HOK proposes to do this by keeping the port but reducing the size of the water body slightly to accommodate the required space for commercial development whilst still allowing ample public space.

The client wanted approximately 1.1 million m2 of mixed-use development on the 26 hectare site. This will consist of commercial towers, residential towers, a grand mall, a luxury hotel, as well as a yacht club and community spaces. The development is expected to provide accommodation for up to 18,000 people.

HOK is, of course, well suited for the task in hand having already the design of Dubai Marina among other regional marina projects under its belt. The design firm is also doing the masterplan and architectural design for Abu Dhabi Marina.

From the vantage point of its previous marina experience, HOK was keen to introduce variety in the scale of buildings and to protect the public space, says Gale.

Speaking about Dubai Marina, he says: "The public space is very well used and mostly successful. I think possibly we feel that it could have afforded to be a little more generous and we also felt that it was an advantage to have a variation in scale."

"Dubai Marina is essentially a series of high rise towers around an artificial waterbody whereas in the Ajman case the port already exists...so that was important to retain. We've also worked very hard to make sure the buildings framing and enclosing the marina are relatively low rise," he adds.

Place making was an important part of the concept for the Ajman marina, Gale continues.

"We believe very strongly in place making and we already started with this very strong place where the land meets the sea and so we've developed that concept. [The marina] has a promenade all round it, a public promenade which is very well connected back into the existing city and on the west side through the new development to the coast."

"We have designed it to encourage having a very buzzy and very busy place," he continues, adding that the plan is that the area will have a lot of restaurants and bars.

A huge interactive water feature will also be one of the key features of the development and was something that was specifically requested by the client, he added.

One of the major challenges on the Ajman marina project was dealing with density, Gale said.

"There has been a significant increase in the amount of floor space to accommodate on the site but we very much wanted to retain the public realm we had put into the design so there has been a challenge there in terms of density," he notes.

"On the whole as masterplanners and designers, we favour dense projects because we think that's a sensible use of resources and it is sustainable...but to make it humane and a nice place to live you do need to have the public space," he adds.

With the masterplan complete, the Ajman marina is currently on hold while Tanmiyat decides which firm will carry out the detailed design phase.

The Saudi-based company has been in negotiations with HOK as well as other firms on this and a decision is expected in the near future.

Work on site is due to start early this year and to be completed in two phases over a five-year period.

So while all the signs point to the development being a success, whether Ajman will truly find its jewel in its marina development, only time will tell.


Project details

Client: Tanmiyat Investment Group

Masterplanner: HOK International

Cost of development: more than US$2bn

Size of area: 26 hectares

Estimated completion: 2013

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