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Benoy's design for a Yas Island icon blends vehicular and building architecture.

The central glass funnel drops from 100m in diameter to 17m. (Benoy)
The central glass funnel drops from 100m in diameter to 17m. (Benoy)

Benoy's design for a Yas Island icon blends vehicular and building architecture.

Few brand names carry the same global design cachet as Ferrari.

For over 50 years, cars produced by the Italian firm have built up a reputation for luxury, style and performance, so it's small wonder that the UAE was chosen to be home of the first ever branded Ferrari theme park.

Located on the Aldar development of Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, Ferrari World will be part of larger tourism offering that will include hotels, golf courses, retail facilities and the UAE's F1 track, which is scheduled to host the 2009 F1 Grand Prix.

Because of the searing temperatures in the Gulf region, the park will be located indoors, in air-conditioned comfort.

Housing an entire theme park indoors is a task that demands a building of considerable size, and adding to this was the real need for the building to reflect the Ferrari identity.

"Our brief was to create an icon for Abu Dhabi, as well as Ferrari and Yas Island," says Mike Lewis, designer and lead architect of the theme park, and senior associate director at Benoy.

"It's like what the Burj Al Arab is for Dubai."

Iconic design

Designing an icon proved to be a particularly inspiring challenge.

"This is like a blank canvas scheme, and in some ways it's more difficult because you don't have any constraints," says Lewis.

"Designing within constraints makes it slightly easier because you've got some rules to follow."

Despite this relative freedom, the design team was able to create rules for themselves.
 

When Benoy hit the drawing boards in 2006, the intention was to create a building that reflected the feel and the values of Ferrari.

The obvious inspiration was, of course, the design of Ferrari automobiles.

"It was about pulling the language of Ferrari and capturing the essence of what they're about, the high quality glossy red, the history, the shapes they've used throughout their cars for the last 50 years and trying to pool the essence of that into the building," says Lewis.

As a result, the building's roof features a double wave undulation and, naturally, is painted the glossy Ferrari rosso corsa, with a silver trim.

"It's come from the language they use when designing their cars. The key is to not be too literal," says Lewis.

Despite the use of the Ferrari design ethic, the Italian car manufacturer has had a relatively low level of input into project.

The company is consulted for approval of Benoy's designs, but no designers from Ferrari participate in the project directly.

The building also uses a tri-form, with rollercoasters located at the east and west corners. Plans originally existed for a hotel to be incorporated in the southern corner, but these have now been shelved in favour of public event space.

The centre of the building has a glazed funnel roof, stretching from 100m to 17m in diameter. A 2.4km perimeter of landscaping surrounds the building.

In keeping with the UAE's philosophy that size begets superiority, Ferrari World stands out as a simply massive building.

"If you relate Ferrari world to the O2 in London, the O2 would sit quite comfortably inside. It's dome is about 320-340m across, and the Ferrari World roof is about 700m across," says Lewis.
 

The size of the project (not to mention its distinctive colour) means that anyone taking off from Ras Al Khaimah space port in the near future is likely to see the building while in orbit.

Big challenges

The scale of the project also creates unique challenges. Procurement of materials is particularly important.

With over 200,000m2 of roof covering, the slightest change in cost of materials is magnified, and availability is particularly important.

"We had a vision of red glossy metal panels, ceramic black glass, but obviously as the design develops, you apply a more realistic view to ensure we can deliver on time," says Lewis.

Any structure of this size would be expected to have severely negative impacts on the environment, but Lewis reports that the majority of projects on Yas Island are being built according to LEED Silver standard.

Although he concedes that as a leisure project, Ferrari World will not reach the highest level of sustainability, the building has been intelligently designed to reduce its carbon footprint.

Because it's made of aluminium, the entire roof of the building is recyclable.

The design also complies with European and UK regulations on thermal performance-these codes are more recognised than those in Abu Dhabi, which are currently being revised.

"We've really pushed for high-end thermal performance for the roof so it's heavily insulated, reducing the cooling load," says Lewis.

Similarly, the building's orientation maximises shading on the glazing. "We've looked at the way the roof overhang works, the glaze of the panel, the glazing, reducing direct sunlight and heat gain in the building," says Lewis. "All these things are at the back of your mind as you select the materials."

With over two million m3 of air to cool inside, Benoy have opted for a displacement air-conditioning system.
 

This cools the lower levels, where visitors will be and the insulation in the roof ensures that even at the highest levels, air temperature should never reach more than 35°C.

This policy also minimises condensation caused by temperature differentials.

"You'll get the moisture overnight but that's all," says Lewis. Although the project is very large scale: "We're designing it for 5,000 people a day, which is a conservative number." Compare this to the four million annual visitors expected to visit Universal Studios Dubailand.

The lower projected number of visitors is due to the exclusivity of the Ferrari World project.

It would seem that the building and the automobile have been designed for an elite audience.

"It's not a Disneyworld; this really is something a little bit special," explains Lewis.

"We're designing for a lesser number of tickets."

A team effort

Lewis also goes to great lengths to emphasise that a well-designed building needs to be backed up by a good contractor.

"You need good resources and good people working around you," he says. Part of the extra pressure is that the eyes of the world will be on Yas Island in October 2009, when the first Abu Dhabi Grand Prix takes place. Needless to say, it is also a significant project for Benoy.

"This is our big calling card for the Middle East. For Benoy, this is the next stepping stone in building the practice," says Lewis.

"I've never worked on a job where there's so much enthusiasm for getting it completed."

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