Bahrain's green necklace

Durrat Al Bahrain is the latest in a number of island projects in the region. Michele Howe looks at the challenges of designing offshore.

The starting point for the masterplan of the island development was the outer arc of atolls
The starting point for the masterplan of the island development was the outer arc of atolls

Durrat Al Bahrain is the latest in a number of island projects in the region. Michele Howe looks at the challenges of designing offshore.

If you log on to Google Earth, you can just about make out the beginnings of the distinctive outline of the Durrat Al Bahrain development that is currently being shaped off the south east coast of the Kingdom of Bahrain.

Each atoll has 1.5km of beach and the development will incorporate extensive landscaped grounds.

The approximately US$4 billion project consists of 13 interconnected man-made islands: six atolls which form the outer ring of the development, five fish-shaped islands, called petals, which make up the inner ring, and the crescent, a semi-circular island protruding off the mainland.

At the geographic centre of Durrat Al Bahrain is a circular island containing a hotel, which represents the pearl of the development.

The 20km2 project is being positioned as a resort island city.

Each of the six atolls will have 160 villas, the five petal islands will have between 124 and 140 villas each, while the crescent, seen as the hub of the development, will have a site for 2,000 apartments as well as coffee shops, and leisure facilities.

The development will also feature an 18-hole golf course, designed by Ernie Els, covering between 5,000m2-6,000m2 and a 400-boat marina. Once complete, it is estimated that approximately 60,000 people will live in the area and that it will attract up to 4,500 daily visitors.

The concept for the development's unique design came about as the result of collaboration between the client and Tom Wright, technical director Atkins, explains Terry Bradbury, director of operations for the Northern Gulf at Atkins, the firm which designed and masterplanned the development.

"Tom met with the client in 2003 and got them to tell him what their vision was for the actual development. He then went away and conceived the idea of the necklace of pearls, the six atolls and the whole theme for the project," he says.

"The client was giving key words like paradise, lush, tropical and Tom came up with the idea of an atoll island themed on the pacific atolls, and the idea of the six atolls as an outer arc became the main theme for the whole project. The petal islands support those, and the central island was seen as the pearl in the middle of the development," he says.

The development, which is the first main development in the south of the island, is located 54km from Bahrain International Airport, and will be connected to the capital of Bahrain, Manama, by a highway, enabling people living in the area to commute to work, Bradbury explains.

Ultimately, it is expected, however, that infrastructure will develop around the project.

The individual islands will be connected by a series of bridges, leading from the atolls to the petals, and by a circular bridge connecting the arc of the five petals.

You have got to be careful about the infiltration of salt or brackish water into your root systems.

Outdoor space is a significant part of the development, according to Bradbury, with 50% of the petals given to open space, and 30% of the atolls.

Each atoll has 1.5km of beach, and the development will incorporate extensive landscaped grounds, leading to its other nametag as the 'green necklace' of Bahrain. Pathways for walking and jogging will also be included on each of the islands.

One of the main challenges in the project was the huge amount of reclamation required for the development. Minimising the impact of the reclamation work on the environment of Durrat Al Bahrain was a key client requirement, says Bradbury.

Atkins worked closely with the marine resorts director in Bahrain and the environmental protection directorate to ensure that the creation of the islands didn't create problems for the surrounding area, he explains.

"Further to the south of the Durrat area is an area which is used as a feeding ground, and also to the east is a large shrimp area, so we had an environmental management plan to work to which could mitigate any potential adverse environmental impact," he says.

Reclamation work on all of the islands is now complete and despite strikes by labourers earlier this year, work on the infrastructure of the islands is progressing fast with the project currently in phase two of five construction phases.

A challenge for the landscape architects was the selection of plants.

As with other offshore developments such as the Palm Islands in Dubai, creating an offshore landscape has its own set of challenges.

"You have got to be careful about the infiltration of salt or brackish water into your root systems so you do not put plants in that have deep seated root systems, because unless they are self-tolerant, they would draw the salt water into the planting areas," explains Bradbury, adding that where possible the firm tried to use indigenous plants.

"Keeping it to the indigenous plants means that it has been relatively straight forward in setting out the landscaping," he says.

The focus was on choosing plants that are familiar to growing and surviving in this area, explains Marzen Aridi of landscape contractor Rabiya.

"There will be all sorts of palm trees and shrubs," he says.

"There will be more than 200,000 shrubs and ground covers, and more than 1,000 trees and palms in phase one alone. For the whole of phase one and phase two, there will be more than 2,200 palms. There will be 84,000m2 of lawn," he adds.

The plants will be procured from huge inhouse nurseries developed for the project in Saudi Arabia, as well as a local nursery in Bahrain, he added.

Irrigation for Durrat Al Bahrain, which is also referred to as the Rising Pearl or the Pearl of Bahrain, is to be provided by a desalination plant, as well as through the recycling of grey water from the wastewater collection units.

The project's various references to the pearling industry are telling.

Until the 1930s, natural pearls were Bahrain's main source of income, subsequently supplanted by oil.

Investors backing the project are hoping that the Durrat al Bahrain development - which is allegedly named after the 'most perfect pearl' in the Gulf - will bring a new strand to the Kingdom's finances, helping to put the island on the map of upscale tourism, and to make the development a 'pearl' of the island's economy.

Project details

Client: Confidential

Masterplanners and infrastructure designers: Atkins

Landscape contractor: Rabiya

Project manager: KMC Bovis

Sewage system supplier: Zohal

Landscape design (concept design through to detailed design): Atkins

Marina designer: Atkins

Golf course designer: Ernie Els

Masterplanner for golf precinct: Scott Wilson Group

Desalination plant supplier: Energy Central

Estimated completion date: 2010

Total investment in project: Estimated US$4bn

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