Capital focus

Construction dollars are shifting from Dubai, as Abu Dhabi claims its place as the UAE's top city.

Sky Tower is part of Al Reem Island
Sky Tower is part of Al Reem Island

Attention and big construction dollars are shifting from brazen Dubai, as the UAE capital Abu Dhabi strives to claim its rightful place as the emirate's premier city.

And the current construction boom is backed by a serious plan for the next quarter century that considers the environment as well as the populace. Jamie Stewart reports.

Last September the Government of Abu Dhabi published Plan Abu Dhabi 2030: Urban Structure Framework Plan, a document intended to guide planning decisions in the UAE capital for the next 25 years.

The document spells out five principles for the development of the city, including plans to ensure the city respects, is scaled to, and shaped by its natural environment of sensitive coastal and desert ecologies, and plans to ensure the city will manifest its role and stature as a national capital.

Today, less than a year on from the publication of the report, Abu Dhabi is moving towards its stated goals. Major projects are sprouting from the sands as the city positions itself in hot pursuit of the title - "fasting growing city in the world," currently held by neighbouring Dubai.

In the plan, the government states that it expects the population of the city to grow from around 1 million at present to more than 3 million by 2030. These numbers represent growth in the city on an unprecedented scale, though planners intend to heed consideration for the natural environment, as the guiding principles pronounce.

Last month, the Urban Planning Council (UPC) of Abu Dhabi, alongside the Environment Agency, Abu Dhabi Municipality and Masdar, released the Estidama initiative - a program to devise guidelines and regulations for sustainable design, operation and maintenance of all types of buildings and communities within the Emirate.

The program includes Estidama New Building (ENB) design guidelines, written to provide all concerned parties, such as developers, contractors, consultants and the public with information to encourage a joint approach to sustainable building design, whereby the principles of green design and construction are followed throughout the entire process.

The ENB design guidelines are intended to provide a full scale approach which pays consideration to the local and built environment following the principles of minimising resource use without harming performance.

Such is the scale of some of the developments in Abu Dhabi, with projects underway across the city, it is difficult to imagine just how the city will look in 2030. Al Reem Island, Yas Island, Hydra Village, Masdar and Abu Dhabi Airport are five such projects.

Each is being managed by a different master developer, though there is one thing they do have in common. Each is going to affect the future of the UAE capital in a big way.

Al Reem Island

A sprawling residential, commercial and business project. Al Reem Island is an off- shore development built on a natural island.

As is the case across much of the rest of the GCC, there was no need to build the island first. Al Reem Island lies 500 metres from the shores of Abu Dhabi.

Developers Tamouh, Reem Investments and Sorouh (working on Shams Abu Dhabi, a development within the island) have divided the project between them.

Tamouh are overseeing 60% of the island development, with Sorough and Reem Investments splitting the remaining 40%. The development covers a total area of 6.5 million m².

Work began on Al Reem in 2006, with the first buildings due for completion in 2009. Developers Tamouh quote 2023 as the predicted completion date. By this time, Al Reem Island is expected to be home to more than 100,000 people. The development is a step towards ensuring Abu Dhabi is prepared for the expected population increase.

Yas Island

Yas Island is an island development with a difference. It includes an F1 race track among its hotels and commercial properties. In total, the development will cover 17 million m².

Master developer Aldar is investing $40 billion in Yas Island, scheduled for completion in 2014. Along with bringing the travelling circus of Formula One to the UAE from 2009, the $40 billion investment will also cover a Ferrari theme park, a water park, golf courses and numerous hotels.

The development tows the line towards the 2030 plan's stated goal of manifesting the city's role and stature as a national capital. The debut of F1 in the UAE, hot on the heels of Bahrain, should go some way to lifting Abu Dhabi into the starting grid on the world stage.

Hydra Village

Hydra Village is a planned development comprising 2,500 villas, commercial offices, parks, a mosque, a hospital, and a 5-star hotel. The site is just outside Abu Dhabi, en route to Dubai.

The project is being overseen by Hydra, the Abu Dhabi based developers. The Village is being marketed on the back of its green credentials, which are very much in line with the 2030 guiding principles.

The marketing of the village is full of the usual promises, including "a clear focus on conservation" and "eco-living at its best." The developers have attempted to justify these claims through practical steps. Disposable items will be recycled where possible. Water conservation systems will be in place, and technologies to assist in the reduction of energy consumption will be used. Free transport will also be offered within the village.

At present, 50% of the excavation and substructure work has been completed. The village is expected to be complete before 2011.


The $22 billion Masdar Initiative is an example of Abu Dhabi's drive towards respecting the natural environment, which is in line with the 2030 plan. Masdar, an Abu Dhabi Government project, is being billed as the world's first zero-carbon, zero-waste, car-free city and is expected to be complete by 2016.

Residents and visitors will move around the city on pods running on magnetic tracks. The city will be powered by renewable energy sources, including solar and wind power.

The Abu Dhabi Government has been keen to promote such green building initiatives wherever possible in the wake of criticism over the nation's carbon footprint, which, per capita, has been measured by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) as the highest on the planet.

Critics have seen Masdar as a smoke screen intended to cover ongoing environmental concerns over the regional construction boom. Habib Al Habr, director and regional representative of the UN Environment Programme Regional Office for West Asia, has said the construction industry at present creates 30% of the world's waste.

Masdar has the blessing of the WWF however and, if it can deliver on its promises, it represents a step in the right direction.

Abu Dhabi International Airport expansion

For commerce to thrive on the global stage, a capital city needs a suitable gateway. With millions of people expected to be winging their way towards Abu Dhabi over the coming years, the city requires an airport capable of handling the huge projected increase in passenger numbers.

This expansion comes in the form of a $6.8 billion upgrade, with both Abu Dhabi Airports Company (ADAC), the owner-operator of the airport itself, and Scadia, the committee which oversees the master plan, involved.

The airport is expected to handle 20 million passengers annually by 2011, with this figure to eventually exceed 40 million. In 2007 just short of 7 million passengers passed through the airport.

The expansion includes construction of a second runway, two new terminals, an air traffic control complex, new cargo facilities, an airport free trade zone, retail and maintenance facilities. The first of the new terminals is due to open at the end of October.

Andrew Chupeau, ADAC senior media officer said: "The design is an X shape, which provides scope for expansion in the coming years. For relatively minimal interference in operations the terminal can be extended to increase the number of gates and double the number of passengers to 40 million. We have also looked at plans for increasing the capacity to 50 million. A satellite terminal would support this additional amount."

A balancing act

Abu Dhabi's plan for 2030 is an ambitious document, with scope for the city to grow to accommodate the predicted influx of residents. The main challenge, however, is how to balance this growth with the plan's stated environmental considerations.

The projects underway offer a glimpse into how this may be approached in future. The coming of F1 to the city, along with the major airport expansion plans, help the city grow in stature and size, emphasising its role as a national capital.

The environmental concerns which accompany such broad expansion plans are being addressed through green projects such as Masdar and Hydra Village. The UPC's Estidama Initiative is also intended to address such concerns. The Government of Abu-Dhabi is pursuing its intentions stated in the 2030 plan.

One year down...24 to go.

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