Garden extraordinaire

At 73% of the total area, green space dominates Dubai's Mohammed Bin Rashid Gardens project.

The development has been scaled to pedestrian use.
The development has been scaled to pedestrian use.

At 73% of the total area, green space dominates Dubai's biggest parks project, Mohammed Bin Rashid Gardens. Michele Howe takes a closer look.

Just when it seemed as though Dubai couldn't possibly contain any more mega developments, along came the announcement of Mohammed Bin Rashid Gardens.

Under development by Dubai Properties, part of Dubai Holding, Mohammed Bin Rashid Gardens is a US$54.4 billion parks project that will stretch over a massive 82 square kilometres.

Located between Al Khail Road and Emirates Road, the project is a significant one for outdoor design: almost three quarters of the total area - roughly 60 square kilometers - will be dedicated to green space.

The starting point for the planning of the development was looking back to the Arab renaissance in the 12th century, explains Eric Kuhne, principal of UK-based design firm CivicArts Eric R Kuhne & Associates, architects and masterplanners for the project.

The idea, developed in line with Sheikh Mohammed's 2015 Strategic Plan for Dubai, was to build "a city for roughly a quarter of a million people, that would create parks and gardens, waterways, educational institutions, cultural facilities and establish a new city based on Arabian urban design principles, not European and North American principles," he says.

"Everything that is going on in the Middle East is the same old drivel that is pushed out by the West in terms of planning strategies and they miss on the key part, which is the molecule of the Middle East is the family not the individual, and the strength of the family requires a completely different type of physical pattern than when you are developing towards individuals," he adds.

The development has four city centres called houses: The House of Nature, which will include parks, flower gardens, and a zoo; The House of Wisdom, which will have a library, universities and a mosque; The House of Humanity, which will house the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Humanitarian and Charity Establishment; and The House of Commerce, which will include banks, financial services firms and insurance companies.

The design follows the intricate geometry of Arabian art and science, using parks and gardens to divide the city into a network of sustainable neighbourhoods. The greenery is offset by a series of canals and lakes.

"The Mohammed Bin Rashid Gardens offer a culturally resonant alternative to the sterile Western-style street grids that currently dominate the Middle East. They replace those rigid, rectilinear lines with the sweeping arcs and circles of the planispheric astrolabe," says Kuhne in a description of the project.

Understanding the heritage of a culture is essential, says Kuhne. "Modernism threw the baby out with the bath water. They said everything that is old is out and we're going to stuff that's new.

As a result, you get cities that have been robbed of their storytelling quality. Architecture has been reduced down to a geometric exercise in structural exhibitionism and it is awful, and it has erased the identity of civilizations all over the planet, and the only thing it looks good in is the portfolios of the architects," he states.

Kuhne describes the design for the project as an "enlightened model of urban planning [that] will help reverse the Gulf's existing commuter culture that has eroded both communities and the environment".

Walkability was central to the design, says Kuhne, with the project scaled to pedestrian use. "The 500 metre walking distance that cities have been planned on European models around the world for a century is out of date," he says.

"The walking distance that we use to put our city centres together and our neighborhoods and our villages is 300 metres.

If you want to design a city for young individuals, then you stay with the antiquated 500 metre walking distance but if you want to design a community for a family or group of friends that are walking together, interacting with each other, then you have to cut that distance in half to 250 metres to 300 metres and as soon as you change that distance from 500 metres to 250 metres, the physical dimensions of cities change instantly because you have to push primary services closer to where people live," he notes.

To encourage use of the pedestrian spaces, inclusion of a large amount of greenery was a must, says Kuhne. The project will have the largest civic park system created in the Middle East in over 10,000 years, the firm claims.

"The lungs of the city, these linear public parks, act as carbon sinks that purify the surrounding air while providing shaded 'green' corridors that support sustainable methods of transport," the company states.

The greenery for the project, which will be built in six phases, was balanced with the desert landscape, adds Kuhne.

"[The project] is dedicated to greenery, landscape and what we're calling sandscape," he explains.

"When we met with HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, (UAE prime minister and vice president and ruler of Dubai) he wanted to make sure that we were paying as much attention to the beauty of the desert as we were to the beauty of the irrigated parts of the desert and that is when we introduced this idea of sandscape to him.

You have to balance landscape with sandscape in an arid climate because you simply can't afford to irrigate that much greenery."

Irrigation will clearly be a challenge. Specific information is not yet available on irrigation arrangements, but Kuhne said the firm is working with specialist firm The Seawater Foundation to devise a way to do partial irrigation of the land using seawater.

The intention is for the project to set the benchmark for sustainability in urban landscaping in the desert conditions, according to Civic Arts.

Mohammed Bin Rashid Gardens is not Civic Arts' only mega size project in the region; the firm is also working on Madinat Al Hareer in Kuwait, and is rumoured to be working on another as yet unannounced large project in Bahrain.

It is clear though that for the outdoor design industry, the Mohammed Bin Rashid Gardens development is the one to watch over the next few years.

The defining point of the project, says Kuhne, will be the centering of the design on everyday life.

"It is a routine of everyday life that all great civilizations are measured by. And that heroic routine is at the core of everything we do," he concludes.

"That is what Mohammed Bin Rashid gardens will be known for. [The development] doesn't have the shock and awe that everybody has seen going up with yet another skyscraper, but it has a timelessness about the sanctity of everyday life that is unprecedented in this particular part of the Arabian Gulf," he says.

Project details

Developer: Dubai Properties

Masterplanner: Civic Arts [Eric R Kuhne & Associates]

Project size: 82 million square kilometres

Estimated completion date: 2012 for phase 1

Cost of development: US$54.4bn

RELATED ARTICLE: Mohammed bin Rashid Gardens master plan revealed

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