Working a 10-lane highway and a residential site into a narrow stretch of land produced no end of challenges, says KEO. James Boley investigates.
As Abu Dhabi's Plan 2030 begins to take shape, there is an increasing focus on the development of the public realm. Instead of focusing on iconic buildings, Abu Dhabi is putting its attention on the creation of attractive outdoor areas that can be enjoyed by pedestrians.
Masterplanned by KEO, Emerald Gateway was created to provide a dramatic, green entrance to Abu Dhabi, transforming the dusty highway that links Abu Dhabi International Airport to the island capital city into an impressive spectacle in its own right.
Perhaps the most vivid manifestation of Emerald Gateway will be the sculpture at the beginning of the Mussaffah Bridge leading into Abu Dhabi. The design of the sculpture is based on a falcon's wings, one of the national symbols of the UAE.
As well as being a 10-lane highway leading in to Abu Dhabi, however, the site will also be a residential location with homes for up to 50,000 people, as well as retail and leisure facilities.
One of the major design challenges of the project was creating a development appropriately scaled to both pedestrians and commuters, says Uwe Nienstedt, project manager of KEO.
"On the grand scale, we wanted to create a visible entrance to the city of Abu Dhabi, something that works on a 120km/hour scale," he says.
"On the smaller scale, the 50,000 inhabitants needed an environment that is conducive to walking and human scale, quite opposite to what you experience from a car."
Isolating the residential area from the noise of passing traffic was a particular headache, says Nienstedt.
The design got round the problem by including berms, landscaped sandbanks that absorb noise and help conceal the road from the pedestrian perspective, he explains.
"We were concerned with the noise of the highways and the impact this would have on the outdoor spaces so we experimented with the normal two-dimensional plane of the landscape and introduced the third dimension by creating berms.
These will not only break the long visual corridor of the highway, but will also absorb some of the noise of the traffic," he says.
Another challenge was the relatively narrow space of the site. The basic site is three kilometres in length but just 500 metres in width, which placed limitations in supporting the dual requirements of the site.
To make matters more difficult, KEO needed to maximise as much as possible the ‘walkability' of the space, in line with the Abu Dhabi Plan 2030 to encourage more areas for pedestrians, and to make the area surrounding the towers a pleasant place to live.
"While this is an urban development in the sense of density and urbanity, there is a strong move in Abu Dhabi now to pedestrianise the city," says Nienstedt.
"Unlike some of the lighting features and fountains in Abu Dhabi which are in the middle of traffic circles, here we are actually trying to put them in the pedestrian environment."
A canal located on the northern side of the site helped in this respect by enabling the creation of a waterfront area. The vision is that the area will become a multi-purpose site with walking, jogging and cycling some of the activities anticipated, and restaurants and shops some of the amenities.
Providing an attractive site on the other side of the development was more tricky, as there is no equivalent canal on which to anchor the design. The focus there will be on creating attractive parks, says Nienstedt.