It may not have a ski slope, but The Walk at JBR does have one unusual asset - its use of the great outdoors. COD takes a look at the design of a retail space with a difference.People strolling along a shop-lined promenade, children laughing and playing in the golden light of the setting sun, pavement cafes filled to overflowing with the in-crowd...it could be Barcelona or perhaps even Nice.
In fact, perhaps the least likely place to find such a spot is Dubai, a city more known for its numerous interior malls than its exterior retail spaces. And yet the location of this idyllic setting is no other than Jumeirah Beach Residence situated in Dubai Marina, in the heart of new Dubai.
Launched in August this year, The Walk at JBR, as it is more commonly known, is Dubai's first large-scale outdoor retail streetscape.
Measuring 1.7 kilometres in length and with an average width of 30 metres, The Walk stretches the entire length of Dubai Properties' towering waterfront community.
The location is more than just a pleasant space for residents, however, with more than 200 shops also making it one of the city's most popular retail destinations.
The landscape concept for The Walk was created by regional company Cracknell, which as landscape consultant led the entire project from vision and concept to detailing and tendering followed by supervision of the work on site.
The brief from client Dubai Properties was to create a dynamic landscape design that would form the basis of a development intended to be a magnet for visitors, explains Nader Bisada, associate at Cracknell.
Creating visual interest throughout the length of the street was a must, says Bisada. "The concept was built around a series of linking visual experiences along the entire length of the road achieved through landscape elements [such as] water features," he says.
"Views to the sea were to be emphasized and access routes to the beaches provided along the length of the road. The alignment of trees would further emphasize the vistas and viewing corridors."
Another key requirement, he says, was providing access to the proposed retail units on the street as well as to the landscaped podium above the street and adjacent to the residential units. The design also had to include a number of open spaces to accommodate the possibility of fairs, markets and even musical parades.
Planning for traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian, was an essential consideration in the early stages of the project, explains Bisada. While cars could not be eliminated entirely - access was needed to hotels in the area and to the plots on the beach side of The Walk - steps were taken to reduce the need for traffic on the road and to promote pedestrian movement.
These included keeping residents of JBR off The Walk - access to the towers' underground parking is provided by entrances on the opposite side of the development - and keeping traffic on The Walk one-way to discourage vehicular short cuts.
Pedestrian usage was also encouraged. Kerbs, which Cracknell originally wanted to eliminate altogether, have been kept low, measuring approximately seven cm high as opposed to the more typical 15cm kerb, for example.
It was also important to connect both visually and literally the road corridor with the landscaped podiums located above The Walk and adjacent to the tower blocks. Visually, this was achieved by co-ordinating through the use of colour and material both areas with the Mediterranean architecture of Jumeirah Beach Residence, explains Bisada.
"The materials and colours as well as street furniture and light fixtures were chosen to blend with the surrounding architecture whilst sustaining the elegance and richness of the adjacent developments," he says. A series of stairways provides the physical link between the spaces.
Inevitably, a number of changes were made during the design/construction process, but overall, the finished result bears a close resemblance to the original concept, according to Bisada.There were, however, a couple of technical challenges, he says.
The service network requirements covering the width of the road were quite difficult to deal with from the planting perspective as there was little and sometimes no space for tree pits," he explains, adding, that the firm got round this by developing a new approach to allow the possibility of easy removal of trees to allow access if needed to any services below.
Another challenge, he adds, was creating a design that could be adapted if necessary to respond to the construction of new developments in the empty plots between the hotels along the beach side of The Walk. Close co-ordination between Cracknell and infrastructure consultants Cansult Maunsell was needed to achieve this, notes Bisada.
While the area has effectively been in use for a few months already, it is still not entirely finished, says Bisada. In addition to the numerous water features that line the route, four iconic fountains are currently under construction, he reveals.
Of course, one major challenge in designing an exterior streetscape, indeed any outdoor space, in the Middle East is the climate change. The current 20ºC average temperature, presents an ideal climate for The Walk and the area is regularly busy, particularly in the evenings. In six months time, however, when temperatures will be nearer to 50ºC, the location is likely to have more of a struggle to attract visitors.
For Cracknell, the challenge was not so much amending the climate as prolonging the usage of the space. This was achieved in a number of ways, explains Bisada.
In terms of natural shading, the tower massing and direction of sunlight creates a certain amount of natural shade in the afternoon for protection from the sun in the cooler months, he says. Breeze from between the towers will also create some cooling, he adds.
Natural shading was enhanced through the plantation of large shade trees, while the various water features will help to create cooling, says Bisada.
It is likely that the area will also benefit from air conditioning spillage from the retail outlets.
As the location has yet to experience its first summer, it remains to be seen just how much The Walk will be walked in the hotter months.
But to date Bisada says that Cracknell is very satisfied. "It's fulfilled its role. It is doing exactly what it should have done. You have got crowds walking up and down. The main purpose of the road was just to be active and dynamic and it has fulfilled that. We are very happy with the outcome," he says.
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