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Mon 9 Feb 2009 04:00 AM

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Visions of outdoor space

Commercial Outdoor Design asks a panel of experts for their views on what the future holds for the design of exterior spaces.

Commercial Outdoor Design asks a panel of experts for their views on what the future holds for the design of exterior spaces.

George Katodrytis, associate professor of Architecture, American University of Sharjah

We should expect to see some innovative developments in the way outdoor space will be designed and used. Outdoor space has so far been underdeveloped given the dynamics of development in the GCC.

It has mainly remained a decorative ‘infill-type' design and a decorative landscape solution for the areas surrounding buildings. There is a renewed interest and necessity now emerging that makes a shift to a self-sufficient and habitable space that can link with interior spaces.

This may be a new type of interior urbanism.

The next major development concerning the use of outdoor space in the region is neither an indoor nor an outdoors space, but one which is both, a space which is hybrid, semi-open, covered and transparent that allows an all year long inhabitation as a truly shared public and easily accessible space.

For this to happen exterior spaces will need to be more creative, layered and incorporate a variety of scales, geometric forms and materials.

This synthetic landscape, of both hard and soft surfaces and floating canopies can offer opportunities for interactive encounters and can additionally act as infrastructure, utility, commerce, leisure and new social spaces.

There is also an increased awareness to utilise existing resources such as the ground, introduce new materiality (smart, interactive and environmental) and new programs, beyond addressing tourists and consumers, of total lifestyle for all classes which can also be multi-programmatic, i.e. mixing various programs and uses.

Rules for the future vision and design of outdoor space:

• Consider that majority of GCC residents spend most of their time (60%) outdoors

• Design semi-open spaces

• A city of leisure needs wide open social playgrounds

• ‘In-between' and ‘left-over' spaces are essential

• Design meeting spaces

• Think of experiential exterior spaces

• Planned chaos is good

• De-zoning is a form of new urban planning

• Design in layers

• Add more peripheral uses to reclaim and recondition the already existing

• Ground is a three-dimensional space

• Create landform buildings at the ground level

Remember that the city (Dubai) emerged out of its ‘outdoor' spaces: desert and seafront. This should be the vision of the new outdoors space. Not in its excess but its performance. William Taylor, principal, Carol R Johnson Associates

Public use and appreciation of open spaces is related to both habit and tradition and planners have a role in recognizing and providing the essential ingredients. 

One's first impression of public open space in Abu Dhabi is that an enormous amount of open space investment has been made in the past decade.  Associated with this investment is a marked increase in the value of development adjacent to such open space improvements.

Planners in our field, especially those serving the private sector are well-aware of the need to locate open space and attractive connecting greenways where they can maximise the sales and enhance value in adjacent developments.

On the other hand we are often at risk of distorting the reality of how the resultant open spaces will be used.

Ninety percent of casual recreational activity in the city has been said to involve pedestrian movement from one place to another. The most successful of these open spaces are in dynamic corridors where activities and pedestrians are manifold and diverse.

The concentration of pedestrians is itself a major ingredient.

To see and be seen, or a measure of the casual social interaction available in urban open spaces, seems to be the key index. As apparent in the and around the fountains at Dubai, people do spend more time in concentrated pedestrian settings.

Size and cost seems to matter less than the possibility of discovery and a sense of safety among the crowds. Proximity to other attractions and both recreational and non-recreational activities is most important.

As streets and roads have heretofore been the focus of recent urban development, we are now seeing safer and more attractive pedestrian connections implemented.

Previously, vast open spaces were provided in the plans, but all too often they were misplaced; to buffer between traffic and residential areas or used as a filler in the least valuable project areas to boost the open space percentage.

Increasingly the municipalities seek to steer new projects to more innovative positioning of open spaces.

We are seeing and implementing more combinations of retail and open space to a greater degree, combinations of school and park, greenways between home and local destinations, the use of green bridges and connected open space, recreational loops from a point of origin.

We are also finding more interest among clients in other innovation; passive cooling of open space corridors, dark sky initiatives and the discernment of the more passive recreational opportunities in natural areas preservation initiatives.

As this discussion develops and more good models are available, and as local traditions and demand for open space use are actually recognized in design, public habits gradually will dramatically change and public parks will become well-used and cherished. Geoff Sanderson, principal, Green Concepts Landscape Architects

With increasing rationale of urban development, especially water supply for irrigation, there is a renewed motivation to reject a western approach to urban character, especially the amount of public open space and unusable roadside landscape, simply because of its extravagance.

For thousands of years, villages and cities in the Middle East evolved without air conditioning and without irrigation water for other than crops. Now, despite all the wisdom offered by such habitations, the living style was simply rejected as old fashioned; no one wants to live like that any longer. That is understandable but it does not mean you simply adopt a living style common to modern western cities.

With increasing refinement, UAE is reflecting on its past and that of many settlements in this region. Public Open Space needs to more effectively meet the needs of the population by exploiting built form to create shade, by substantially reducing the water consumption and maintenance costs.

Maintenance skills are very limited and in many cases unable to manage highly resolved landscape detail.

New developments can learn from great cities such as Paris and London where streets and public spaces are dressed mainly by shade trees, simple pavements and compacted sand, not hectares of flowers and shrubs and irrigated lawns. Flowers are used only in special places to emphasise the specialness.

New urban developments should have a hierarchy that begins with very small spaces, no more than 100m2 with a single tree and seats, connecting via narrow vine shaded streets to a community park.

The community park would be less than a hectare simply planted with date palms and shade trees, furnished with seats and a play area and surfaced mainly with compacted sand. If active sports are to be catered for then artificial surfaces are the answer, not irrigated turf.

The next step in the hierarchy is a district park providing for active sports such as basketball and half court football; some of the park could be grassed but no provision would be made for shrubbery and seasonal flowers.

The latter can appear during the cooler months at the entrances and centerpieces of the park, all in containers that can be taken away during the hot months.

The perimeter of the park and wherever seating is needed would be shaded by trees or pergolas. Pathways would be shaded as well, possibly by arcades of fragrant vines. None of the park, except for the seasonal flowers, would require intensive maintenance.

Management of regional parks, catering for large numbers of visitors, should drastically reduce water consumption and be simply maintained.

The days of large irrigated parks should be over and where large spaces are required they can be adjacent to beaches such as Mumzar Park and Mumzar Lagoon in Dubai; or beside canals, where the water activities attract thousands of visitors and the need for intensive planting is much less. Paved promenades, date palms and shade trees with some more intricate planting at way points are all that is needed.

The richness of character comes with paving details, furnishing and the water activities.

I believe it is possible to reduce irrigated public open space by 50% without spoiling the city's character and in fact enhancing it by making it more culturally and climatically relevant.

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