By Michele Howe
In a region where new cities appear to crop up all the time, creating a unique space is no easy task. Michele Howe finds out more about the waterside area of Dubai's new City of Arabia.
Even by Dubai standards, Ilyas and Mustafa Galadari Group's multibillion dollar City of Arabia is a massive development project. Sprawling across 1.9 million m2 of land in the Downtown area of Dubailand, City of Arabia will have a 900,000 m2 mall, as well as a 10km manmade canal, and 34 residential and commercial blocks.
The project, when completed, will provide accommodation for around 40,000 residents.
Wadi Walk is one of the key features of the City of Arabia project. It forms the spine for the area around it.
City of Arabia has several notable features: Mall of Arabia, set to be the region's largest shopping mall; Restless Planet, a dinosaur theme park; and Wadi Walk, the waterside area stretching the length of the canal.
"Wadi Walk is one of the key features of the City of Arabia project," James Abbott, director of P&T Architects and Engineers (Dubai), the master planners for the City of Arabia project, tells Commercial Outdoor Design. "It forms the spine for the area around it," he says. "Water is a valuable asset in this part of the world and is naturally quite rare. The idea of the Wadi Walk is that it is lowish rise but highish density to create a traditional urban grain. It's a continuous row of buildings either side of the canal connected by a colonnade which provides shade and allows you to stroll the whole length of the walk."
One of the main attractions of the walk is that it will be car free with parking for residents in the area provided beneath the apartment blocks. In a move to further eliminate noise, the abra boats cruising the canal will be electric, thus keeping sound to a minimum.
The concept behind the project is to create a European style city, Abbott explains. "We are trying to bring some kind of European flavour, a walkable city flavour and it is a green approach as well," he says.
Mona Rizk, project manager at Acla (Hyder), the landscape architect working on the project, takes the Mediterranean comparison a step further likening Wadi Walk to the Italian city of Venice. "The building architecture is Mediterranean with an Italian influence with a lot of colonnades to provide a shaded walkway," she says. "To cross the Wadi canal from one side to the other there are 13 pedestrian bridges all disabled accessible to provide interaction and simple circulation around the Wadi."
The idea of a walkable city in Dubai sounds fantastic, particularly for the eight months of the year when the climate is pleasant, but what about during the summer months when temperatures can rise to over 45 degrees? How will the area work then?
Acclimatising the area is in fact one of the main challenges of the project, according to Abbott. A colonnade lining the whole of the walk should go some way to maximising shade, he explains. On top of this, the plan is that the walk will benefit from air conditioning spillage from the shops lining its retail area. "The main thing is that you are out of the sun," he states.
The biggest challenge, however, will be the manmade canal. The problem is not merely the enormity of building a canal - the massive earthworks involved in excavating the canal have already been completed - but the subsequent maintenance of the water system afterwards - making sure it looks natural, keeps clean, and, one of the biggest considerations given that there can be as much as 70% evaporation of water in this region, making sure it stays put.
Danish firm Aqua-Teknik has been contracted as the water quality consultants on the project. Its task will be to treat the water, prevent algae growth, and maintain the bacteriological quality as well as ensure clear, non-smelling, gently moving water year round.
Aqua-Teknik director and owner Kim Carlsen describes Wadi Walk as a "dream project in every way". "We shall create a high performance system, with the newest technologies of water treatment," he says.
The biggest challenge on this type of design is that it requires a lot of interface and coordination.
The fact that the water area is manmade was also an important consideration when it came to selecting the planting, says Rizk.
Palm trees and shade trees will be mostly used for the walk, but decorative trees with a lot of falling leaves and flowers will be mainly avoided in order to keep the Wadi water as clean as possible, she says.
Another challenge for Acla at the design stage was keeping the landscape varied along the vast length of the canal. Rizk says this will be achieved by using different types of treatment in different areas.
"The Wadi edge is designed in a very particular way, continuously reinventing itself by creating innovative spaces, diverse ambiances, and even multiple levels. The whole concept behind this is to provide a rich experience for the Wadi visitors and residents," she says.
"The promenade treatment is designed with a special pavement pattern, avoiding continuous lines over the length of the promenade, to create different feel and settings and avoiding the repetition," she continues.
"The pavement pattern creates along with the colonnade the dynamic on the promenade. It defines the outdoor spaces and terraces, it emphasises the green areas from the other areas, it sets the rhythm and it nurtures the sense of leisure and relaxation," she adds.
While construction work on Wadi Walk is due to start soon, the project is at present a long way off being the walkable paradise envisaged by the designers on paper.
And as with any mega size development involving a large number of firms, there will no doubt be numerous frustrations, complications and setbacks to come over the next couple of years as the development takes shape, but for the designers involved in the project there will also be the satisfaction that comes from having been a part of this new city creation.
As Rizk puts it, "the biggest challenge on this type of design is that it requires a lot of interface and coordination with the architects and all the engineers. The landscape architect needs to incorporates all consultants' requirements, and yet still provide a great design. It's a very complex and time consuming process, and some time it feels almost impossible, yet it is very interesting, and motivating."
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