My compatriot, the celebrated Danish architect, urbanist and city planner Jan Gehl, first introduced the idea of the 5kph city and the 60kph city; the difference being that the former was designed with pedestrians in mind, while the latter puts the emphasis on motorists.

You could reasonably say that large swathes of our rapidly growing cities in the Middle East are closer to 120kph cities. That isn’t to say that they’re visually dull. In fact, far from it, but the buildings which make up the region’s impressive skylines have, in general, been designed as individual objects which are best appreciated from a car at distance – or at high velocity. Get out of the car and up close and there tends to be little for the human eye and soul to connect with.

The other, closely linked notion to which most Scandinavian architects are passionate about is human scale in architecture. This is based on the idea that people are able to better interact with the urban environment when it is based on their own physical dimensions and capabilities.

It stands to reason, perhaps, that historic cities built before the age of the car most naturally fit into the mould of the 5kph environment. Copenhagen my hometown, is an excellent example of human scale architectural detailing that encourages pedestrian and cycling activities; this applies not only to historic buildings but also to its bold and distinctive modern architecture.

Newer cities have tended to evolve in a different way, which has been dominated by people’s desire to use private cars. The response from clients and designers has been to focus not on detail, but on being able to capture attention within seconds and from afar. This applies to public space as much as it does to buildings – but what about pedestrians? And what about community? At street level, there is little to offer.

It’s taken some time, but the past five years or so has witnessed an awakening to this challenge in the Middle East. There’s an understanding that to build healthy communities – which evolved over hundreds of years in the “old world”, needs human scale. It needs interaction, fine detail and energy. As humans, we need some subtlety in our environments which encourages us to explore, ask questions and have fun.  

In Dubai, there are now some powerful examples of how this has been put into action to create a new city experience. For instance, Citywalk in Jumeirah and The Beach at JBR offer low-rise, retail centric developments which have quickly been embraced as part of the urban landscape. They promote social interaction of communities – something which is fundamental to improve quality of life and enable the creation of sustainable and liveable cities.

Human scale and a pedestrian friendly cities have long been at the heart of our thinking and when Atkins was appointed to design the Dubai Opera and the Opera District in Downtown Dubai it was pivotal to our idea. It is rare to have an opportunity to fully integrate a building in its context from the earliest master planning stage through to its functionality in the public realm. The vision of our client was very clear from the start and we had a great deal of freedom to bring it to reality. And that vision was very much in keeping with our thinking of a pedestrian-friendly neighbourhood – a 5kph city.

Because Dubai Opera sits within Emaar’s Downtown Dubai development, we were tasked with creating a building which must fulfil various roles. Not only should it showcase world-class cultural events to its guests, but the building should also be the iconic centrepiece of the new Opera District and a stimulus for a vibrant, creative public realm.

We had an opportunity to present much more than a stunning new building to the region. Our client’s vision was for a venue which, while hosting fabulous cultural performances within, would also transmit its energy and excitement to the whole community, making full use of its surrounding spaces including Sheikh Rashid bin Mohammed Boulevard, The Opera Plaza and Burj Lake Park. It is designed, therefore, to complement rather than compete with its surrounding area, spreading its cultural and artistic function from its internal transformable theatre onto an external multifunctional urban plaza, towards the adjacent walkways and alleyways of surrounding neighbourhoods.

An important dimension of the project is that it closes the circle of attraction points within Downtown Dubai – the others being the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall, as well as the centrepiece of Dubai Fountains. Of these attractions, Dubai Opera is unique in being able to offer a much more al fresco lifestyle as well as tactile involvement to the surrounding neighbourhood, so it was very important that we sought to take advantage of this.

Everything about the building is designed to draw people into its cultural and artistic offering. The building has a 360 degree lobby which is fully integrated with its public realm. The façade design is extremely complex; the glass frontage comprises of 1,710 individual façade and mullion sections, 1,270 individually sized glass panels, which are shaded by the roof overhang and 5 km externally mounted shading louvers. The aim is to make the building as transparent as possible, while keeping solar radiation out through passive design measures.

To this end, the glass is made as transparent as possible thanks to an internal and external anti-reflective coating. In the evening, the impact of this will be even more apparent because lighting is integrated within the buildings vertical columns building only – there is no external illumination. This will create the sense of a lantern which will offer a warm glow to onlookers and accentuate the impact of seeing guests inside the building. The lobby and public realm are therefore seen as one – a space where the audience become performers for residents and visitors of the neighbourhood when they are inside the building.

Arriving at Dubai Opera will also be part of the experience. There is no valet parking at the entrance to the building – guests will make a processional walk across the plaza to the lobby doors, creating a "theatre of people" surrounding the building. This, again, will help to bring the whole Opera District to life, animating its environs like nothing else in the city. The public realm around the building will capture the buzz from the Opera, with retail and cafes, and the opportunity for street performances. Importantly, navigating the area is encouraging pedestrian activities and movement ensuring a high level of accessibility, with plenty of walkways intersecting the boulevard to offer a feeling of openness and space.

It feels very fitting that, in creating Dubai’s new cultural beacon, we’ve had the opportunity to deliver something which is much more than an entertainment venue. We’ve been inspired by the chance to offer the city, and the region, a project which will truly engage passers-by at 5kph through its level of detail and its all-encompassing celebration of performance. Dubai Opera will exude the energy, creativity and excitement of its audience, setting the mood for the whole neighbourhood. I can’t wait to see them perform!

This article was originally featured in ME Consultant

Middle East & Africa,

Dubai has moved another important step forward towards its smart city goals this month with the passing of the Dubai Open Data Law.

This will allow the sharing of non-confidential data between government entities and other stakeholders – an essential move which provides the legislative framework for Dubai to progress into a Smart City.

It catapults Dubai alongside the most progressive and developed cities on the planet. What’s really impressive is the level of leadership buy-in for the new law: it has been sponsored by H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and General Supervisor of Dubai Smart City. Not only that, but it was announced by none other than His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Ruler of Dubai.

What this tells us, if there was ever any doubt, is that Dubai is very serious about becoming a smart city – it has all the backing that it needs so we can expect activities to keep moving in the right direction and for the legislation to progress quickly along the principles outlined by the Open Data committee earlier this year.

The law opens the door for a new wave of data enabled services using technologies such as cloud computing and will encourage a new wave of significant investment in Dubai’s digital economy.

The result – and the aims of any smart city – will be to enable better, more efficient and responsive public services and allow the private sector to supply innovative solutions which really meet the needs of end users. Service providers – both public and private sector – will be able to use open data to better understand, predict and respond to the needs of their customers.

Another linked key benefit will be in how the Open Data law will enable the development of intelligent mobility and support for driverless vehicles (read the Atkins whitepaper on driverless vehicles here) which require open data to operate. Cities already benefiting from this include London, New York and Singapore – providing their citizens with the first generation of new solutions where mobility is delivered as a service, and where people can engage with multiple transport options easily.

Atkins is now working closely with many cities to help them create a vision for “Journeys of the Future” using Open Data; these are the exciting first steps to the driverless vehicle services that we can realistically expect to appear in volume as we approach 2025.

Nevertheless, there are still important hurdles to leap. Even when open data legislation is in place, there will need to be an appropriate level of governance, business transformation, education and behavioural change. The Open Data Law will need other changes in insurance and liability law which are equally complex before we embrace a very new way of using transport as a set of universally available services.

These are significant practical issues, but the biggest will be data and cyber security. As our world becomes more interconnected and reliant on Open Data sources then cyber-attacks become more able to damage the feeds and our use of them. Similarly as driverless vehicles use the new generation of wifi standards (802.11p etc.) for information on traffic lights, accidents, other car positions etc, the need for a strong cyber protection architecture will become critical. Only then will we truly be able to move from driver assist options to true autonomous vehicles linked to everyone’s smart phone and position, ready for whenever they need mobility as a service.

However, these are challenges which will be faced by every leading city, and Dubai is with the leading pack – a trailblazer for the region.

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Middle East & Africa,

The Burj Al Arab was a career-defining project for those involved in its creation. To celebrate the 15th anniversary of Dubai’s iconic Burj Al Arab, which was launched on 1 December 1999, we asked Simon Crispe – a key member of Atkins’ original project team – to describe what the project means to him.

I can still clearly remember arriving in Dubai for the first time back in 1993 for the project which would become known as the Burj Al Arab. As we crossed the Maktoum Bridge we saw a colossal tower appearing over the horizon – the World Trade Center, which had been the region’s tallest building since 1977.

My awe at this sight was mixed with a feeling of excitement and trepidation that we were about to set to work on a project which at 321m-tall was going to dwarf it.

Over the 21 years since this extraordinary project came into my life, amazing opportunities have come along for Atkins to design incredible projects that have helped to shape and improve the new cities of the Middle East. Many of these achievements have been created or delivered by some of the 250 Atkins people who lived and breathed the Jumeirah Beach Resort, Wild Wadi and Burj al Arab from 1993 to 1999.

It still amazes me how one major project had the power to change a business by changing the people within it; to grow our belief that “we REALLY can do this”, and to achieve it. This is what happened and many of our colleagues from that project have gone on to do other fantastic things in their careers; I think empowered and inspired by that single seminal project, infused with the confidence that with a truly shared goal in a project or in a business, we can succeed.

At the start we had a small, but talented and motivated team – and with an average age of 36 there was barely a grey hair between us. That’s not to ignore the value of experience (21 years later I’m quite a fan of grey hair!) but the youthful energy and never-say-die spirit that we created from the beginning was very special.

It’s difficult, looking back, to really convey the sleepy hollow that Dubai was in the mid-90s; a far cry from the sophisticated international city we see today. Barely a sealed road, the obligatory 4×4 for the school run and hardly any traffic on the few roads there were and of course, barely a building above 10 storeys. Moving here for the life of the project felt like an incredibly big step – not just for the project team but also for our very young families.

Working a six-day 80 hour week was the norm, and while we certainly experienced our fair share of stress and anxiety throughout the project, my abiding memory is of the team’s camaraderie and humour – and the knowledge that we were working on something very special; in fact it was unique (and I don’t use that word lightly). The technical and logistical challenges in the design and construction of this building were huge and Burj Al Arab was a life changing project for most of us. It was the type of project and experience which comes along only once or twice in a career… if you’re lucky!

The need for a truly shared goal and self belief are two very important lessons we learned and still remember two decades later. My message to our new and emerging colleagues, our bright young graduates and our fellow design and construction professionals is that this is now your time to make a sustainable difference to our built environment – you have the world at your feet, so make the most of it.

*Photo courtesy of Jumeirah

Middle East & Africa,

Rapid urbanisation, population growth, the rise in car ownership and the corresponding rise in congestion – these factors have compelled the Gulf states to invest in new public transport infrastructure to address these increasingly pressing concerns. But can these new transport systems rival the world’s best?

Under the circumstances, they’ll have to, according to Dr Ghassan Ziadat, Atkins’ director of planning and infrastructure: “There are only so many roads you can build,” he says. The existing roads are already over capacity, to the point where congestion is having an impact on the local economy and on the quality of life for residents, as well as contributing to carbon emissions that impact the local and global environment.

Even in countries like Singapore, where the public transport network is world-renowned and where owning and travelling by car is expensive, car ownership is still rising at four per cent a year. If governments stand any chance of tempting people off the roads when car travel is cheap – as is the case in much of the Gulf region – they need more sustainable, clean, affordable, accessible, well planned and integrated public transport services.

Despite the challenge, Dr Ziadat believes that the dominance of automotive travel in inner-city locations around the Gulf could be reduced significantly within a surprisingly short period. He refers to Hong Kong as the ultimate benchmark for the use of public transportation: it accounts for more than 90 per cent of all journeys. The Gulf states might never reach that degree of public transport participation, he says, but there are clear indications that people are looking for alternatives. For example, after the introduction of its new metro system in 2009 and 2010, Dubai is already investing in more trams and buses as it strives for a more integrated transport system. The government wants 40 per cent of journeys to be made by public transport by 2030. This is double its target for 2020 and up from only six per cent in 2006.

“Riyadh is putting in seven metro lines at the same time,” says Dr Ziadat. “Everyone is trying very hard to catch up.”

Saudi’s strategy

This is particularly evident in Saudi Arabia, where the government is working with a transport infrastructure budget of $17.3 billion in 2014. The total value of the road, port and airport projects expected to be completed between 2013 and 2017 stands at $25.5 billion.

Its rail ambitions are even more substantial. A multi-billion dollar metro project is planned for Jeddah, as well as for the capital Riyadh. A four-line metro system is already planned for Makkah. And, in one of the world’s largest railway construction projects, the government is developing the North-South Railway, which will link the Landbridge project running east-west with a new high-speed line connecting Makkah to Medina.

The kingdom needs to invest heavily to keep its people moving. According to the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs, 88 per cent of Saudi Arabia’s population is expected to live in urban areas by 2025, up from 48 per cent in the 1970s. And Riyadh is already one of the world’s fastest growing cities – its population is expected to reach 8.2 million by 2030, up from just over five million now (and compared with 150,000 in the 1960s).

There is also pressure from the local population to invest in public transport. It would provide an alternative means of travel for women, who are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. And, as Dr Ziadat adds: “Every year, millions of Saudis travel to Dubai and other parts of the world. They see the benefits of public transportation and they are beginning to ask why they can’t have the same to relieve some of the congestion in their cities.”

Connecting Riyadh

Dr Ziadat says the effects of public transport investment in cities such as Riyadh could have even greater impact than that witnessed in Dubai, in part because the numbers of people involved are larger (Dubai’s population is closer to two million). Planners also have the opportunity to learn from developments elsewhere and integrate the different modes of public transportation with urban design from the start.

By building seven metro lines in Riyadh simultaneously, as well as investing in enhanced bus and taxi services, they are helping to minimise how far people have to walk from their home or workplace to the station in the heat. They are also focusing on issues of accessibility.

There is also the bigger picture of how metro projects can influence development in the areas they run through, not least due to the boost to land values. Atkins designed two of the Dubai Metro stations to allow for future high-rise development above them, and similar discussions are being held in other parts of the region as a way to help finance these developments.

“The level of understanding and the appetite for transit-oriented development among clients in the Middle East is already on an exponential trajectory,” says Dr Ziadat, who adds that maintaining the necessary capital investment for the developments remains one of the biggest challenges of these large-scale projects – even for cash-rich Gulf economies.

Saudi Arabia is definitely thinking along these lines, he says: “We’re trying to integrate transport planning within urban planning. If you can integrate a development around a station from day one, and developers see that this is the plan, then they target those areas. Having that incentive will generate investment and encourage people to build.”

Incentives to change

Dr Ziadat highlights four main benefits to transit-orientated design. Easier travel can obviously offer both social and environmental benefits. It can provide easy access to jobs and services, as well as attracting investment. And efficient public transport can enhance a city’s image and reputation.

But getting people to use new modes of transport will remain a challenge. As happened in Dubai, the impact of these projects will be gradual.

“The adoption of a new public transport network is a journey in itself,” says Dr Ziadat. Few people in the region outside of Dubai are familiar with using public transportation, which means governments adopting metro systems will need to run public awareness campaigns. This will help to counter concerns about safety, quality and social impact, and explain to sceptics why the investment being made is a good thing.

Pricing is also an issue: “If the price it too low, people worry that it is just for those on low income,” says Dr Ziadat. “They will want to have first class wagons and economy wagons, as well as family-specific or women-only wagons.”

For new multi-modal transportation systems in the region to come close to rivalling those in Hong Kong and Singapore, the cities will need to drive changes in behaviour quickly. As a result, Dr Ziadat believes the high-level investment will be reinforced by measures designed to discourage road use.

“I suspect that, as happened in Dubai, governments will introduce parking fees and toll gates once their metro systems come online, and the cost of cars and petrol will be increased to discourage people off the roads, to try to beat the congestion. You can’t do that without giving people an alternative.”

Middle East & Africa,

Island life

10 Jul 2009 | Comments

The man-made island developments that sit off the Dubai and Bahrain coasts may grab the headlines for their apparent extravagance, but they still have to fulfil some very basic needs for their residents. Atkins has worked on a number of these projects in the region, from The World in Dubai to the Durrat Al Bahrain resort. They represent extraordinary achievement, but behind the spectacle, there are some rather less glamorous fundamentals at work, from freshwater supply to power and waste management.

How do these eye-catching projects satisfy these everyday human needs? And how can this be achieved without ruining the carefully crafted landscape?

According to Kevin Williamson, infrastructure projects director for Atkins in Dubai, it’s all in the planning and understanding of the client’s requirements for the development. Over the years, Atkins has built up a range of infrastructure solutions for the unique challenges facing this part of the world.

For example, Atkins was commissioned by Mirage Mille, a Dubai-based development company, to produce the comprehensive masterplanning, design and delivery of a resort on one of the 300 islands that make up The World – the man-made archipelago in Dubai constructed in the shape of a world map. This includes a central utility compound consisting of wastewater treatment plant, desalination plant, district cooling, power generation, waste management and a port, among other things.

Atkins was also commissioned to deliver the design for the sewage treatment plant, the potable and irrigation water supply, wastewater collection and water treatment infrastructure for the development, as well as the design for a reverse osmosis drinking water plant. Freshwater sources are still a relatively scarce commodity in the Middle East. The main solution is to process seawater for human usage by filtering out the salt content – known as desalination. The water is subjected to reverse osmosis, remineralisation and disinfection, to keep the water potable throughout distribution. All of this requires industrial plants, which risks spoiling an otherwise perfectly crafted landscape.

“Clients require plant buildings to be unobtrusive or designed to blend in with the development architecture especially on high-end development resort islands such as The World,” says Williamson. Plant buildings can even be hidden within the undulations of a sloping site, such as is the case of the golf courses that are often incorporated into high-end developments. They can be shaded by trees or enclosed behind residential areas away from the public.

Jason Barrack, development manager for Mirage Mille, which provides turnkey solutions for the hospitality industry, agrees that these facilities are a necessary evil, but takes the point a step further: “Even ambient noise arising from a plant must reflect the resort nature of a development.” As such, any noise generating plants are often treated with plant-specific soundproofing techniques.

Stay cool

Freshwater may need to be sourced or filtered, but there is one element that a man-made island in the Middle East doesn’t need to look for: heat. And while air conditioning is considered a necessity, traditional systems are often obstructive and noisy. For residents paying substantial amounts to live in such an idyllic environment, quiet climate control is not a luxury. District cooling, which is a form of air conditioning that pumps chilled water around a development via a centralised network, is often the preferred system. It is also largely unnoticeable, something that is both expected and appreciated by residents. It is currently being used by the $2.5bn Bahrain Bay Development, located off the coast of Manama. Atkins is providing additional support for the execution phase of the development.

The exclusivity of an offshore development of this kind demands discreet infrastructure throughout, from water delivery to climate control and even reducing the impact of the sewage process. As ever, it is a question of generating maximum efficiency with minimal disruption. For example, discreet methods for dealing with human waste include placing pumping stations underground in order to keep unpleasant smells to a minimum. Air extractors offer another level of management.

These efforts can be supported through a combination of biological, chemical, catalytic and thermal processes. Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) can also have their unpleasant side-effects reduced by being placed within buildings, leaving residents oblivious of the treatment works next door.

Dealing with any damage done

Although high-end developments on resort islands are maintained regularly for safety, contingency plans have to be put in place. The trick is to develop these during the course of the infrastructure design. As an island, these developments are designed to be as self-supporting as possible. The experts involved need to make sure that the remoteness of an offshore development does not infringe on safety concerns.

“Flooding, for example, is dealt with using storm water drainage appropriate to the climate,” says Martin Currie, consultant for water utilities development with Atkins in the Middle East. “A further island-specific issue is the risk of nutrient runoff (from both irrigation and storm runoff). This could adversely affect the environment and must be tightly controlled.”

When considering these high-end developments and the sophisticated systems that surround them, it’s easy to forget that there are still areas within the Middle East without infrastructure. The region has witnessed huge growth over the last few years, stretching existing infrastructure to the limit. Specialists are required not just for their engineering experience, but for their knowledge of the region and its specific demands.

It’s not just the facilities that complicate the process. Another layer of complexity is added by the logistics involved in building on an artificial construction.

“The high heat and humidity create hostile conditions for those working on the islands and the airborne salt can be highly corrosive to materials,” says Williamson.“The people working on these projects require transportation to the islands and in some cases accommodation during the construction period. Safety and site management needs to address the specific risks of working on an island environment.”

The size of many contemporary Middle Eastern projects is another issue: “Infrastructure projects developed on some man-made islands need to be sufficient to cope with several thousand residents – about the size of a small town, in other words,” says Mirage Mille’s Barrack. However, this demand doesn’t mean acres of land can be earmarked for these necessary systems.

“The cost of creating land in the middle of the ocean is so high that the infrastructure must be as space efficient as possible,” adds Barrack, who notes that the engineers face competition regarding storage facilities from some unlikely corners. “At the peak of summer, the softscape (shrubs and other forms of horticulture) can be killed off in a few days due to the heat. Robust debate can emerge over the appropriate level of sizing of storage facilities for water, irrigation water, sewage and fuel.”

Managing the softscape seems a million miles away from managing water and sewage, but it’s all part of the essential infrastructure for these non-land based projects. Atkins is familiar with this challenge, based on its work on the Durrat Al Bahrain resort, one the first large-scale land reclamation projects to be introduced along the Bahrain coast. Atkins was commissioned to produce the masterplan, design supervision and project management of the project, including marine, infrastructure and villa design, and road infrastructure.

“This all forms part of the overall aesthetic appeal. For example, marine bridges have the potential to become beautiful structures in the location where they are created. Take the Durrat Al Bahrain Bridges: they form gateways that connect communities and carry passenger traffic as well as essential utilities, but they are also aesthetically designed with artistic sensibility,” says Dr Ghassan Ziadat, director of infrastructure and regional head of bridges for Atkins in the Middle East. But how can these structures combine form and function while also pleasing the client?

Dr Ziadat maintains that it’s all dependent on collaboration: “Our engineers and architects work together to make the right choices in terms of structural form and materials to provide adequate space for utilities, the correct number of traffic lanes and the required navigational clearances.”

These are just some of the difficult decisions involved when designing infrastructure for high-end resort developments. How much of the operation is better left unseen or unheard? And what is the best way to cope with the Middle East’s demanding climate and lack of water resources? Combine these with the limited space and other pressures of working on man-made islands, and the work soon begins to sound almost heroic.

“Our aim is to deliver reliable, efficient and sustainable infrastructure systems integrated discreetly into the development,” Williamson says. “This requires a combination of local experience and international expertise, and the ability to develop flexible and innovative engineering solutions.”

Middle East & Africa,

Growing up

05 Dec 2008 | Comments

When Atkins first began working in the Middle East 30 years ago, it was a land of pure opportunity, bolstered by growing oil revenues, the creation of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and an influx of workers. The combination of wealth, political stability and a growing population created unprecedented demand for development.

It also sparked a desire to stand out from the crowd, allowing for innovative thinking on a remarkable scale, and in a relatively untouched environment. As Tom Wright, Atkins’ chief architect on Dubai’s iconic Burj Al Arab, points out, “when we first started working on the hotel in 1994, there was almost nothing around it. As far as we knew at the time, there was going to be this one project and that would be it.”

Today, it’s estimated that 15-25 per cent of the world’s active cranes are in Dubai alone. And Atkins has become part of the fabric of the Middle East. It employs thousands in the region and continues to push the architectural envelope, from the linked tower design of Dubai’s Trump International Hotel & Tower to the 600m-tall mixed-use Anara Tower to be built alongside the famous Sheikh Zayed Road.

As the Middle East settles into the 21st century, however, the emphasis is shifting away from headline-making structures. These days, a more subtle approach to architecture and construction is emerging. The obsession with towering heights or being visible from the moon is subsiding. Instead, a new crop of more accessible, sustainable and user-friendly buildings is being born, and they are changing the face of the region.

Dubai: more than just a pretty face

The Dubai of today is exhibiting all the characteristics of a rapidly maturing market. Environmentally sustainable techniques are becoming increasingly sophisticated and widespread, starting with the use of more sustainable building materials. The climb to a more carbon sensitive market has seen more design-led solutions, with passive design playing a large part. Architects are looking at long-term solutions that cut energy need, such as solar shading and screening on windows. Leaders in the UAE are also introducing new legislation and tying in growth with environmental responsibility. Atkins is following this same course not only on projects but also in its work with leading academic institutions in the region.

For example, Atkins has partnered with the British University in Dubai (BUiD) to develop a post-graduate diploma in Sustainability in the Built Environment qualification. This is part of its commitment to invest in the next generation of architects and engineers, and to encourage sustainable building practices right across the Middle East.

According to Professor Bassam Abu-Hijleh from the BUiD, “Onsite renewable power generation initiatives are beginning to find their way in current designs and will become more prevalent in the future.” Today, Dubai’s buildings need to do more than just look smart – they need to act smart too.

“In the next decade, energy will be the major factor that determines built form and the form of cities,” points out Robert Powell, former Associate Professor of Architecture and Urban Design at the National University of Singapore. “We should aim for buildings that employ passive means of cooling and are correctly orientated, that seek to use less potable water and employ solar and wind power, that are shaded, conserve resources and seek not to damage the existing ecology of Dubai. Sustainability and sensitivity to the ecology of a place are fundamental to the design of the 21st century city.”

The exterior of the new Atkins-designed 2CDE residential development, for example, will be able to withstand temperatures above 40˚c during the summer months, by incorporating electro-coating into its clear glazing. The coating reflects heat, but also goes one step further by allowing in natural light. This reduces the load on the internal cooling system and diminishes the electricity burden. Shading technology, including a “sun screen” wall will also counter solar gain – vital in dazzlingly sunny Dubai.

Power towers

However, incorporating such designs isn’t always easy. Abu-Hijleh says that while renewable energy techniques are beginning to flourish, including these innovations “depends on many parameters, including energy costs and the speed and scope of new building regulations in the region.”

Nor is Dubai the easiest place to work in, due to dust and humidity, as well as past construction practices. “High-density building coupled with traffic congestion give rise to problems of pollution,” says Abu-Hijleh.

One element that Dubai has to its great advantage is the wind that comes in off the Gulf. It’s a subject that Atkins’ design director in Dubai, Shaun Killa, is keen to exploit.

“Wind is not only cheaper than solar, it is also very powerful,” he says. “Whenever it is appropriate – there has to be the right positioning – I will always use wind, because in the future all buildings will need to be zero carbon.” Killa demonstrated this commitment when he designed the Bahrain World Trade Center, the first skyscraper in the world with wind turbines integrated into its structure.

The Lighthouse Tower is another exemplar project that when completed, will be Dubai’s first low-carbon commercial tower and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) platinum rated. Aided by over 4,000 solar panels as part of the fabric wall, overall total energy consumption is expected to be reduced by up to 65 per cent and water consumption by up to 40 per cent, based on a typical building model from the year 2000.

It is a new approach for Dubai, combining the glamour of an aesthetically pleasing high-rise with practical and innovative energy-saving features. This is something Killa believes will characterise future tall structures in the emirate.

“High-rise buildings will take on a much greater sustainable agenda,” he says. “It will not simply be about height. This approach is about reducing energy load.”

It’s a development that is welcomed by Richard Hastilow, chief executive at the Royal Institute of British Architects. “Dubai’s new attitude to construction is very encouraging, particularly its contribution to reducing the Gulf States’ carbon emissions,” he says.


New buildings are also becoming more user-friendly, with the emphasis shifting away from appearance to how they can work more effectively for residents. Mixed-use buildings are becoming particularly popular, combining residential space with shopping outlets, bars and offices. Residents can effectively work, live and play, all within the same area.

These buildings also work well for the developer. Rather than spreading out the amenities, they are concentrated in one area, which makes it easier to pull off logistically.

By combining commercial facilities with offices and accommodation, instant self-contained communities are being created, which also makes mixed-use buildings very socially cohesive. This is particularly important for ex-pat residents who often come to the region for work, but who do not have many local friends.

On the environmental side, residents have less need to use a car because much of what they need is right on their doorstep. And if the commute to work is just a short walk, it’s far less stressful for the residents as well as the environment in which they live.

One excellent example is the Atkins designed Pier 8 building that will stand on Dubai’s marina. With its mix of studio, one and two-bedroom serviced apartments, Pier 8 will be surrounded by a choice of shops, cafes and restaurants.

Whether this approach could spread to the rest of Dubai or remain isolated in a few waterfront developments has yet to be seen. However, Killa believes this could have the same domino effect as the Burj Al Arab did in the 1990s.

“This new approach is opening doors for mixed commercial/residential projects,” he says.

Living space

The aforementioned 2CDE is another mixed-use structure that is setting the tone for tomorrow’s Dubai. It features landscaped gardens, water facilities, a food court and shops joining one, two and three-bedroom serviced apartments. But what makes the development really unusual for Dubai, at first glance, is its size.

Instead of a typically neck-craning skyscraper, it stands a mere 27 storeys tall. It looks almost modest when compared to some of the city’s other megastructures.

Could small really be beautiful in the Dubai of the future? Shaun Killa certainly thinks so. “Buildings don’t need to be tall alone and there’s now a very different approach in Dubai,” he says. “High-rise buildings will continue to be built in the region, but their aesthetic will become more mature.”

Part of this new maturity, he says, is recognising the importance of what goes on between structures, whatever their size.

“After all, these spaces present a great opportunity; people like them,” Killa adds.

Killa reiterates the sentiment voiced by Tom Wright: when Dubai’s construction phase first began, the vast majority of the space being developed was desert.

“Buildings need context and, in the past, that context was sand,” he says. But now, as Dubai is emerging in a contextual sense, developers and architects are beginning to recognise that it needs to work for its 1,204,000 citizens as well as for visiting tourists.

“We need to create a rich urban fabric,” Killa says. “People enjoy walking to a building from the metro station and seeing water; they want a mixture of sunlight and shade.”

It seems an obvious point, but it’s one that is often neglected during an initial building boom. While Dubai is famed for space-age hotels that whet the appetite for eager tourists, architects such as Killa want to find ways to make the city work for the people who live and work in it. Although the headlines may focus on Dubai’s more ambitious or bizarre construction plans, BUiD’s Abu-Hijleh believes it is the more restrained developments, such as 2CDE, that provide a real glimpse into Dubai’s long-term future.

Echoing Killa’s views, he says, “The current focus is now more on a development/block/urban level than just a single building. Working on an integrated development offers designers a wider scope to use their creative thinking and design.”

“There is now a trend in Dubai towards elegant and timeless buildings,” Killa adds. “Dubai is becoming more sophisticated in design – more confident, but more subdued.”

“Things will become much more interesting,” suggests Abu-Hijleh.

Dubai is still in a unique position to set trends across the region, learning from the mistakes of the US and Europe, and influencing neighbours such as Abu Dhabi and Doha. It is already using its knowledge and position wisely, and is looking toward a more sustainable, albeit possibly less statuesque, future.

Middle East & Africa,

There are two lists you should write. The first is all the things that you do at which you’ve excelled or where you think you have been exceptionally good, even if other people don’t. The second list is all the things you do where you become so absorbed that you lose track of time. Don’t restrict your lists to just work, include all aspects of your life.

Combine the two lists and ask yourself how much they reflect your life. My list is quite close so I spend a good percentage of my time doing things that I enjoy and that I have half a chance of doing well. Somewhere in here is the reason I come back for more.

Architecture is one of the most enduring forms of art – it could be still standing in a thousand years. It’s a massive responsibility – if a sculptor hates his work, he can hit it with a hammer. Once a building is built, people have to live in it, work in it, play in it. You affect their mood and life in a big way.

If people have to drive past something they really hate every day for a thousand years, it’s not going to do them any good is it?

Design should be uplifting, within its context, for the people interacting with it. It doesn’t have to be massively different, but the end result has to have a sense of harmony and balance that is enjoyable. If you can achieve that, if you can make people comfortable or thrilled or excited or pleased to be somewhere, you have gone a long way towards creating what I call architecture.

What inspires you?

Working with the team in the office. When we are given the opportunity to design a new project, we get together and draw inspiration from within the team and see where it goes. By approaching a design in this way, we challenge the obvious stylistic solutions. As a result, the schemes that come out of this office don’t always sit with the trends of the moment.

I’d rather be slightly off the wall and not following the trend, because if you’re following a trend, you’re nearly always some way behind it.

Are there any limitations?

The biggest limitation to architecture is gravity. If you have engineers that can dream up solutions that start to defy gravity in some economical way, then you can start to push the boundaries and create some interesting buildings. That combined with the capacity of computers to take information directly from complicated drawings into the construction process. Repetition of building components was once essential to keep cost under control. These days, the use of the computer in fabrication has made it possible to create highly complex buildings without the massive cost penalties of the past. Once we replace the workers on-site with robots…. Either that or do it all in the virtual world where there are no rules at all and the engineer is no longer required.

Middle East & Africa,

Land reclamation projects off the coast of Bahrain and Dubai have been making a big noise around the globe for a few years now, from the Durrat Al Bahrain resort to The World and The Palm Trilogy. What few people realise is the extent to which such developments are created “from scratch”, literally built up from the sea bed to form artificial land masses, according to whatever specification a client may have.

The Durrat Al Bahrain resort was among the first large-scale land reclamation projects to be introduced along the Bahrain coast. The fact that it was viewed as something unique in the region was clear from the choice of name itself, which translates as “Pearl of Bahrain”.

Atkins was commissioned to produce the masterplan, on the back of which the company was awarded the contract for design supervision and project management of the Durrat Al Bahrain Resort Project, including marine, infrastructure and villa design, road infrastructure, and overseeing delivery of these various elements of the project.

“We produced the marine design, which incorporated revetment and beach design, numerical modelling to derive wave conditions and setting the reclamation level for the whole development based on extreme storm events, among other things,” explains Atkins’ ports and maritime associate Richard Hill. “We had to work with all the other disciplines involved – covering aspects like the footprint for building design, specs for the reclamation sand, road design and position, abutment details, revetment tie-ins and so forth. There was a large team of people involved, to say the least, and that needed to be carefully co-ordinated.”

The team to which Hill refers included specialist input from eight Atkins offices in the Middle East and the UK. Effective, efficient project management has been vital to the project, and on a grand scale.

“One of Atkins’ greatest strengths is its ability to treat a project as a project and not to get overwhelmed by its size or complexity,” Hill explains. “For Durrat Al Bahrain, for example, the volume of materials required raised some sourcing issues, but these were overcome. Soil investigation studies were conducted and it was discovered that a lot of material could be sourced from relatively close by, which helped with the reclamation process.

“There were also areas with potential silt deposits and soft deposits, which could have caused issues with liquefaction or long-term settlement, but we were able to address these concerns early on,” he points out.

In addition, projects such as these came under fire with regard to the environmental impact of the work involved. There have been claims the coastline could be damaged and that the delicate balance of marine life could be irreversibly altered.

The environmental impact of land reclamation is something Atkins recognises as crucial in the planning stages of a project: “Atkins was involved in the environmental impact assessment work on Durrat Al Bahrain right from the outset. There were a number of mitigating features that have been built in to satisfy the environmental concerns. We have gone to great lengths to consider the environmental impact of the project and to produce a quality product, considering water movement for example.”

With a project on this scale, he adds, the marine design and engineering element has to take pole position, because both the contractors and the client want to have a lot of the land formed early on.

“You have to get everything agreed by all parties from the start,” he adds. “The legacy of the decisions you make at the beginning are there for everyone else to deal with throughout the project, so you need to take on board a lot of the considerations up front.”

The world is your oyster

While work on Durrat Al Bahrain continues apace – the first phase of the project is due for completion in 2008 – land reclamation for one of the latest mega projects in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is also well on its way.

The World, off the coast of Dubai, is a series of 300 island developments that, when viewed from the sky, provides an image of a global map. This will be home to private residences, resorts and leisure destinations within the next four years.

One of the biggest challenges faced by Nakheel – the Dubai construction giant behind this development, as well as The Palm Trilogy – was finding people with the design skills to undertake such a huge land reclamation project. The experience Atkins had already gained on the Durrat Al Bahrain Resort Project meant that it was well prepared for the work involved and when it was invited into the project, it was able to proceed with open eyes.

“Our involvement in The World is specifically on the Coral Island Resort,” says Hill. “We’re working through the Dubai office supported by a team of marine, ports and maritime specialists in the UK. We’re working with Nakheel on the marine design, land reclamation, beaches, coastal processes, design of the ports, marinas and other marine features of the development.” Nakheel has also partnered with the United Nations University to research and manage the waters surrounding all of its waterfront projects.

“Essentially, the islands are piles of sand in the sea, so we need to figure out what needs to be done in order to be able to install services on them and build villas, roads and a hotel. We’re working from that perspective,” says Hill.

“We have to understand the behaviour of the sand in this environment – its particle make-up, its movement underwater, its stability in the wave environment. We also have to understand the protection systems that such reclamation projects require in terms of edge, treatment, rock armour and geo-textile, and systems to control sediment transport and scour attack.

“Initially, our reaction was to evaluate the need for more sand, considering the level of the island in relation to the ‘extreme’ high water mark, then to understand the performance under regular wave attack and storm waves, assessing its behaviour as a consequence of various factors, such as erosion, settlement and liquefaction during seismic activity.

“We’re looking at all these aspects with regard to these big piles of sand – it’s like building permanent six-storey sand castles in the sea,” Hill says.

With so many off-the-coast projects taking shape along the UAE coastline, it’s boom time if you are in the business of land reclamation. But Nakheel is aware the supply of sand available does have a limit – using experts who will be extremely efficient is vital.

“We get the sand needed from right along the coast,” says Ali Mansour, project director of The Palm, Jebel Ali. “We have to make sure that the sand we dredge is used correctly and, when it is compacted, no mistakes are made. Nakheel works with partners in this and we only use those with the expertise to do the job properly.”

The right skills set

To take advantage of the popularity of developments that require land reclamation, Hill points out, Atkins has nurtured talent that can rise to a challenge: “We have developed that experience in the UK, with a new, younger team, bringing on board a designer focus on elements like sea revetments, quay walls, breakwaters, marinas, land reclamation and ground stability. All of this is being used purely to support leisure developments and the leisure market, where you want it to look aesthetically pleasing and the end-

user is essentially sitting out enjoying the sunshine and the marine environment,” he says.

Whenever homes or villas go on sale on The Palm Trilogy, The World or Durrat Al Bahrain, the response is huge and there is no shortage of other investors wanting a piece of the action. Donald Trump is putting a hotel on The Palm, Jumeirah, while Nakheel and Cirque du Soleil have announced plans for a permanent show on the island.

“The World poses some interesting challenges for everyone involved in its creation,” says Hill. “It is 4km out to sea and there is no land link. How do you make that work? How do you get power to the development, where they have daily deliveries of fresh produce and want their towels shipped out to be cleaned and new towels brought in every day? How do you get all that to work?

“These are just a few of the many challenges posed by a complex project such as this and Nakheel is dealing with them on a daily basis. Atkins is working with Nakheel to make it a reality,” he says.

Home away from home

For those outside of the UAE or the Kingdom of Bahrain watching these remarkable projects being developed, of course, the first question that springs to mind is: why? One or two iconic developments may be understandable, but Dubai and Bahrain seem to be going for scale across the board – why not start small and build up to something bigger?

“If you’re going to create such islands, there’s got to be a commercial aspect to it,” explains Hill. “You need to ensure the number of residents and hotels provide a certain number of people in order for the land sale value to pay back the costs of getting this material in place. I can’t see it being commercially viable to try to place small islands in the same environment.

“These projects are driven by the residential, leisure and tourism markets, putting this part of the Middle East on the map,” Hill points out. “At the end of the day, they want tourists to visit this exciting part of the world.”

A pearl of an idea

Durrat Al Bahrain was conceived by Durrat Khajeel Al Bahrain (DKAB), a joint venture by Kuwait Finance House and The Government of the Kingdom of Bahrain. At the heart of the project was the development of a 20km2 (5km x 4km) reclaimed site, turning it into a resort with the potential to cater for up to 60,000 people.

It is made up of 12 man-made islands, featuring 10,000 homes ranging from city centre apartments to beach villas, as well as hotels, a golf course, marina, shopping malls, a grand mosque and a purpose built public beach. The first phase of the project is due for completion in 2008, with development continuing for several years thereafter.

Middle East & Africa,