Entertainment and leisure


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,

The purpose of these watchful guardians became clear as we observed them “rescue” stranded tube-riders, one after another, from pools, eddies, and other trouble spots, giving them the push they needed to move them downstream and through the ride. Though charming, the west park clearly lacked the planning and efficiency that was enjoyed, no doubt by tubers and lifeguards alike, in the rides of the east park. This likely stood out more to me than the average park-goer because of my involvement in a numerical modeling project for a whitewater rafting and kayaking run, while working at Aquaveo.

S2O Design, the design firm for RIVERSPORT Rapids—which is currently being built in Oklahoma City, OK—was building a small-scale physical model of the site and wanted results from a numerical model to better understand how the rapids would work and to ensure the runs provided the best possible experience for the riders. Serving both recreational riders and Olympic hopefuls, the venue includes two runs—a faster, more challenging competition run and a slower, more leisurely recreational run. Although the runs are separate from each other, they share the same upper and lower pools, which created a unique challenge to come up with a one-size-fits-all solution for these areas.

The numerical modeling project that took place over several months was complex, challenging, and exhilarating. Over the course of developing the project, I learned several valuable lessons:

Lesson 1: Before you go big, you gotta go small

White water flow - video

The success of a large scale, technically challenging project often relies on science performed on the small screen. A numerical model gives an engineer the ability to see the hydraulic impacts of a proposed design concept before the designs are constructed. It also lets an engineer tweak the design and rerun the analysis without the high costs of brick and mortar changes.

This was the case with the design of the whitewater venue. For all the fast-moving currents and whitewater rapids, the biggest concern was the entrance pool, where the motion of riders relies more on level currents than on gravity. A well designed entrance pool lets water expand to form still water areas while maintaining a slow, steady current towards the launching area. A bad design could either sweep riders away too fast or trap them in eddies causing jams at the entrance. For the whitewater model it was the latter, and a subtle change to the angle of a sidewall was all it took to fix—a small, simple change in a computer model that paid big dividends to the success of the course.

Lesson 2: Don’t assume the most expensive tool is the best, test

The federal government has had a bad track record with their 2D models in the past. But having an open mind and testing the US Bureau of Reclamations Sedimentation and River Hydraulics in Two Dimensions (SRH-2D) served me well. I was able to compare the results of the computer model with measurements obtained in the small-scale physical model to gauge accuracy. I tested two other proprietary models for comparison and found that SRH-2D was the most accurate and had the fastest run-time (and was also cheaper and easier to use). Although proprietary models still have their place and always will, it was evident from this study that government-developed 2D models have found their place too—and it’s not just in academia. It’s important to continuously test a variety tools for best performance. Sometimes you are pleasantly surprised.

Lesson 3: When models are wrong, you should know why

Velocity Contours
Velocity Contours Model - courtesy of Aquaveo

While testing, I discovered all 3 numerical models were reporting much higher velocities than the physical model, although everything else was testing out well. With limited time and budget, I decided not to invest the time to truly understand why the velocity results were not matching up in order to focus on what I was able to verify. I was asked to give a conference presentation on the project, and made a fair attempt to explain the velocity discrepancy without dwelling on it. But when I got to the Q&A session, my heavily academic audience was less than forgiving. It was an uncomfortable lesson, but I now know that it’s okay if a model is wrong, as long as you know the reason why. And if you don’t know the reason why, it’s better to state that, than to glance over. Over the next couple months, I dug into several journal articles and found the answer I was looking for and by the time I presented the study at a separate conference several months later, dissatisfied raised hands were replaced by approving nods. I learned small discrepancies are not to be overlooked—they are there to teach us big lessons.

"Design for whitewater parks is fraught with uncertainty. The design of turbulent flows has to be tailored to the specific tastes of the users to create waves, hydraulic jumps, eddies, and jets that cater to surfers, kayakers, and rafters of all levels. 2D models provide a great way to visualize actual features and the finer nuances, allowing us to optimize our design before creating the physical model."

Scott Shipley, M.S., P.E., President/Owner, S20 Design and Engineering 

The numerical modeling project was successful and provided important feedback that eliminated trouble spots in the physical model, and ultimately contributed to a better overall design for the whitewater venue—confirming flow patterns in the physical model and eliminating eddies in the entrance pool. Not only will the project allow lifeguards to enjoy the excitement from a perched tower instead of standing waist deep in the water, it has opened doors to new possibilities for analyzing complex hydraulics accurately and within budget.

The park is set to open in March 2016 and will feature canoeing, kayaking and rafting for Olympic trainers and the general public. It will also be used for water rescue training. Just as this park taught me a few lessons, I’m sure it will also teach some aspiring athletes and water rescue professionals a few lessons as well. It’s sure to be a treasured feature of Oklahoma City for decades to come.

Watch the small-scale physical model video reproduced here with kind permission from S20 Design and Engineering:



North America,

“Someone pointed out to me a long time ago that if you cast a human head and hold it in your hands, it’s quite a disagreeable object, it’s a scary thing, so I tend to make my figures either smaller or larger than life,” explains artist Sean Henry, in an interview with Sveriges Television in Sweden.

His latest work, Couple fits his modus operandi: the two painted bronze figures are roughly five metres tall, and stand some 230m out to sea on what the artist’s website describes as “a newly built island breakwater, designed to protect the town and the new beach at Newbiggin-By-The-Sea.“

This is part of a £10m regeneration and coastal protection scheme implemented by Northumberland Strategic Partnership (NSP), the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and Wansbeck District Council.

Atkins has worked in close partnership with Wansbeck District Council on the project for the last ten years, from the technical aspects of the breakwater construction and artwork installation to consultation on various aspects of the regeneration scheme in place along the coast.

Terry Boulton, Atkins’ project supervisor, said the work began with a survey to establish seabed levels for the breakwater, while the huge inter-locking concrete blocks that were used to build up the sea defence structure were manufactured at a Port of Blyth site at Battleship Wharf, Cambois.

According to Ian Heijne, the chief engineer and project director for Atkins, “this whole project has been really important for the local community. The work on the breakwater has effectively given the people back their beach and generated greater interest in the area for further potential development.

“As for Couple, it provided Atkins with a unique opportunity to integrate artwork into the engineering design of the breakwater structure,” says Heijne. “The structure’s design has provided a focus for the whole project team to rise to the challenge.”

UK & Europe,