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Yas Waterworld: From heritage to high thrills

Yas Waterworld in Abu Dhabi heralds a triumph of innovation in design for Atkins. The first water park of its kind, it has evolved from a purely water-based park to an adventure attraction complete with interactive rollercoasters. As designers and theme leaders on the park, Atkins’ architects and engineers from the UK and Middle East will be celebrating their contribution when it opens in January 2013.

Yas Island – Abu Dhabi’s leisure island – already comprises the Formula 1 Yas Marina Circuit, Ferrari World and Yas Links golf course supported by five hotels and serviced apartments. The award-winning Yas Waterworld is an integral part of Yas Island’s entertainment portfolio and is the newest tourism beacon for Abu Dhabi, drawing regional and international crowds. 

Having previously worked as designers on the Wild Wadi Aqua Park in Dubai, Atkins was commissioned to plan and design the project, with a key remit to maximise sustainable design standards throughout the park in order to achieve an Estidama Pearl One sustainability rating. By pairing advanced technology with exceptional planning and engineering, our design reduces energy use and water consumption.

Traditional meets modern

Devised and developed by the Atkins design team led by Tom Wright, the story represents the culture of modern Abu Dhabi, while paying tribute to Emirati culture and the country’s pearl diving heritage. The use of traditional architecture and theming celebrates Middle Eastern heritage and history and conjures a feel of old Arabia. It follows the adventures of Dana, a young Emirati girl in search of a legendary lost pearl which would return prosperity and fortune to the people of her fishing village. Along her journey Dana is joined by a cast of characters inspired by our architects’ original concept – from evil bandits to kind-hearted dolphins.

Tom Wright, Atkins’ design director, recalls: “We were asked by the client to create the best aqua park in the world with an Arabian fantasy theme. We drew together a multidisciplinary design team that harnessed together our local knowledge, our international experience and a bunch of out-of-the-box creative thinkers. The result speaks for itself, with two major design awards under its belt already.

“Yas Waterworld is set to become the new bench mark in themed aqua park design. I can’t wait to have a go!”

Spreading across more than 11 hectares, the park features 43 rides, slides and attractions set among caves, mountains, rivers and beaches, including four unique ‘world’s first’ rides and activities never before seen in a water park.

Knitting spaghetti

Like elegant filigree jewellery, Yas Waterworld is crafted from bespoke elements. But the task of designing, drawing and specifying so many unique elements to create this incredible stage-set was a huge challenge.

The Pearl Crag mountain alone is one of the most intricate of designs. The whole concept for the team was akin to knitting spaghetti, with rides, slides and scenery intersecting with pedestrian walkways and bridges. All of the rockwork and the 1.2 million km of supporting steelwork were modelled in 3D (as was the entire park) and then interwoven with the coaster paths diving around shards of rock, over bridges and through caves. Careful attention was paid to the accessibility of ride platforms to address guest safety, headroom issues and unnecessary queue lengths, and to maintain magnificent views across the site.

The technical challenges of creating the water park were demanding. At any given time, this involved the collaboration of around 30-40 engineers and environmental consultants with multiple skill sets from our offices in the UK and UAE. Attention to every detail was made to ensure that Emirati heritage was adhered to but to also maintain the element of fun. It was important to remain honest to the architecture while introducing light-hearted elements of over-sized structures and colour.

Award-winning design

Before it even opened, Yas Waterworld won two industry awards. At the World Waterpark Association (WWA) symposium in 2012, Atkins’ innovative design on Yas Waterworld won a Leading Edge Award in recognition of those who brought the project to fruition and demonstrated industry leadership and innovation. Judges highlighted Atkins for its design work and were impressed with the architectural ingenuity, theming and original storyline.

Meanwhile, our MEP work on Yas Waterworld scooped the Middle East Project of the Year 2012 at the prestigious MEP Awards, Middle East. The park required sophisticated and intelligent bespoke MEP design. MEP had to be located almost entirely underground to prevent almost 55.2km of pipework and 20.2km of cabling from interfering with rides, and to ensure that no services were visible to guests. Atkins worked in close collaboration with the sub-consultant to deliver cutting-edge aquatic systems process design as part of a fully integrated water park design team.

Yas Waterworld is the next evolution,” says Kevin Johnson, Atkins’ technical manager. “It really is the first hybrid waterpark uniting an exceptional waterpark experience with an interactive rollercoaster traditionally associated with theme parks and then adding interactive gaming throughout the park. For me, it’s all about the guest experience, not just on the amazing rides but at every turn on their journey around the park they will experience incredible theming and spectacular views.”

The park features 43 rides, slides and attractions.
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Pearl Crag mountain is one of the most intricate designs.
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Emirati heritage was integral to the park's design.
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Interweaving the different elements was akin to knitting spaghetti.
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Designers Kevin Johnson and Kate Lockey explain some of the themed features of Yas Waterworld.
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