Outside is Now in for Abu Dhabi

6 March 2017

As published in 'Connected Cities'

Plans to redevelop Abu Dhabi’s Khalidiya Ladies Park reflect a new approach to outdoor projects, offering activities for the whole community in an easily accessible and extensively shaded setting

Abu Dhabi’s sweltering climate often deters architects from designing outdoor, community-focused projects, but Benoy’s  latest designs for the Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak Park aim to introduce a new type of community living based on outdoor space.

The 46,000m2 project, at what was formerly the Khalidiya Ladies Park, includes 12,500m2 of retail and leisure space and a new concept of outdoor space for Abu Dhabi.

Commissioned by the Department of Municipal Affairs & Transport at Abu Dhabi City Municipality, the open-air environment will host a variety of new features, activities and events designed to support Abu Dhabi Vision 2030 - the emirate’s strategic plan for the development of professionally designed, sustainable and well-managed urban environments.

The key focus of the plan is sustainability, protecting and enhancing traditions, and respecting the region’s diverse communities.

“We were keen to think about connectivity in both a social and physical sense,” says Paul Priest, director and head of Benoy’s Middle East and North Africa studios.

“On this project the first thing we did was take down the walls around the site - the park was an enclosed space previously, and we wanted to make this gesture to open up the area. We wanted to make the park physically and visibly connected, and bring the public in.”

The overall aim at the park has been to introduce a new approach to public space design, connecting the project to both the local community and landscape. Boosting the community feel of the park will be new playgrounds, parks, shops, cafes and cultural areas, plus a cycling track and organic food market.

The park’s design also includes a ladies’ centre, with a park in the courtyard; an Arab States Park botanical park; education suites; a natural playing area; a shaded playground for children; a fitness area; a valley extending along the road; and an urban forest.

Connectivity a central theme

Design started this year on the $25m renovation project. Benoy will carry out the scheme’s master planning, architecture, interior design and wayfinding elements, with connectivity a central theme and the space between buildings seen as being as important as the buildings themselves.

“It is the first project of its type we’ve worked on in Abu Dhabi,” says Priest.

“As a starting point, architects typically focus on the buildings themselves; in this case we’ve started with the public spaces and the architecture has been formed around that. It’s been almost the reversal of a traditional brief for us.”

Vehicles and parking spaces will be left outside the park, where there will also be connections with local bus routes to encourage public transport use.

Most of the retail space and restaurants will be situated along the borders of the development, facing inwards towards the green parklands.

One of the project’s key elements is a focus on building an organic public realm, and one result of this approach is that the design includes a large amphitheatre with a plaza for events and community activities.

The addition of a mosque within the site further emphasises the connection to the community and traditions.

The park’s design intentionally appeals to a very broad demographic and Benoy’s aim is to draw a diverse cross-section of visitors to the space. A changing calendar of activities will run throughout the year and include handicrafts, carnivals, festivals and art events.

As an open-air, multi-dimensional destination, Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak Park has been designed to represent a completely new type of connected community project in Abu Dhabi. The architect hopes this style of connected, community living will raise the bar for developments in the region.

In the UAE, many people prefer to stay indoors when the temperature soars, but special care has been given at the new park to encourage the community to get outside and enjoy the outdoor space.

Extensive shading has been included using canopies and trees and there has been a focus on increasing the airflow between buildings. During times of extreme heat, the various buildings and creative hub will also offer visitors respite, as will the stores and cafes around the site.

Bringing people out to play

“It’s always a challenge to deal with the weather here, but I think there’s a real value in trying to bring people outdoors,” concludes Priest.

“With that in mind, we are trying to create as much natural shade in the project as possible and offer a variety of cooling spaces.

“We are making sure the park keeps offering plenty of new activities to encourage people to go back - there will be a number of different facilities, plus the retail and leisure offer, all based around a community hub, and plenty of topical events based around the calendar. Every time you go back to the park there will be something new and relevant.

“We hope this will be a new way to think of public spaces in Abu Dhabi.”

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