Work details
Application Number 0000701526
Author Fairbanks, Bruce Stewart, Spain
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Work title: Greening Abu Dhabi (0000701526)

The city of Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates; the city centre is located on an island off the Arabian Gulf coast. After visiting Abu Dhabi many times, the authors of this proposal felt confident that the original 1970s layout of the city offers many lessons on how successful urban planning can be carried out. Greening Abu Dhabi is an analysis and speculative exercise on how to improve the problems that the city centre faces today and how to enhance its original qualities. Abu Dhabi''s urban centre is organized by a grid of large avenues that create a super-block structure (with typical blocks measuring around 1,000 x 700 m), the perimeter of the blocks (and thus the avenues) are lined-up with 20 storey blocks, behind these blocks a smaller scale structure of streets and buildings unfolds (normally around 5 or 6 storey tall). This situation is not dissimilar to that happening in Manhattan Island, where a grid of avenues and streets organizes the island into a domestic block structure. The high potential of this layout lies in the fact that it allows for two different cities to live shoulder to shoulder: the large scale of the capital city on the one hand, and the small domestic scale of a periphery neighbourhood on the other. In spite of this powerful structure, general opinion tends to despise the urban design of the city, and instead of focusing on strengthening the structure, the current urban plans tend to sprawl the city in a way similar to that of not far away Dubai. An urban analysis allows to evaluate the strong and positive aspects to be found in Abu Dhabi Central Area as well as identifying the weakest points of the urban structure and its problems in order to propose alternatives and improvements. Eight urban situations have been identified that today create a poor impression but that with due improvement could create a rich network of varied urban spaces. As can be seen in the small cards arranged around a test-area which we analysed by thoroughly walking it and understanding the richness of actions and people to be found, many situations are completely wasted, but whenever, even in an informal way, solutions have been carried out such as the myriad of small gardens depicted, the results are stunning. In most places the urban structure isn''t being used to a fraction of its potential since cars have invaded the interior of the avenue grid and due also to the low maintenance and lack of purpose in the design for the interior of the blocks. Greening Abu Dhabi is a proposal to create a more livable, more ecological city centre for Abu Dhabi by enhancing the potential of its'' existing conditions. The advantage of Abu Dhabi''s super-block structure is that vehicular traffic can be limited to major streets on the exterior of the block while the interior area can be widely pedestrian. A network of green carpets can be developed throughout the interior of all city blocks creating high quality neighbourhood realms. Vehicular traffic in the city will ultimately be reduced to the main streets and pedestrian traffic will increase. The correct treatment of the pedestrian space through shading and planting will make Abu Dhabi a better city to live in. The proposed green carpet layout will include landscaping that follows the gardening traditions in the Gulf and Middle East Regions. Shaded paths will guarantee that pedestrians are protected from the sun during the warm months and every 100 to 150 meters a respite plaza will be created where a cocktail of architectural strategies will be applied in order to improve the conditions and offer cooler areas for pedestrians during the hard summer months (when temperatures can reach 50ºC in the shade), these plazas are located in cool-pits, these are created by slightly lowering the street level and slightly entrenching the areas, so that the final sensation is that the plaza level is nearly two meters bellow street level, extensive shading is provided by multi layer artificial tree structures that allow climbers to grow on them in order to produce natural shading while avoiding radiation over users bellow (and while waiting for real trees to grow to an acceptable scale). The artificial tree structures also include a wind-tower system that will scoop fresh air to the square bellow at certain times of the day; another way of improving the conditions and create a respite sensation will be by means of a geothermal cool floor system. The different techniques must be applied at suitable times, and they will all not work simultaneously, in any case, the difference in the level of the plaza and the street will allow to use the shape and inertia of the landscaped areas and the terrain to trap to a certain degree the cool air that will be generated (creating cool-pits). The cool-pit plazas also house the accesses to the underground parking structures that will absorb the traffic and parked cars that today completely mess the urban quality of the city as originally planned. The strength of this proposal is that it takes full advantage of the super-block structure, allowing it to work in a similar way to that of Manhattan, where neighbourhood realms with quiet streets and pocket gardens are just meters away from the dazzling avenues of a large cosmopolite city. A city system where frontiers and barriers are diluted is possible. It is our conviction that the terrain plain must act as public space, where a widest range of activities is made possible (walking, playing, resting, sporting, praying, etc.), and where different types of city come together at very small distances, the domestic and the metropolitan scale only 20 meters away from each other. It is from our point of view a mistake to create separate urban areas for office buildings, residential areas, ministry areas, etc.; the strongly mixed existing urban structure produces a rich environment that if properly managed and maintained will potentially lead to a city of the highest quality. In summary, we believe the future of the ground plain should follow an increase in its role as public space; as is typical in middle eastern caravanserais and souks, the ground plain may extend indoors through a rich network of patios and spaces of different qualities (such as hotel lobbies, sky roofs, etc). The choice of Abu Dhabi as a testing site is important because a potentially rich layout is existing but until very recently has been despised by authorities and planning agents who have renounced to it in favour of suburban developments. The proposed land use will be that proper to the public space, this is whatever is typically done in public spaces throughout the world, as already mentioned, from playing, resting, sporting, to praying, exercising, eating, drinking, reading the newspaper, etc. in the best comfort conditions possible throughout the year. We propose a vertical segregation between types of traffic, bringing cars bellow ground within the block structures and keeping a pedestrian realm on the surface. It is important to highlight how capital the coordination between both realms is, since similar exercises have been carried out in the past without success due to the lack of a proper underlying concept and poor landscaping that did not address the specific climatic conditions of the city of Abu Dhabi. The increase in comfort for the covered walkways and pedestrian areas has taken into consideration the use of natural elements such as vegetation and the lowest use of energy possible.