Urban Compass Predicts UAE’s Urban Trends for 2014

Re-launching Urban Fabric with a new annual feature called “Urban Compass.” Like a compass, these five  trends will guide the UAE’s urban development in 2014:

1. World Expo 2020 — Rising rents, metro expansion, “tourism dirham” hotel tax, Dubai World Central’s continued development, and maritime developments are all being driven by World Expo 2020.

A masterplan for the 438-hectare site is coming in Q3 2015. USD 24 billion in spending. 25 million visitors. 300,000 jobs. And it’s only six years away.

2. Rise of Smart CitiesDubai Smart City, announced by HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (UAE Vice President and Prime Minister, and Ruler of Dubai), will drive the city’s advancement into a global “Smart City” leader. Self-driving cars, advanced utilities monitoring, and integrated healthcare are all in the fast lane.

But it’s not all Jetsons-type fantasies. GCC cities are also ramping up Smart City initiatives to become more globally competitive. Don’t count out Abu Dhabi, Doha, or the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s six Economic Cities!

3. More Mass Transit — Extending Dubai Metro’s Red and Green lines and the tram is a modest plan for World Expo 2020, considering that metro daily ridership has tripled since 2010, now standing room only at 366,000. Abu Dhabi’s 131 km metro and tram lines and Etihad Rail’s commuter rail projects are fast-approaching.

Now is the time for Dubai to think big and develop a mass transit plan on par with New York’s never-finished “Second System“. If Sheikh Zayed Road is double-decked, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have trains or BRT on the lower deck?

Transit oriented development at Union Square.

Artistic impression of the new multi-facility Transit Oriented Development to be built at Union Square. / Courtesy RTA via Gulf News.

4. Transit-Oriented Development — Considering Abu Dhabi only has bus lines, the capital gets transit-oriented development: dense, walkable, mixed-use development on corners and mass transit lines. Dubai’s moving ahead with a massive development at Union Station. Ibn Batuta seems ripe for development.

5. Mobile Technology — Dubai’s RTA has a several mobile apps, the ability to pay metro fare via NFC-enabled smartphones, and recently launched Nol card bus fare payment to Abu Dhabi. In Abu Dhabi, NYU AD students have created a version of the Dérive app to become a flâneur in the capital. Expect more tech and transit integration. GPS-tracked buses should be next.

City to Watch: Sharjah. The Islamic Capital of Culture for 2014 has kicked off with the Sharjah Light Festival, and has a wide range of activities for the year.

Darkhorse City to Watch: Fujairah. This East Coast town is flush with oil money, and developing fast. In 10 years, it could be the next Abu Dhabi.

David Chipperfield: Doha’s Msheireb is ‘Optimistic’ Model for Urban Regeneration

Part of Behind the Blueprints series of interviews with architects and urban influencers.

DOHA — Doha’s forthcoming Msheireb neighbourhood is an “optimistic” example of how cities can learn from their past, proclaimed prominent British architect David Chipperfield.

David Chipperfield is a fan of Doha’s Msheireb neighbourhood. / Image via Doha Architecture Forum.

“The reason we love cities is for their complexity, for the collision of different values and different things, that organic quality,” Chipperfield said at a Doha Architecture Forum talk at the Museum of Islamic Art in mid-June. “How do we learn from the historic and organic city?” Msheireb, he said, “is a real step in planning areas of the city here, it’s a very optimistic development direction.”

Chipperfield also focussed on urban organic development as director of the 13th Venice Architecture Biennale in 2012, with the theme “Common Ground”. (Interview with Dezeen below.)

“We confuse public space for retail space, which (public space) isn’t all to do with eating or shopping,” he told the packed auditorium. “I’m not saying we shouldn’t have retail space or luxury housing, but how do we make sure the city is rich in diversity in ways that are real, not monolithic?”

Al Shaqab Hotel

Artist’s rendering of Chipperfield’s Al Shaqab Hotel in Doha. / Image via Astad.

Chipperfield’s career has been largely outside of his native England. He’s in Doha to work with Qatar Foundation on the Al Shaqab Hotel, previously collaborating on a museum-like space in the ancient ruins of Naqa/Naga’a, Sudan.

Chipperfield studied architecture at Kingston University’s Art School, and trained under Modern architects Norman Foster and Richard Rogers, who changed the “gentlemanly” and isolated profession, he said. But with work hard to find at home, Chipperfield wound up overseas designing shops in Japan.

“Given our contemporary condition that we are inevitably globalised, what’s important is that it forces you to think what you could do in that place, the possibilities and context of what that place could be,” Chipperfield said on working abroad. “I wasn’t an established architect with a certain style, I had to work out what was appropriate and what might be a clue or a way in from the physical or social context that might start that process.

Neues Museum

The Neues Museum in Berlin had been a bombed-out ruin before Chipperfield’s restoration. / Image via Arch Daily, Flickr’s stijn.

“It’s always been in someone else’s city, and you have to be a bit sensitive that you’re playing with someone else’s place.” He added: “As an outsider, you can identify qualities that others can’t see, and concentrate that experience.”

Perhaps his best known work is the restoration of the bombed-out Neues Museum in Berlin, housing ancient artifacts, and won the Mies van der Rohe 2011 Award.

Chipperfield’s also acclaimed for Turner Contemporary, his first public building in England. Located in Margate, it pairs historical work of landscape artist JMW Turner with contemporary artists.

Turner Contemporary

Turner Contemporary in Margate, UK, optimises the northern light. / Image via de zeen.

“[Turner] said: ‘These are the most beautiful skies in all of Europe,'” Chipperfield beamed. “The light comes off the water, and the galleries get their light from the north. The idea is to make these rooms like small studios, as if the artist had just gone out to lunch.”

Chipperfield also designed BBC Scotland HQ, with a walkway on top of studios, and in my home of Philadelphia, he did the Penn Museum Masterplan.

“We have to find ways to find a bridge between the viewer, experiencer and architecture, and that can’t just be a sort of amazement,” Chipperfield said. “It’s a difficult one, especially at a large scale, in a place like Doha where we can be tempted into being a bit too literal. The use of recogniseable forms like silhouette and shapes, the visceral quality of materials, are ways by which we might befriend occupants.” -30-

Massimiliano Fuksas: Focus on Cinematic Architecture

How do you translate the visual language of iconic films into striking architecture?

By the dynamic interplay of light and water, according to Italian architect Massimiliano Fuksas, who presented on his wide-ranging work at the Doha Architecture Forum, with an opening by Msheireb’s Architectural Language Advisor Tim Makower, at the Msheireb Enrichment Centre in mid-May.

Ferrari HQ

Fuksas’ Ferrari’s HQ in Italy, partially inspired by directors Hitchcock and Kubrick, by Maurizio Marcato via Architecture Lab.

“If a building is dancing with the light, it’s a nice building,” Fuksas continued. “If it does not have vibration or emotion, it cannot work. It’s not enough to do only function, there are a lot of buildings that do only function. They ask for us something else — passion, emotion.”

Perhaps Fuksas’ best-known work is the Ferrari Operational Headquarters and Research Centre in Maranello, Italy (2004).

“When you see water, and the ceiling, and the reflection — the ceiling becomes dynamic,” he said excitedly. “Inside, it’s inspired by Hitchcock. You see a quiet Japanese garden, you can do a theatrical promenade, you can see, watch and arrive in an area with water. [One of the meeting rooms] looks like a Kubrick movie, with a void and red glass.”

Similarly inspiring is the Nardini Grappa Distillery (2004). Confined to an area walled in by trees, Fuksas was tasked to design an auditorium and research centres.

“At lunch, I did a project on the dish,” he said. “We put two wine bubbles, and we built. This is a typical Italian magical mystery!”

Fuksas designed two UFO-like glass pods, each with 365 glass panels, for research labs, and one doubles as an exhibition space, with a below-ground auditorium. Fuksas employed local artisans to construct the whole site.

“These stairways are coming into the water and come down, and there are some bubbles that take the light during the day and light up at night,” Fuksas said. “That’s what I love — the tension.”

During the wide-ranging talk, he also touched on the serpentine glass-covered New Milan Trade Fair in Italy, the wonderfully organic flower-shaped civic buildings in Tbilisi, Georgia, and the engineering marvel honeycombed Shenzhen International Airport’s Terminal 3 in China to open in 2015.

Fuksas says Doha can test future urbansim. / Giorgio Muratore via Wikimedia Commons.

Fuksas was excited about the possibilities for a booming Doha. “Here, you’re in the beginning of an urban explosion, especially with globalisation,” he said.

Architects can test different urbanist approaches in Doha. “Test is a bad word, it has positive and negative connotations,” Fuksas said. “But we have to test how 7 billion people will be living in the future.”

One aspiring architect asked about developing an architectural canon. Fuksas disagreed.

“Take inspiration from nature, from love, from books. Go around the world, see everything. Everything can be an inspiration. Architecture is not a language — it’s many languages into one. That’s why I love architecture: one symbol for many languages.” -30-

Jean Nouvel’s National Museum of Qatar, Architecture of Light and Emotion

Jean Nouvel, the Pritzker Prize-winning French starchitect, is designing several important buildings in the Arabian Gulf — including the Louvre Abu Dhabi on Saadiyat Island and the signature skyscraper Doha Tower, with an outer skin resembling the Arabian latticework called mashrabiya.

In May 2013, Nouvel presented on his projects in dialogue with architect Todd Reisz, with a particular focus on the striking new National Museum of Qatar, slated to open in December 2014, according to the Qatar Museums Authority.

Originally Nouvel had proposed the National Museum of Qatar to be underground, but re-designed it with a “desert rose” pattern.

“It’s now more symbolic in direct view with the desert, with a crystallisation pattern that creates orthography of scale,” he said. “The walls become a symbol of modernity, with the whole building monochrome as if it’s in and out of the sand, and belongs to the ground.”

“My creations give geometry of light printed on the ground, with a tower like the minaret, and shadows on gliders [that] are part of the Arabian soul.” -Jean Nouvel, via DAF.

The centrepiece of the site is the former Qatar National Museum, which before being opened in 1975 was the Amiri Palace. It was built in 1918 by Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani, and the restoration led to an Agha Khan Award in 1980.

“It’s necessary to keep its nobleness,” Nouvel said of the former Amiri Palace. “All around there is an homage of a territory and strong contrast. There’s a caravanserai all around. Dive into the ground, and the desert rose frames the Royal Palace.”

Inside, visitors will discover a unique experience on exhibits about the desert, sea and the current global site of Qatar with ethnographic artifacts.

Doha Tower

Jean Nouvel’s Doha Tower, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

“It’s not only showing pieces of fabric, pots and camel saddles,” Nouvel quipped. “Here you arrive at a stream, and move like water in a torrent, with a dynamic visit and a new way to experience spaces and the structure. I want people to go to places — from the museum they can take a boat, car or helicopter trips to the desert, islands and all places in Qatar.”

Nouvel emphasised that his designs use technology to create emotion, from the Institute of the Arab World in Paris to Doha Tower.

“My creations give geometry of light printed on the ground,” Nouvel said, “with a tower like the minaret, and shadows on gliders [that] are part of the Arabian soul.”

Playing off his Torre Agbar in Barcelona, Doha Tower has an outer skin, and a helmet that resembles a 10th century Arabian book, he said. The Council on Tall Building and Urban Habitat named it the “Best Tall Building Worldwide” in 2012.

“A tower has to be seen from very far, it’s not something to be cloned,” Nouvel said. “It has to have a strong character, and a key is to reflect the history and geography. You see this (Doha Tower) alone, it could be an Arabian country — the permanent protection here couldn’t be in London.” -30-

eL Seed’s Calligraffiti Project in Doha Brings Art to Public

Tunisian-French street artist eL Seed is bringing art to the public of Doha, in his calligraffiti project on Salwa Road — one of the largest graffiti projects in the world.

eL Seed is working with a handful of community artists to decorate 52 walls on Salwa Road, totalling 730 metres of a riff on Arabic calligraphy painted in “Wild Style” graffiti — creating a unique art form called “calligraffiti”.

In April 2013, he discussed the project and public art with Rami El Samahy, architect and CMUQ professor, and architect Tim Makower, at the Doha Architecture Forum talk “Making the City Public.”

“We wanted to create a community project with the city, and bring art to people,” said eL Seed, whose Salwa Road project was commissioned by the Qatar Museums Authority and the Public Works Authority (Ashgal), which has a 5-part video series on YouTube. “Though I was commissioned, this is a community project, it’s their choice of colour and what to write.”

Some calligraphy writings are from Qatar’s national anthem, including such quotes as “Travel the high road; Travel by the guiding light of the Prophets” and “Doves they be at times of peace, Warriors they are at times of sacrifice,” according to Time Out Doha.

eL Seed has launched to international fame over the past year, as he stunningly decorated the Jara Mosque minaret in his hometown of Gabés, Tunisia, sparking conversation over the role of Arabic graffiti, public art and democracy. The project is being profiled in the upcoming film “Tacapes”.

eL Seed with sketches for his Salwa Road project in Doha, Qatar. / Courtesy eL Seed in Doha.

“At QMA, and in public art, we really try to bring the newest form, and we try to relate what we do to the Arab culture and to the company culture,” said Khalid Ali, project manager, QMA, in the first video. “So to have an artist like eL Seed to come here and do 52 panels, it’s huge.”

Despite Doha’s world-class museums, public art is mostly monuments in roundabouts — and even those are vanishing due to street straightening.

But can graffiti done on a highway underpass really be considered “public art”?

“Highway art is normal, like in Paris,” eL Seed said. “Even at 120 kph, you can see the art. For the mural, we created a ‘liquid alphabet,’ which moves with the viewer.”

Graffiti artist eL Seed says 90 percent of his work is improv freestyle while he’s painting, here at Salwa Road in Doha, Qatar. / Image courtesy eL Seed in Doha.

Addressing the tension between commissions and freestyle painting, eL Seed said: “I’m honoured to travel the world for commissions, but you lose the essence of your work if it’s only commissions. To keep subversive, I take a spray can and paint where I want to go. On Salwa Road, when I’m painting it’s like improv, 90 percent is freestyle.”

eL Seed criticised the street artists in the region who do not address the local social context, and the perceptions of audience members who asked about the link between graffiti and the underprivileged.

“A graffiti artist is does not have to be underprivileged,” eL Seed said, calling it a “Westernised mindset.” He added: “We all have the idea that graffiti is by the underprivileged, but for example in France, it’s by the well-off white people who are fighting the system. Would a legal wall (like New York’s 5 Pointz NYC) be a solution here?”

As eL Seed’s Doha project finishes up, does he have any plans to paint the town? “I’ve been spotting a lot of lost walls,” he said, “and I can’t leave with only Salwa Road.” -30-

Can Rem Koolhaas’ Qatar National Library Succeed in Promoting Literacy with Books?

QNL's Rare Arab Books Collection

Visitors descend into Qatar National Library’s Rare Arab Books collection like an explorer entering a Pharaoh’s tomb. / Photo: QNL.

Libraries must encourage interaction with books to promote literacy, even in the face of a rapidly digitising world, Pritzker-Prize winning architect Rem Koolhaas said at VCUQatar’s Tasmeem Doha art and design conference in Doha on 17 March.

“We have to make the encounter with the book inevitable and part of the experience itself,” Koolhaas said in his presentation “Hybrid-Making, Creativity and Luck.” The Dutch national’s OMA firm is designing Qatar Foundation’s Qatar National Library, set to open in Education City in 2014.

In the Qatar National Library’s brilliant design, the building’s corners are folded like books, creating entrances that lead to indoor terraces, enabling views of every book and department.

“It’s like archaeology,” Koolhaas said, “where you can walk over a city of books.” Visitors can then descend into the basement like an explorer entering a Pharaoh’s tomb, discovering the library’s gems of the Rare Arab Books collection.

All of this sounds fantastic — but will the current generation take to books like they have to mobile devices? “For a culture that’s working hard on literacy, it’s a good point of departure,” Koolhaas said.

Qatar’s National Library will include 60 online databases and 300 public computers, multimedia stations, a performance space and a cafe. The library is also a founding partner of UNESCO’s World Digital library to digitise 500,000 Qatar-related records.

Rem Koolhaas

Rem Koolhaas, of OMA. / Photo: OMA.

In Doha, Koolhaas is also designing HIA Airport City and the glowing cube of the Qatar Foundation Headquarters. OMA’s research studio AMO has fascinating Gulf studies in the Al Manakh online publication.

Koolhaas has experience designing libraries of the future, with the Seattle Public Library (2004). Its incredible design includes a welcoming space and computer terminals — but also stacks and a spiralling core of books.

Seattle Public Library has received rave reviews in the Times and New Yorker, though Project for Public Spaces says it “turns its back on the city.”

QNL's corners fold up like a book.

QNL’s corners fold up like a book, opening up entrances that lead to terraces. / Photo: QNL.

At the conference, one person asked Koolhaas if these kinds of buildings create challenges for people with special needs, but he disagreed.

“I once did a house for a person in a wheelchair, and he said, ‘I want the full complexity of the world. I’m a prisoner, and I want stimulation,'” Koolhaas explained. “I think [yours] is the wrong assumption, the opposite is twice as likely.” -30-

Behind-the-Scenes at Abu Dhabi’s Hyatt Capital Gate

How can Abu Dhabi’s stunning new ADNEC-funded Hyatt Capital Gate lean at 18 degrees — more than the Leaning Tower of Pisa? It’s not magic — it’s just amazing architecture and engineering.

We were treated to a special behind-the-scenes tour of the building thanks to the AIA’s Middle East chapter, and led by RMJM lead architect Jeff Schofield. (More multimedia coming in a few weeks.)

The most important aspect is the straight core, which allows for every floor and room to be slightly different as the building curves. It also helps for the back-end work of say, elevators to use in case of fire, which would’ve gone slack if the core had been diagonal.

Incredibly, there’s also a small infinity pool with breathtaking views of the island palaces, and even a helipad on the roof of the 35-story building. The sampling of the 5-star hotel’s 189 rooms are similar stunning. (There’s also office space.)

The roughly 30 attendees also got to see the “guts” of the building — the complex HVAC systems, the struts holding up the pool, and inside the clear glass “skin” of the building.

Afterwards we had lunch at the swank 18 Degrees restaurant, which had excellent chicken and fish, with great service.`If you’re staying in the city for an exhibition, and can afford it, the Capital Gate is surely one of the top hotels in the city. •

Dubai’s Pearl Jumeirah Nears Completion

Pearl Jumeirah, Dubai, in September 2011. / Image courtesy Meraas.

If you had USD $100 billion to design luxury living, what would you create?

Meraas, a Dubai-based government-owned developer, was tasked with that assignment, and unveiled dizzying plans for Jumeirah Gardens — villas, towers and hotels on reclaimed islands off of Jumeirah Beach — at the 2008 Cityscape Dubai, according to The National.

Four years later, the project has been downscaled but the centerpiece of the Pearl Jumeirah remains. The reclaimed island is 8.3 million square feet, with 300 residential plots, plus “a unique 2 km promenade, central common plaza, two open beaches and a waterfront beach hotel,” according to a company brochure.

Master plan for the Pearl Jumeirah, Dubai. / Image courtesy Meraas.

From the air it looks like a luxury Levittown, with suburban-style cul-de-sacs, but the artist renditions of life on the ground looks like a fairy tale: a family crossing a stone bridge to a gazebo filled with flowers, huge windows facing the downtown with the Burj Khalifa in the background, and palm trees lining the beachfront promenade along low-slung villas. In the heart is a community park. Everything looks fairly walkable.

Artist’s rendition of the beachfront promenade on the Pearl Jumeirah, Dubai. / Image courtesy Meraas.


So who has the money to buy these villas? Apparently a lot of people — in 2010, about half the buildings were sold, mostly to Emirati buyers, but also to wealthier nationalities from the Middle East and Asia, per The National.

Meraas is tight-lipped on when residents will move in, but in 2010 The National said it could be later this year.

Abu Dhabi Won’t Have a Times Square

One Times Square

Abu Dhabi won’t have a building like One Times Square in New York, which is covered in billboards. Photo: stephenbaron via Flickr.

Buried in this Construction Week article on new signage regulations, is the revelation that Abu Dhabi won’t have a (non-mall) central shopping/entertainment district with neon billboards like New York’s Times Square, London’s Leicester Square or Tokyo’s Shibuya district.

“New signage design guidelines indicate that no sign or portion of a sign may cover an integral architectural element of a structure, obstructs views into and out of business premises, or advertise third-party products,” writes Gerhard Hope. “The intention here is plain, but again it raises the issue of regulation and enforcement.”

Though I like Abu Dhabi’s mishmash of signs — especially the neon ones along Hamdan and Electra Streets — the government should be commended for its continued push for standardisation, and keeping traffic and people moving.

The UPC also approved Broadway Malyan’s masterplan for a 55,000-person neighbourhood on Yas Island, which had won the “Best Masterplan/Urban Design Project” at the Abu Dhabi Cityscape Awards 2011.

In Dubai, the RTA has awarded the Sufouh Tram project maintenance contract to France’s Alstom Co and the Emirati-Belgian Cofely-Besix Co., and Emaar is set to add another 93,000 square meters to the Dubai Mall, reclaiming its spot as largest in the world.

Qatar is also looking at transportation projects, with construction on Doha’s metro beginning in 2013, with Qatar Railways signing a USD 535 million contract for the Lusail light rail line. Darwish’s Lagoona Mall, near Doha’s The Pearl, opened.

Farther in the region, it’s fascinating to read about the mixed bag of Soviet-era architecture of occupation in Afghanistan, from middle class housing blocks to schools, a bread factory and abandoned pool.

Skyline Stories: New Penn Station?, Housing and Foreclosure Maps, Drexel University Expansion, Augmented Reality

Big national news that some Republicans attempting to remove all non-highway/road funding, and Obama’s recently passed but potentially unsuccessful foreclosure and underwater mortgage bailout (Reuters)…but we’re not tackling those because nothing’s certain yet.

Moynihan Station would move Amtrak into the Post Office, but it will hardly affect 95 percent of Penn Station's commuters. Move Madison Square Garden to Javits and create a new light-filled Penn Station. / Image via NYT.

The Times has an incredibly in-depth map of the nation’s housing (NYT), and related maps show that home foreclosures are damaging cities and metropolitan areas, not just exurban zombie subdivisions (Atlantic Cities and WSJ).

Lots of new redevelopment plans — retrofitting many of the country’s 110,000 suburban malls into walkable downtowns (NYT), the Times ponders if the city move Madison Square Garden to Hudson Yards Site in exchange for a new grand Penn Station (NYT) and London opened its new Olympic Park (Guardian).

Artist's rendering of planned Drexel University project, housing 869 students and 11 retail businesses. / Image via Philly.com.

In Philly, Drexel University continues to expand in West Philly (Philly.com), the Reading Terminal celebrates its 120th anniversary (Philadelphia Business Journal) and the city now has its second historic industrial district with the new Wayne Junction National Historic District (Newsworks).

Volunteer planners are helping community groups in creating plans to improve the oversized and dangerous Queens Boulevard in New York (Urban Omnibus), and the same could happen in Philly with the Planning Commission graduating another class of citizen planners (Plan Philly).

Unfortunately, the state can’t come up with $100 million for SEPTA to renovate the City Hall station (Philly.com) and Florida’s high speed rail line would’ve been profitable within 10 years (Tampa Bay Online). But it’s good to see the Hiway Theater recreating its original marquee (Philly.com).

The Industrial Trust gondola, circa 1983. / Image via Providence Journal.

One of my favorite Philly buildings: Jacob Reed’s Sons Building from 1904 in Arts and Crafts Movement (Plan Philly), and the awesome Art Deco Industrial Trust Building in Providence, Rhode Island — with an airship docking station! (Providence Journal)

In tech news, the downside of technology and the city is the loss of surprise — Design Observer highlights the creeping marketing angle of augmented reality (Part 1 and Part 2), while the Times speaks of it in the death of the cyberflâneur…they’re intertwined but on opposite sides.

Two sides of trash — Hong Kong considers a “pay as you throw” system for garbage, but how can it calculate for apartments? (Atlantic Cities) and the gripping new book “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” on Mumbai’s Annawadi slum and the wider world of the perils of globalization (NYT).