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. •

Architects Debate Dubai’s Urban Planning Future in Connecting Neighborhoods

A postcard of Dubai, highlighting its iconic skyline. / Image via Postcards blog (karinka300.blogspot.com).

DUBAI — Nearly five years after the global financial collapse in 2008, Dubai stands at a crossroads. Though its economy and population have been growing over the past couple of years, the pause in construction allows for reflection on the city’s physical form.

At the first meeting of the year for the American Institute of Architects’ Middle East (AIA-ME) chapter at the Dubai Pavillion on January 29, architect Jonathan Ashmore of Anarchitect presented on the city’s context over the past 10 years:

  • Perception of it being a desert and ignoring the indigenous culture
  • Precedent of a postcard-like New York or Hong Kong
  • Infiltration of Dubai’s branding around the world using the Image of a successful skyline
  • Denial that the financial collapse would affect them, as there was still the buzz around the city, until the Exodus that cleared out the “dead wood” of the city.

    Now Dubai is at its Crux, the decisive stage, and there’s a Gap in the built environment.

    Plans for Business Bay, a development that is not fully completed. / Image via Real Estate Webmasters.

    “Empty space is space for renewal,” said Ashmore. “The city became fragmented, it’s not concentrated like in Europe.” These voids are opportunity for Integrated solutions and Regeneration — and re-establishing the Identity of the city and region.

    “These shouldn’t be demolitions,” said Ashmore, emphasizing reuse. “You cannot compare Dubai to global cities that have undergone cycles of growth, decay and rebirth. Now it’s time for small projects for integration and connect the interstitial spaces on a human scale.”

    Areas with potential include Ras Al-Khor (industrial district) and Business Bay (new central business district), he said. “We have to look at the micro and macro scales,” he said, emphasizing both the pedestrian scale and knitting together neighborhoods on a larger level.

    Architects responded favorably, offering a swirling mix of solutions. These ranged from top-down scaling like more central planning and having a visionary leader to push through plans, and also from the ground-up: more input from Dubai citizens, coordination with local architecture students, and temporary reuse of structures like in San Diego, Berlin or New York’s SOHO district.

    Solidere's Master Plan in the City Center (1994). Beirut's unplanned development could offer a model for Dubai. / Image via Worldview Cities.

    “But why even look that far?” one participant pointed out. Beirut, since its civil war ended in 1990, has been redeveloping spaces both from an official level with Solidère’s rebuilding the downtown, and from regular residents opening stores in half-constructed buildings.

    There does seem to be progress — the American University of Sharjah has an impressive College of Architecture, Art and Design; while Art Dubai and Design Days Dubai (in March 2012) offer the framework for reshaping the city.

    The meeting concluded with Victor Schoone talking about the upcoming annual World Water Day on March 12, 2012, the We Are Water Foundation‘s “We Art Water” film festival, and a screening of the film “Aral, the Lost Sea,” an ethereal look at the near-destruction of the Aral Sea in Central Asia.

Skyline Stories: Philly’s Central Delaware Master Plan Wins AIA Award, Casinos, CA’s RDA’s Cut, TIGER Grants

Master Plan for the Central Delaware won the 2012 AIA's Honor Award for Regional & Urban Design / Image via PlanPhilly.

In PHILLY… big day as the City Planning Commission approved the Zoning Map Revision Plan, establishing the city’s first zoning revisions in 50 years, in tandem with a 5-year process of remapping each district (PlanPhilly).

The citizen-designed Central Delaware Master Plan won the American Institute of Architects (AIA)’s Honor Award (PlanPhilly). Philly’s GIS system is one of the top in the country (Technically Philly).

PennDOT archaeologists uncover historic Dyottville Glass Works during I-95 excavations. / Image via PlanPhilly.

Nearly 50 Philly Catholic schools are closing — and developers are salivating (Philly.com) — and the city is hoping for more jobs by dredging the Delaware River another 5 feet (Philly.com). Thought I-95’s expansion will continue to block access to the river, archaeological work has discovered the soon-to-be-demolished Dyotville Glass Works in Kensington (PlanPhilly).

Why do cities continue to bet their futures on casinos? So much competition for decreasing profits. Atlantic City is hoping more casinos will push it forward, while Delaware hopes to protect its casinos. (Philly.com)

Nationwide, cities are pushing neighborhood livability — in Baltimore’s Downtown (Baltimore Sun), Washington D.C.’s The Yards (Atlantic Cities) and even Detroit, and offering housing stipends via the city (Nightly Business Report). Powerful video of Detroit’s scrappers, who melt down copper to sell to China…who sells it back to the U.S. Stayed tuned for the upcoming film “Detropia” (NYT). Cities are also trying to rethink their local and regional economies largely without federal help (Atlantic Cities).

Less than 10 percent of the nation’s metropolitan areas have recovered the jobs they have lost since the recession. Of the largest metro areas, Houston is the only one that has returned to pre-recession levels. / Image via NYT.

But cities are far from positive — less than 10 percent of metropolitan areas have recovered jobs (NYT), and California axed its redevelopment authorities (Atlantic Cities) and lots of departures from its High Speed Rail Authority (Systemic Failure). I’m on the fence about the RDA’s, sure they rebuilt inner cities with affordable housing, but also invested in neighborhood-killers like stadiums; and can’t their activities can be folded into more transparent city or state agencies?

TWA NYC 1960's. / Image via Atlantic Cities.

Improving transit infrastructure is the big theme this week, especially in the Southeast where a study finds the link between driving and obesity (Planetizen). But the new TIGER grants’ only urban project in the South is improving capacity for Charlotte’s light rail line. Chicago is the big winner with $20 million for overhauling the Blue Line tracks and expanding bike share. Philly gets $10 million for traffic signal upgrades (DOT [PDF]). Speaking of bike share, how cool would it be to have a card that could work on any system in the country? (Streetsblog)

Interstate system as a metro map. / Image via Atlantic Cities.

Cool maps and images:

• In New York, its ghost subway system WNYC and The City That Never Was (Untapped Cities), which reminds me of Skyscraper Museum’s 2007 “New York Modern” exhibit with Hugh Ferris drawings (Skyscraper Museum) Plus Project Neon (Untapped Cities) complements the New York Neon Blog (New York Neon).

• Federal highways as a metro (Atlantic Cities) and every tree in the country (Inhabitat). Paris’ RER-B line as the Eiffel Tower (Transit Maps) and the periodic table of city planning elements (Stephens Planning). Plus cool TWA posters from 1960’s — the best is Times Square (Atlantic Cities)

Paris RER B as Eiffel Tower. / Image via Transit Maps.

• Cool uses of citizen cartography (BMW Guggenheim Lab), but navigating the city with mental maps is more complicated than you’d think (Atlantic Cities).

Finally, architecture firm Perkins and Will has a new Transparency database to evaluate the health effects of construction materials (Urban Omnibus) and China is officially urbanized! It was 10 percent only 60 years ago (Atlantic Cities).