NYU Abu Dhabi’s Stunning Urbanist Saadiyat Island Campus

The National has wonderful pieces today on the new NYU Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island campusstunningly urbanist, and designed by New Yorks’ Rafael Viñoly Architects.

While I’ll miss the Down Town Campus, whose site on the Old Fish Market seemed more aligned to NYU New York’s goal of being “in and of the city”, the Saadiyat Island campus is open and quad-like to encourage cross-discipline interaction.

It’s also sized to scale up – totaling 4.7 million square feet (!), and hosting a 21st-century IT network infrastructure to support Connected Learning.


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.

Abu Dhabi: Dubai’s Sheikh Zayed Park?, Urban Street Design Manual, Beit Beirut Videos

IN DUBAI…the city’s reinvention in the wake of the recession is a running theme on Urban Fabric, and Brownbook profiles the potential greening of Dubai’s massive 14-lane Sheikh Zayed Road. Design firm Portland producing ambitious plans to bury it (like Boston’s Big Dig) then elevate the streets and use parks to knit together the east and west sides (Brownbook Magazine).

English design firm Portland's ideas for "greening" Dubai's Sheikh Zayed Road -- by turning it into a park! / Image via Brownbook Magazine.

Abu Dhabi’s Urban Planning Commission released the first-ever? Urban Street Design Manual. Lots of good points — giving streets a 12 percent “road diet,” eliminating illegal parking, widening sidewalks and including tree shading. Their first prototype is the Corniche (not clear where, exactly). Have you noticed differences? (Gulf News Article and Video)

The Masdar Institute has a new video on the evolution of Abu Dhabi over the past 25 years, using aerial maps (UAE Interact).

Speaking of mapping, the city (curiously not the UPC) is using GIS technology to give developers and homeowners in-depth details on plots of land (Khaleej Times). But the UPC does have new sign regulations, plus more on gas ventilation and air conditioning units, to improve the safety and beautification of the city (AME Info).

ZonesCorp is working on a new Auto City in Mussafah, planned for completion in 2020 (Gulf News). Design firm Parsons won an award for its cross-cultural business relations in Abu Dhabi, they’ve done a lot of transit work like the Dubai Metro and Khalifa Bridge (Business Intelligence Middle East).

Abu Dhabi and Japan are forging an economic partnership (Emirates News Agency). NYU AD received a record-setting nearly 2,500 applicants for only 150 spots at the downtown Abu Dhabi campus (NYU AD: Salaam).

Elsewhere in the region…
Brownbook also has stories on Turkish firm Supercool using GIS mapping to improve Istanbul; Morocco’s Ecological Architecture and Systems of Tomorrow firm using sustainable architecture; Abu Dhabi’s organic farmers market; the gradual disappearance of Tehran, Iran’s historic neighborhood of Tajrish; and the growing Arab community of western Sydney, Australia.

At the Egyptian Coffee Shop, many of the customers are Egyptian; others are from Yemen, Algeria, Syria, and Morocco. And some are New Yorkers seeking an authentic hookah experience. / Image via NYT.

Lebanese newspaper Orient Le Jour has a great four-part video series from on the slow reconstruction of Beit Beirut, the beautiful and beleaguered Art Deco mansion that’s slated to become the city museum. (In English, subtitled in French.)
Part 1: A Unique Architecture
Part 2: The Happy Life
Part 3: In the Time of Snipers
Part 4: The Future of the “Yellow House”

Indian photojournalist Pablo Bartholomew revisits Mumbai of the 1970s-80s with his father’s archive mixed with his own photos in “Chronicles of a Past Life” (NYT India Ink). More detailed plans for Baku’s kilometer-high Azerbaijan Tower and related artificial islands (Atlantic Cities). Finally, take a trip to what may be the U.S.’ oldest hookah shop, the Egyptian Coffee Shop in Astoria, Queens in New York City (NYT).

Islamic Art Prof. Calls Abu Dhabi’s ‘Masterstroke’ Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque at NYU AD

Mosques are an essential part of any Muslim city. And grand state mosques to represent a country have mushroomed over the past several decades. So in the UAE, what should a grand state mosque look like in a region that largely has no architectural history? Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which opened in 2007 after more than 10 years of construction with costs estimated at $500 million, offers one impressive example.

“In the region there is a lot of Modernist matchbox architecture with acres of windows,” said Robert Hillenbrand, a University of Edinburgh Islamic art professor, at a packed lecture at NYU Abu Dhabi’s downtown campus on January 12th. “No one wants to see a mosque like that. But what should it be?”

The stunningly white Mosque, which by some measurements is the third largest in the world, has a breathtaking courtyard with floral mosaics, dozens of domes and a gigantic sanctuary holding up to 40,000 worshippers. I haven’t been on a tour or inside yet, but apparently the Sanctuary also has the world’s largest hand-made carpet.

“It showcases Abu Dhabi and crests a building boom of grand mosques,” said Hillenbrand. “It’s a memorial, tourist destination and national symbol. It’s eclectic and pan-Islamic so that Muslims from all over will recognize the symbols of their local architecture. It serves Abu Dhabi and the Islamic World itself, and aspires for an Islamic future.”

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque illuminated for National Day 2011. / Photo by Stephen Baron.

The Grand Mosque also serves as the country’s state mosque, which Hillenbrand said requires eight characteristics: sited in the capital, immense capital costs, on the outskirts (because they’re so big), landscaped so that when the city expands it encloses the green heart, open to visitors, easy access by car, familiar but innovative, and has ancillary functions like a library, conference hall and lecture space.

There’s not much on the actual design phase, as Hillenbrand said it had been a work-in-progress, though Sheikh Zayed’s influence can be seen in the four minarets, the courtyard, colors, materials, water features and focus on the number of five instead of the usual eight, perhaps for the Five Pillars of Islam.

“It’s open on two sides, no other mosque in the world and is a masterstroke with open arcades,” said Hillenbrand. “The arcades are repeating endlessly, as infinity symbolizes eternity.” Hillenbrand also admired the floral mosaics. “They are not earthly flowers — they are flowers of the mind,” he said. “Trees, waters and flowers of Paradise are very different than our own world.”

Sheikh Zayed inspects Grand Mosque models in an undated photo, likely from the 1990's. / Image via Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Center.

Intriguingly, from an urban planning perspective, the Mosque may have been better located elsewhere. Larry Beasley, the former co-director of Vancouver, Canada’s planning and who now advises the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council, attended the same lecture in NYU’s New York campus, and told The National:

“In the future, it’ll be right in the centre. Now, they built the mosque before we designed our new capital. I have a feeling that if we were doing it today, we would put the mosque right in the centre.”