Abu Dhabi: World Future Energy Summit, Solar Power, E-Villa and Estimada, Al Reem Island, Qatar’s Space City, Petra Plan

Big event of the week was the World Future Energy Summit at ADNEC, I couldn’t attend due to school but United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon emphasized supporting renewable energy and reducing greenhouse gases to slow down climate change (The National).

Capt. Jaber Al Shehhi on top of the MS Turanor PlanetSolar inspecting the solar panels. / Image via ADPC.

As part of the summit, the world’s largest solar-powered ship docked at the Marina (Abu Dhabi Ports Co.). Despite the UAE building a handful of nuclear power plants, solar energy was the big focus this week, as the carbon-neutral Masdar City has new high-power solar panels from TVP Solar (AME Info) and are partnering with Spain’s Sener to build $5 billion in solar power plants (Green Building Magazine: Middle East).

Back in the city proper, the Municipality and Urban Planning Council (UPC) are quickly modernizing the city’s building infrastructure. Abu Dhabi is slated to get a building code soon (The National), and the UPC is setting up the Estimada sustainability ratings for existing buildings (not a small task) and launching an e-villa configurator for villa owners and developers to design their plans online, showing how different aspects affect the sustainability rating (Khaleej Times). Meanwhile the city is making it easier for developers to submit plans online (Emirates News Agency).

Dubai's The Palm is still a far cry from the vision of its original master plan for 30 five-star hotels with 14,000 rooms. / Image via The National and Reuters.

Meanwhile, Reem Investments is going to make Al Reem Island a new South Korean hub, including a Korean Cultural Center (Reem Investments). Sorbonne-Abu Dhabi students participated in the recent International Renewable ENergy Association (IRENA) Assembly (Emirates News Agency), plus a new Abu Dhabi film club is launching on January 25th (Aflam).

Elsewhere in the emirate, Mubadala won $1 billion in Airbus contracts for a plant in Al Ain (The National), and the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority is looking to invest in India’s urban infrastructure (Zee News). In Dubai, more luxury hotels are slowly opening on Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah (The National) and a billion-dollar Las Vegas-style development is slated to replace Dubai’s oldest hotel, The Metropolitan (The National).

Elsewhere in the region…

Design Workshop's new master plan for Petra, Jordan includes almost 95 percent conservation zones or open space, and watershed management. / Image via American Planning Association.

Qatar continues its building boom, with a $3 billion Space City, including a NASA-sponsored university (Hotelier Middle East), the $130 million Sidra Village by China’s Sinohydro (Zawya) and the Gulf’s largest labor camp holding 50,000 people. (Construction Week) Their soon-to-launch Green Building Council should improve sustainability. (Zawya)

In Saudi Arabia, its high-speed rail line continues to expand, signing an $8 billion contract with a Spanish rail group to connect Mecca and Medina. (WSJ) And urban design firm KEO is going to manage a mixed-use development in Jeddah (MEED).

In the Levant, there’s an upcoming conference on a greener Beirut (Beirut Green Project), and Design Workshop’s new master plan for Petra, Jordan won the APA’s Pierre l’Enfant International Planning Award (Jordan Times). Finally, who knew the oldest standing mosque in the United States is in Iowa and dates only to the 1930’s? (The National)

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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.”

Abu Dhabi: New Urban Planning GIS Apps, Top Arab Buildings, Jazz at Lincoln Center Doha, Kingdom Tower

To celebrate World GIS Day, Abu Dhabi’s Urban Planning Council unveiled two new internal GIS applications that should help improve planning. (Al Bawaba and ITP)

The UPC now uses two new GIS apps. / Image via Al Bawaba.

GeoPlanner is an internal web portal, developed by the UPC’s Spatial Data Department, that enables the Council’s planners to easily identify masterplans, planning policies and regulations for any location or area and to visually track the development proposal review and approval process.

GeoPad for the iPad, has been developed by the UPC’s Spatial Data Department to allow managers and planners to easily view projects, plans and maps on their iPad device. Through online synchronisation with the UPC’s spatial database, the app allows users to access such updated data from anywhere and at anytime.

Shouldn’t there be historical districts to preserve the funky 1970’s Arab Modern buildings in neighborhoods like Al Markaziyah East? All these megaprojects are great, but what’s lost in the process? (Gulf News)

The UAE has several buildings in Construction Week’s “Top Arab Buildings” list. (Construction Week) Stunning pics of Dubai in 1990 — only a handful of skyscrapers along Sheikh Zayed Road, which looks like it was only two or four lanes wide? (Abdolian and Web Urbanist)

These three photographs depict the same street in Dubai, progressing from a few lone buildings in the desert to the jam-packed, seemingly perpetually-under-construction ode to excess that it is today. / Image via Web Urbanist and Abdolian.

German firms are helping Abu Dhabi think about renewable energy through Estimada. (Khaleej Times) The city opened a new e-waste recycling facility. (Gulf News)

The MEED Abu Dhabi Conference confirms that the city’s airport plans on carrying more passengers, and the passenger rail line is on track for 2018. (AME Info)

Elsewhere in the region…
Jazz at Lincoln Center: Doha, a unique partnership with the luxury St. Regis Hotels, continues Doha’s push to become the Gulf’c top cultural destination. (NYT) Infrastructure firm Interserve continues to focus on Qatar. (Construction Week)

Construction on Jedda, Saudi Arabia’s Kingdom Tower, a 1km-tall supertower designed by Adrian Smith and Gordon Gil Architecture, is slated to begin in January 2012. (The National) But real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle says Saudi Arabia could use an urban planning commission (like Abu Dhabi’s) to help plan its 1 million affordable houses. (Construction Week)

Wonderful travel writing on Beirut, Lebanon. (The National) … Istanbul struggles with traffic — two bridges were built over the Bosphorous River, and a metro is being built…but will a third bridge destroy what natural heritage is left? (NYT: Latitude)

Abu Dhabi: Guggenheim concrete bids recalled, Etihad Rail awards contracts, UAE pavilion arrives.

Rough week for construction in Abu Dhabi — TDIC recalled the concrete bids for the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, likely pushing the opening date past 2013. (The National)

A computer rendering of the Guggenheim Museum on Saadiyat Island. Its 2013 opening is likely delayed. / Image via The National.

The emirate was also named the worst construction market in the GCC, according to investment bank Arqaam Capital. (Construction Week) I don’t understand how, since all over the city there’s new construction of houses, hotels and malls.

Maybe the slow sales Sorouh’s mini-city on Al Reem Island — capable of housing an astounding 200,000 people — are indicative of the downtrend. (Construction Week) Rents are finally dropping in Abu Dhabi — or at least in the suburbs? — as 50,000 more homes are slated to be built by 2013. (The National) More developers like Emaar in Dubai seem to be focusing on affordable housing. (Construction Week).

The UAE Pavilion, at its new location on Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi. / Image via Construction Week.

Still, it’s not all bad news. Abu Dhabi’s Urban Planning Council won an international award for excellence. (Zawya), the UAE’s golden dune-like Shanghai Expo pavilion by Foster and Partners is now on Saadiyat Island (Construction Week), Siemens broke ground on its Masdar City headquarters, slated to be completed by 2013 (Construction Week) and Sharjah hopes to turn its Souq Al Arsa into a UNESCO World Heritage Site (The National).

Transportation news is strong too — Etihad Rail awarded the $3 billion contracts to Dodsal Engineering and Construction, and Italian firms Saipem and Technimont and their northern freight rail network is slated to be done by 2014. (Construction Week)

Elsewhere in the region…
Qatar is spending $150 billion on infrastructure over the next 5 years, in the build up to the 2020 World Cup. They’ve started construction on Doha’s Festival City. And now they’re investing in Egyptian luxury accommodations. (Construction Week)

Oman is heavily investing in infrastructure and luxury tourism to sextuple its tourism from 1.6 million visitors in 2010 to 12 million visitors in 2020. (Construction Week)

In the Levant, could public space with more parks and room for pedestrians improve life in Amman, Jordan? (Tareeq) In Lebanon, Beirut could use more mass transit to relieve traffic. (Mashallah News)

Abu Dhabi Plan 2030

How do you plan a city that’s expected to triple or quintuple its population in less than 20 years? (The emirate’s population was 2 million in 2010, per SCAD.) How about if this same city is springing from the desert, with no infrastructure in place?

It’s an exciting challenge. But for Abu Dhabi, the city described above, there’s an ambitious and far-sighted framework in place: Plan 2030. Two different but interconnected plans (one economic, one urban planning) guide development. Intriguingly it’s for the whole emirate, so there are also plans for Al Ain, Al Gharbia aka Western Region, and Abu Dhabi’s forthcoming Parisian-styled Capital District.

Five themes weave together the urban plan: Environment, Society, Culture and Economy…or as the nifty video shows, four themes: Green, Live, Work, Connect.

Either way, the Urban Planning Council (UPC)’s goal is “to create an authentic Arab city” that “will be owned by the people of Abu Dhabi, it will become an inspiring image of its collective vision for a harmonious, diversified, culturally rich, stable and sustainable society.”

Leading global design/engineering/planning firm KEO International Consultants is making the master plans for the Capital District; and the suburbs of Khalifa City A, Khalifa City B and Mohammed Bin Zayed City (green on the map below).

I’m most excited for the variety of transit options — metro by 2016, tram, bike lanes, walking and water taxis! The National reports that a 5-year update is slated for 2012.