nov 08 | Cityscape Magazine

New look for old

By Clair Malcolm

As Dubai's ongoing transformation migrates from the periphery of the city into its more established neighborhoods, Claire Malcolm asks Meraas Development whether the US$95 billion Jumeira Gardens project truly represents the future of community living in the emirate.

Plans concerning the redevelopment of one of Dubai's best-known neighborhoods have been fueling the rumor mill for several months, so the formal announcement of the Jumeira Gardens project at October's Cityscape Dubai event was, unsurprisingly, the talk of the show.

The downtown suburban stretch on the western side of the Sheikh Zayed Road, encompassing the lower income neighborhood of Satwa and the more affluent Al Wasl road, is to be redeveloped under a US$95 billion master plan that will, according to official marketing material, create a mixed-use "city within a city" in the heart of Dubai.

Opinion is divided on the plans, with long-term local residents already being issued relocation notices as the area is slowly readied in preparation for construction of its new look skyline; but those in the development business acknowledge that this is all in line with Dubai's overall master plan and future vision.

And there is no denying the fact that Jumeira Gardens ambitious 12-year phased implementation will radically transform a highly desirable, and prime, bank of land, that abuts the main arterial route through the city.

Strengthening the Suburbs
But it's not all bulldozers and bad news. The company promises "an innovative approach to sustainable urban planning" and drawing board designs, backed by an emphatic CEO, and a more than healthy budget, are a positive indication of future intent.

As with most of Dubai's fast-forward development, Meraas, which translates from Arabic to English as "strength", is due to deliver the first phase of residential and commercial product in just two years.

The company's CEO, Sina Al Kazim, doubtless has a challenging decade or so ahead of him, but the young gun executive has a serious agenda and attitude to match.

"It is a challenging period, but this city is all about challenges, strength and a bold approach. In the 15 odd years since Dubai really began to grow I think that it has done extremely well, and I hope that Jumeira Gardens will continue to bring pride to the city centre," he says.

"We are very honored to be given the opportunity to have Meraas Development undertake the Jumeira Gardens project, and are very excited about finally coming out to the public with the launch. There has been a lot of talk and anticipation and we have had a very good initial reaction from the public as well as investors, despite the international financial situation," he adds.

Manhattan to Monte Carlo
The master plans on show at Cityscape also revealed an offshore component of the project, with a total of seven islands set to dramatically alter the last remaining strip of coastline between Port Rashid and the Palm Jumeirah. Details of the overall investment figure are yet to be broken down, but Al Kazim confirms that a strong emphasis has been placed on the infrastructure portion, both in terms of phasing, design and through to execution.

"We have already started reclamation work on East Bay and Island 2," he confirms, adding: "East Bay goes into a little more of the Monte Carlo feel, where you have hospitality products surrounded by a food and beverage offering.

"Central Cove, which is our mini version of Manhattan, will be a more commercially-oriented district whereas the other islands will have a more residential offering."

The Rating Game
Meraas hopes to capitalize on the twin issues of sustainability and urban livability and with some of the world's largest towers anchoring the project, the company aims to set standards of "green" building design, through features such as the use of intelligent infrastructure technology, passive energy generation, shaded foliage-covered atriums and roofs, heat reducing cladding and shading fins all serving to reduce the district's collective ecological footprint.

Al Kazim is eager to reinforce the commitment to sustainability from the get-go, and comments: "This is a primary focus and we are aiming, first of all, for a LEED-rated master plan. This is to make sure that we are able to sustain ourselves and so we can bring energy reduction to such a point that we will actually be able to have a sustainable master plan, and then start to look at the buildings and achieve LEED-accreditation there.

He also highlights the relevance of phasing as a key driver for ensuring sustainability positioning is maintained. "This is why it is critical that you phase master plans, so that you learn as you go along and this benefits your most critical products.

"We hope that as the market changes internationally, Meraas Development is able to capitalize on its flexibility to maintain both our integrity and quality consistency, throughout the different applications and uses."

The issue of sustainability also includes transportation with the "city", as Al Kazim explains: "Our secondary objective is to minimize transportation requirements within an integrated master plan."

The new skyline won't be a high-rise match with the adjacent Sheikh Zayed Road however, and will comprise low, medium and high-density areas with business, residential, retail, leisure and recreational components.

Greening the Community
Jumeira Garden's different districts will seamlessly integrate, according to Al Kazim, but he says that there has already been an evolution of the master plan. "We created the overall master plan, but then each district started to have its own master plan within that. There are thematic elements that carry through consistently across Jumeira Gardens and it is very important for us to maintain the overall branding, but we've made sure that we keep up the excitement levels through the phased launching of different products as we go along."

From a holistic perspective, Jumeira Gardens, as the name suggests, will have a strong greenspace to built ratio. Al Kazim says: "If you look at the master plan, you will see that the first two districts we are starting on are the Dubai Park area and Atrium City.

"Dubai Park speaks for itself. It's a big park in the middle of the development and, as every great city in the world has a central park, we want to give this back to the city of Dubai.

"We would like to have the same sort of reaction from the people that you have with Central Park, and from the park comes life and energy, and that energy then gets carried through the different districts of the master plan. But, in addition to Dubai Park there are other pockets of open space throughout the development, like you have in places like Chicago, and we are doing this to make sure that we give something good back to the community."

The importance of creating an A to Z offering of public facilities is also of prime importance as Al Kazim explains: "We've made sure that we have put all of the relevant public facilities and services into each district so that hopefully the people who will live and work in Jumeira Gardens will have all the amenities that they require within walking distance."

Contemporary Culture
With the philosophy of urban livability at the emotional heart of the development, the physical heart of Jumeira Gardens will revolve around a series of iconic buildings designed by some of the world's leading architects. Al Kazim says: "We have '1 Dubai' and the way we look at it is that the skyline commands respect and I think that this tower will personify the city of the future along with our other towers like '1 Park Avenue'."

Although the iconic nature of the 'sky rises' has definite contemporary appeal, Al Kazim insists that Jumeira Gardens will have echoes of Dubai's past. "You will always see elements of Dubai's culture in any district of the Jumeira Gardens master plan. It is very important to maintain that part of our heritage, for future visitors into Dubai as well as the local community.

"We are also coordinating with the cultural and arts authority to make sure that we work together in order to preserve our heritage. We hope to have many different forms of cultural areas or zones throughout the different districts, and that's something that we are currently fine-tuning. We need to be sure of what the requirements are within the broader context of the city of Dubai, and then see what Meraas can offer.

"We have also maintained some of the existing cultural elements, such as the site where the UAE flag and Union House are located. This is where the UAE was born and it is extremely important for us to maintain that.

"There are also elements within the master plan that we hope to maintain to have a defining blend between old and new, and we will make sure that the identity of the city is retained," he adds.

Iconic Line-up
Big name architects have already been called upon to provide designs for the iconic buildings at the heart of the development, as Al Kazim confirms: "All the names that we use are big, and know for the quality of their work. The master plan was carried out by SOM in Chicago and then we have district master plans from Atkins, SOM again, and Gensler out of London.

"The major iconic towers - 1 Dubai, 1 Park Avenue and Park Gate - have been designed by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture. They are recognized internationally as leaders not just in architecture, but sustainable architecture, and this is extremely important in today's global environment."

For Al Kazim, the future vision for Dubai is the overriding focus taking this project forward. "I think it is important to point out that all people will have a place in Dubai and that Jumeira Gardens is only one part of the greater city of Dubai," he says.

And his personal motive for getting involved in the Jumeira Gardens project is also driving his passion, as he explains: "I saw a picture of the project and fell in love with it. I want to make sure that as a citizen of Dubai I could give something beautiful back to my children.

"I think with Jumeira Gardens it is not only something that the future generations of Dubai will be able to enjoy, but it will enhance Dubai's reputation, as other developers are doing, and together we can take Dubai to a new level.

Aiming High
Jumeira Gardens will include a total of eight 'sky rises':

1 Dubai - One of the world's tallest towers, it will consist of three linked towers of staggered heights (each one a minimum of 600 meters), with mosaic like glass and aluminum-mesh cladding, housing suspended apartments.

1 Park Avenue - A 600,000-square-metre tower, encompassing 21st-century technology, with an undulating design that reflects Dubai's location on the Arabian Gulf.

Park Gate - Six paired towers, each 30 to 40 stories high, linked by soaring vaulted canopies to create a shaded microclimate and forming the grand entranceway into Dubai Park.