A glimpse on key components when designing communities

A glimpse on key components when designing communitiesImage Credit: Supplied

Perfection means different things to different people. For some it could be something brand new and flawless. Others could look for something worn, showing signs of life and love. When it comes to finding a home, the same approaches apply. But once owners or tenants get past the front door of their new homes, their thoughts quickly turn to the practicalities of daily life. Where to go, how to get there and what's there to do?

In rapidly developing cities, everything you need may not always be located in one place. But the simple truth is people want everything to be conveniently nearby. Any attempt at creating a perfect community would have to deliver just that: everything.

''A perfect Dubai community needs everything, from location to good-quality units. But one more factor that is important in new communities is the infrastructure,'' says Pawan Batavia, Director of Synergy Properties, a real estate brokerage. ''This includes roads, street lights, landscaping in public spaces, easy accessibility to main roads, civic amenities and facilities such as children's parks and jogging tracks.''

Batavia believes that, in some cases, available facilities and a nearly complete development can have greater influence than location when it comes to attracting buyers or tenants. He cites the early days of Arabian Ranches as a good example.

''Eight years ago, it was a very good community because it had a good school and the infrastructure was ready, even though, at that time, the location was not convenient for everyone,'' he says. ''I've seen other locations that are not that great, but if the infrastructure is ready people would move there and the prices would do better than some good locations.''

Dev Maitra, CEO of Indigo Properties, agrees: ''Facilities should be within easy reach of consumers. If all facilities are accommodated, a community is bound to attract people who do not wish to travel far for their daily needs.''

Transport access and easy commuting can also be significant factors in dense urban environments and their influence is played out in location pricing throughout Dubai.

''Our building, Indigo Tower, claims a 30 per cent higher value in terms of sales or rent because of its location in front of a metro station and being a part of the Jumeirah Lakes Towers community,'' explains Maitra.

With well-established, well-connected locations being a significant attraction, it raises the question whether the perfect community already exists. In older parts of Dubai, communities and their ancillary services have been there for decades, yet sometimes these places are overlooked in favour of new build developments.

''As a designer I always saw the obvious opportunity for older houses — those from the 1990s and older—to be renovated and revamped,'' says Moza Almatrooshi, an interior designer. ''Some neighbourhoods and areas are tossed for commercial reasons, leaving their value and physical condition in slow deterioration. They also become an eyesore because their new function does not fit the original form.''

Almatrooshi advocates the renovation and preservation of old structures or communities, rather than demolishing them and starting over again. She says older spaces can be thoughtfully redeveloped, retaining their essence, but offering something extra for residents and visitors.

''Any area in the UAE that has older houses is an ideal place for renovation and transformation into a residential complex, complete with commercial and cultural services,'' says Almatrooshi. ''We could make areas a bit more polished, a bit more commercial, so that people would go there. It would coincide with the vision of Dubai the way it is now — a meeting point of the past and future.

''I think any complete community needs to look at the area it's fitting into. I don't think just housing a cinema and restaurants are enough anymore. There needs to be more depth and more value added to communities.''

Almatrooshi places a strong emphasis on the role of culture and identity in the development of a community that is welcoming for all, but also reflective of the Emirati culture.

''What do we have then if we don't preserve our identity and our culture?'' she asks.

Maintaining a location's identity can be achieved through design, as well as the establishment of a community and its component parts. There are design traditions in the region that sometimes go unnoticed, but have practical use until now.

For one, more communities could use the desert for its views (many high-end desert resorts have been a commercial success) and to escape from the humidity near the coast. Other local design traditions also have practical benefits for people who live and work in communities.

''The mashrabiya [a type of projecting oriel window] isn't the only way to add a bit of local flavour to a design,'' says Pallavi Dean, founder of Pallavi Dean Interiors.

Dean cites the commercial property of Gate Village at Dubai International Financial Centre as an example where these elements can be found.

''On the surface it's just another collection of lowrise office blocks for bankers, but it's actually very clever,'' she says. ''The planners were among the few who embraced the common sense Middle Eastern tradition of narrow streets, with the buildings on either side providing shade and a cool breeze. A simple idea hundreds of years old, but one so often neglected in favour of wide-open boulevards and piazzas that work great in Manhattan, but are empty in the hot summer months of Dubai.''

Dean also believes designers must learn how to convince developers that it's in their interest to build sustainability and durability into their projects.

''Today, these are buzzwords — nice to have but so often value engineered out of the final construction package,'' says Dean. ''As designers we must stop complaining about this, and think of better ways to educate and persuade our clients that it's in their own best interest.''

The inclusion of sustainable design and build techniques is advocated by Pumpkin Architectural Design.

''Sustainability would be an essential characteristic of a perfect community,'' says Andrew Hughes, a partner in the firm. ''Nowadays a community has little chance of becoming a success unless it has been built with credible sustainable methods, understands its future requirements and has a sustainable method of meeting these.

''By being more sustainable with new developments — by choice of plant life and materials — the lifespan and appeal will be increased.''

Pumpkin also advocates building harmony.

''On the largest scale a cityscape that reflects harmony can supersede positive values into the community and create a sense of togetherness, which is beneficial for all,'' says Tristan Francis, a partner in the firm. ''Care must be taken to avoid incongruences between all buildings. Unattractive and ill-effecting cityscapes can impact the community negatively and can drive down the value of an area.''

The list of the world's best and most liveable cities is full of urban environments that feature all of these factors in abundance: from convenient facilities and locally influenced sustainable design to easy transport connections.

Add some well-thoughtout master plans that protect the best things the city has to offer, while providing ample and usable public spaces, and a developer would have a formula for success. Developers that follow suit in Dubai will be the ones coming closest to creating a perfect community.

Turning spaces into places by Nadine Bitar (Managing Director of Placemaking, a planning, design and educational consultancy)

Healthy communities essentially focus on physical well-being, providing ample walkways and even bicycle lanes. Walkability is not the mere presence of pedestrian linkages, cycling tracks, bus stations and transit stations. Walkability is the ability of a community to provide a fabric of destinations, which encourages residents to walk.

We work with developers in understanding the opportunities available while master planning the community, to make walking and cycling enjoyable experiences, moving through natural and built spaces.

Prosperous communities inspire meanings. For some analysts, prosperity is proportional to the quantity of revenue-generating outlets and spaces in a community. In making places, quality matters — a well-designed space can turn a community into a destination.

We believe this quality to be the sense of place — a resilient and strong urban quality extending the reach and attractiveness of a community beyond its geographical boundaries.

Vibrant communities are those that are connected. Our concept of connectivity has evolved throughout the past decade. In addition to being connected to transportation and telecommunications, we realise the importance of being connected inward through smart grids and applications.

Vibrant communities are not only smart in terms of the use of technology, they also strive to be intelligent in how technology is supported to enliven the community. Our role as urban designers is to think of connectivity, plan for it and enable it.

Liveable communities are those that flow with what matters in life. Liveability is defined as the sum of the factors that add up to a community's quality of life—including the built and natural environments, affordable housing, educational opportunity and cultural, entertainment and recreational possibilities. These need to be manifested physically in the master plan and early on in the budget, keeping in mind the preferences of end users and visitors, and the revenues contributing to their self-sufficiency.

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Source: Stuart Matthews, Special to Property Weekly

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