Dubai - The city of cranes that never sleeps

Meydan One in MBR City aims to be the world’s tallest residential towerImage Credit: Supplied

The ongoing construction that is a hallmark of life in Dubai has completely overhauled the city's landscape in a matter of decades. So what more is on its way?

From the Dubai Water Canal to the Mall of the World, there is a raft of ambitious new developments under way in this city of over 2 million.

Not content with simply being home to the world's tallest building (Burj Khalifa) and block of skyscrapers (in Dubai Marina), Dubai has plans to build the world's tallest commercial building (Burj 2020), tallest residential building (Dubai One) and tallest twin towers (Dubai Creek Harbour). According to real estate data firm Emporis Research, the city has more than 1,800 skyscrapers, half of which are planned or under construction.

So what will the city look like in the future? We take a look at the urban expansion under way until 2020.

Major projects

Just last week Dubai was making global head lines once more with the announcement of its latest engineering marvel, Meydan One, part of Mohammad Bin Rashid (MBR) City along Al Khail Road.

Estimated to cost Dh25 billion, the project will house nearly 80,000 people in buildings such as Dubai One, which aims to be the tallest residential tower in the world when it comes online before 2020.

The project will also feature a mall with a retractable roof, the world's largest dancing fountains and the longest indoor ski slope.

Mat Green, Head of Research and Consultancy at CBRE Middle East, says MBR City is one of seven major master-planned projects at varying stages of construction in Dubai that will significantly change the emirate's urban landscape in the next few years. Others are Dubai Creek Harbour, Dubai Water Canal, Mall of the World, Deira Islands, Dubai South and Bluewaters. ''All these developments will, in varying ways, have a major impact on life in Dubai, changing the fabric and visual appearance of the city over the next decade,'' says Green.

''This includes leisure and hospitality-oriented projects such as Bluewaters and Deira Islands, where new land mass and coastlines are being created through extensive reclamation works.'' In terms of sheer size, Green believes Dubai South (formerly known as Dubai World Central), Dubai Creek Harbour and MBR City will leave a more significant mark on the city.

''[They] will establish new micro-cities in the emirate, and by doing so facilitate the continued growth of the population in line with the vision 2020 and beyond,'' he adds.

Dubai South is a multidistrict mega development that includes residential, commercial, exhibition and golf areas as well as the Al Maktoum International Airport. Dubai Creek Harbour is planned as a 39,000-home, 22-hotel development that will be three times the area of Downtown Dubai. The buildings at the centre of the project aims to be the tallest twin towers in the world.

MBR City is a multibillion-dirham behemoth that will be home to Meydan One development and the world's largest mall and swimming pool. It will also have 7km of man-made beaches and lagoons across 11 million sq m.

Supply boost

Green believes the steady flow of new residential buildings will help reverse the trend of residents moving north to Sharjah and beyond.

''Over the next three years, Dubai could see the completion of more than 64,000 residential units, depending on construction delays,'' he says. ''This should be sufficient to soak up demand from the [growing] population, [and] reverse some of the recent migration.''

He also notes that these developments are undertaken alongside other infrastructure projects. ''[There will be] an extension of the existing Red and Green Metro lines and additional routes [have been] proposed as part of major transport developments and improvements.''

There will also be a raft of tourism offerings to encourage longer visits, including a number of new theme parks that will ''form the backbone'' of Dubai's tourism strategy.

Change in design

In addition to the onslaught of projects, real estate development priorities are also changing, says Sasan Niknam, Senior Architect at U+A Architects.

Recent developments such as The Beach at Jumeirah Beach Residence and City Walk in Jumeirah, both from developer Meraas, represent a big change in focus.

''The names themselves refer to pedestrianised [aspects] and walking. It is a hot climate, but people still go because it's nice, contemporary and [features] sophisticated architecture and design, which I think Dubai has evolved into.''

The firm is seeing a big change in design tastes away from Arabian and Mediterranean themes that were dominant in the past decade. ''It's all going towards more contemporary and modernist design approach,'' says Niknam. The German architect notes further that the architecture starting to come through in the city can compete with the best of Western designs, while increasing compliance with green building regulations is helping improve Dubai's environmental credentials. This suggests a progression of society itself, he says.

''Urban design combines a lot of factors: architecture, landscape, but also sociological aspects and psychology, and how people perceive and feel in a specific environment,'' says Niknam. ''I think Dubai is more and more understanding and appreciative of the human scale.''

Architects are also increasingly taking to ''small tricks'' to increase shade and wind tunnels to encourage more outdoor activity and public spaces. The Dubai Water Canal, for example, is tipped to reduce ambient air temperatures by several degrees thanks to the cooler temperatures chilling the air. Niknam says climate control technologies are developing and could be efficiently deployed at some point in the future — although there is still some way to go.

But he cautions developers to bear environmental imprints in mind, anticipating great scrutiny that will come with the influx of international visitors for the World Expo 2020.

There is already a concerted move by several regional developers towards using sustainable materials, says Rizwan Sajan, CEO of Danube Group.

''The Dubai market is extremely dynamic and new innovations are born in this region every day. As a responsible developer, we have engaged in value engineering during the design of our projects to make them economical and sustainable.''

Developers now increasingly use energy-efficient lighting systems, thermal insulation and air conditioning with variable refrigerant flow technology that allows modulation of air flow so residents only use what they need. Some are also embracing networked homes, which allow easy control of appliances and lighting to reduce energy consumption.

A city with a future

Niknam hopes the city's developers will continue to embrace new sociological aspects, although he anticipates the city will continue making waves worldwide whatever trends emerge.

''[Dubai's] quite smart and knows what it's doing,'' says Niknam. ''That's why they come up with one idea after another to top the previous ones.''

Sajan credits the progress achieved by Dubai to the government's bold development ambitions. ''One of the key reasons why Dubai recovered from the economic slowdown was initiatives taken by the government of Dubai, which included several infrastructure and tourism projects.''

The UAE is also setting global standards in building and infrastructure, says Andrew Chambers, CEO of GGICO Properties who has worked in countries including the UK, Australia, Hong Kong, Thailand and the Philippines. ''When I'm in other countries, people talk about Dubai as the now and the future. They're building now what others in 20 years [will only] think about doing.''

Dubai's New canal

A master development guaranteed to change the look of Dubai is the 3km Dubai Water Canal that will stretch from Business Bay to the Arabian Gulf.

Scheduled for completion in 2017, the project is being developed in three phases, with phase one involving a bridge on Shaikh Zayed Road stretching about 800m over the canal. Work is also more than a quarter of the way through on phase two, which includes bridge construction on Al Wasl and Jumeirah Roads. Phase three is finishing the canal itself, which is about a fifth complete. The canal will be 80-120m wide, more than twice the the global average of about 40m. The Dh2-billion project announced in October 2013 will also include a shopping centre, four hotels, 450 restaurants, luxury housing, walkways and cycling paths, marinas and public spaces.

''Any development along the canal and waterfront brings more value to the city and opens up a different side, which [makes] Dubai a bit more pedestrianised,'' says Sasan Niknam, Senior Architect at U+A Architects. He adds that the canal will lift the desirability of Business Bay and make it more in keeping with neighbouring Downtown Dubai.

''There's this completed Downtown area that looks great, [and] there's expansions and changes being done. It's kind of going through a second phase of revitalisation, whereas Business Bay is not even finished.'' Niknam expects the two areas to complement each other, with Downtown's focal point the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall, while Business Bay will focus on the outdoors. ''I think it's very interesting how it's going to impact the city, adding a different destination rather than another mall to the Big Bus tour. I think this will be great.''

Situated next to several other developments, the canal project's central location means it will be in good company once finished. It will flow along:

- Al Habtoor City: A Dh11-billion hospitality development featuring a water-themed production by Cirque du Soleil theatrical director Franco Dragone.

- Canal Gate Tower: Located at the intersection of Shaikh Zayed Road and the canal. It will connect the waterway to a shopping mall. The development will comprise 468 apartments, 470 serviced apartments and 617 hotel rooms, as well as 400,000 sq ft of retail and 735,000 sq ft of commercial office spaces.

- Dubai Creek Harbour: The Crescent, a peninsula that will include a marina, 925-room hotel and 1,383 residential units.

Read about Dubai South which opens up the 'Village'

Source: Amanda Fisher, Special to Property Weekly


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