Benoy redesigns Sheikha Fatima Park
Benoy’s design for Abu Dhabi’s Sheikha Fatima Park brings a totally novel concept to the capital, one which is set to revolutionise the use of public spaces in the UAE.
Around the world parks have an established presence in cities, defining their landscape and ultimately their culture. New York City has Central Park and London has Hyde Park, arguable the best in the world, these parks have shaped the city and have become something of an institution. While there isn’t an established park in the UAE, the renovation of Abu Dhabi’s Sheikha Fatima Park tells a different story.
Formerly known as the Khalidiya Ladies’ Park, in the Al Khalidiyah area, the Abu Dhabi Municipality began the renovation this year. The AED 94 million project which will span 46,000 sqm (with green spaces stretching over half of the area) is slated for completion in July 2018. When completed it will include playgrounds, a cultural arena, an outdoor market, an organic food market with a terrace, retail, F&B along with rooftop and outdoor cafés.
And that’s not all. For sports enthusiasts there are footpaths, a cycling track and a three-metre elevated floor for different sporting activities such as skateboarding.
There’s also a Women’s Centre with a park in the courtyard, Arab States Park (Botanical Park), a butterfly park, a patients’ rehabilitation park, a fitness area, a valley extending along the road and an urban forest. The park is named after HH Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, one of the wives of the founder and President of the UAE HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. Sheikha Fatima, also known as the Mother of the Nation, is a champion of the rights for Arab women and children.
In line with HH Sheikha Fatima’s vision, the park aims to meet the needs of the surrounding community by providing a diverse range of recreational activities for men, women and children alike.
While it’s quite an ambitious project, it is difficult not to get excited about a development that’s looking to redefine parks in a way that only the UAE can. For Benoy, architects of the development, this means introducing an entirely new approach to public design in Abu Dhabi.
While it’s still early days for the project – Benoy is currently at the schematic design stage – Paul Priest, Director, Head of MENA Studios at Benoy says that the architecture for the scheme is fluid and organic, a type of design that connects to the landscape.
What Benoy is attempting to do with this development is create a new typology when it comes to public space. “Essentially, what we’re trying to do with this park is bring something completely new to Abu Dhabi,” says Priest.
“A key element for us is to focus on augmenting the public realm and as a result, the design includes a large amphitheatre with a place for events and community activities. The park will also be a place for the community to gather in the evening for social occasions and leisure activities,” Priest explains.
A big part of the typology in the park includes the retail element, which will be confined to the edges of the scheme. “The emphasis of the project, as we did with The Beach [in JBR, Dubai], is to draw people in by delivering a unique offering and creating an engaging destination for the community,” says Priest.
The park sets itself apart from any other park by offering a wide variety of activities and venues for a diverse group of people.
Further entrenching the idea of community, explains Priest, is the mosque. The design appeals to a very broad demographic and one of Benoy’s aims is to draw a “diverse cross-section of visitors to this space, whether they’re locals or expats, young or old, and ensure that this becomes a destination which is as open as possible for the whole community,” says Priest.
Emphasising that the design should be fluid and organic, Benoy has proposed the inclusion of recycled and reclaimed materials for the project. “Passive sustainability is very important to any scheme and our team looks at aspects such as building orientation, for example, to consider how energy consumption can be reduced,” says Priest.
The overall design will use a lot of timbers and stones in order to keep the scheme as natural as possible. “The architectural approach has also been ‘softer,’ introducing rounded edges instead of rigid lines to further emphasise this quality,” he adds.
Passionate about introducing a new approach to public design, Priest believes that the park is a natural progression from the design of The Beach in Dubai.
“The Beach was revolutionary in its approach to outdoor spaces in the Middle East and Sheikha Fatima Park aims to take this concept a step further,” he says.
Outdoor spaces are few and far between in the region. When it came to The Beach, Benoy looked at breaking the mould of traditional retail schemes by moving away from enclosed retails spaces in Dubai in favour of a more community-focused retail element – it was due to Benoy’s approach in creating new typologies that they were chosen for the park project.
“As designers of ‘places for people’ this is a fantastic opportunity to apply our expertise in a new setting and challenge ourselves as a design team to think about spaces differently,” says Priest.
Priest admits that while the weather is a challenge they’ve combatted it by introducing shading through canopies and trees “as well as looked at increasing the airflow between the different buildings. During times of extreme heat, the various buildings and creative hubs will offer respite in addition to containing a number of F&B and retail options to draw visitors in,” says Priest.
The park has been designed with the intention of segmentation into zones; commercial zone (retail), adventure zone (with high-activity sports) and a neighbourhood zone (a more traditional park offer situated close to the residential areas).
The park also signals the government’s commitment to broaden green spaces, diversify parks and recreational facilities in line with the Abu Dhabi 2030 Vision.
PATH FOR THE FUTURE
The big question is, can this model of recreation gain traction in the region? Priest believes it can.
“We believe this model will continue to gain momentum and spark further interest for projects like these in the future. Ultimately, the market is evolving quickly and clients are looking for creative problem solvers to redefine typologies and introduce new concepts,” he says.
For Priest there is a gap in the market for this kind of offer and “there is excitement in Abu Dhabi about seeing this scheme come to fruition.”
He says that as the region has concentrated more on building its skylines over the last two decades, the space between buildings has sometimes been forgotten and overlooked, something which Benoy are trying to address with the park.
“The design for this park is a great example of looking at how to activate these spaces between a network of buildings. Merging the vision for the streetscape with the architectural design has been an exciting process for our team,” he says.
The renovation of the park, on this level, is a huge step and breath of fresh air for recreational architecture in the UAE. More than that, it has finally offered a rebuttal for the argument that outdoor public space does not work in the region due to the climate.
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