Over the past few years, the thought process in design has significantly changed to encourage a shift from solely tourism-centric infrastructural growth to a people-centric urban growth that focuses on creating spaces where people prefer to spend their time.
This change, I believe has helped bring together the increasingly multi-cultural crowd of Dubai and shape their lifestyle into a more desirable one.
From large scale developments to small scale spaces, it is the intent to re-question, ‘Who is the space being designed for?’ and ‘What should it feel like?’ that is allowing for a positive development of the urban fabric.
The growth of Dubai might have begun with designing tall skyscrapers and iconic structures, but has recently progressed towards creating experiential spaces. With people and pedestrian experience at the heart of the thought process rather than the sole appearance of the project, the upcoming built environments are far more inviting and engaging to a much larger audience. There seems to be a lot of thought being put into designing how pedestrians access the project, what they encounter visually and how that creates a pleasant holistic experience of the project. The integration of thoughtful landscaping, unique materiality, subtle lighting, refined detailing and even quirky art/graffiti is lending a sense of place and a people centered design sensibility to the upcoming projects.
Human scale, from a pedestrian’s point of view, is also integral to the experience of any space, be it a small development or even the city as a whole. It decides the level of enclosure and consequentially the level of comfort felt in a space. In more recent projects, design decisions such as fragmenting or breaking down volumes have been implemented to create low rise public environments that better relate to pedestrians. Even external, negative spaces are seen as more than just residual spaces, complementing the built environment that defines them. Aside from volumes, it is surprising how much difference small elements such as planters, lighting strips, landscape features and urban seating can make in adding to the comfort experienced in a space, especially a larger open one.
The multi-functionality and flexible use of a space is another factor that encourages users to visit at several occasions, spend a considerable amount of time and utilize the whole extent of the space. Places such The Walk-JBR and The Yard provide the public with a much wider array of options for activities in the same vicinity, making them a stomping ground amongst residents and tourists alike. It also caters to a more culturally diverse audience, with everyone experiencing the space in their own unique manner. On a relatively smaller scale, even art galleries and exhibition spaces such as Al Serkal Avenue and Warehouse 421, with their open floor plan and varied events, attempt to provide a more flexible setting for people to come together and enliven a space.
Dubai’s public realms seems to be gaining momentum while taking a leaf out of the book from its more successful western counterparts in terms of pedestrian friendliness and outdoor culture. However, places such as Al Seef, when seen in their entirety, particularly in its relation to the cultural district of Bastakiya, are exemplar neighborhoods demonstrative of a conscious attempt to incorporate vernacular-urban culture ideas that were used to design old, historic developments in the Gulf. Narrow alleyways, broken down masses, shading structures and microclimatic conditions using surrounding landscape to name a few, are integrated quite naturally, both in a modern and historic setting. Deriving inspiration from the urban roots of domestic culture could really add uniqueness to future projects in Dubai and set them apart from other urban places around the world.
These aspects reflect on how the space is being designed for people and comprehensively contribute to their phenomenology. The upcoming spaces could creatively benefit from this thought process to create a sense of belonging and strengthen the public realm of Dubai. The past year was a great step in this direction and hopefully this year will only be a step further in the growth of Dubai as a diverse hub of activities and cultures.
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