Urban Visions

By the end of the 21st century, 85% of the world’s population will be living in cities, according to ACLA’s latest book, Architects of Cities. The Hong Kong-based firm also states that, in the same timeframe, megacities will have replaced nations and super urban conglomerates will house 40 million people or more.

However, with the increasing burden on natural resources, the environment is being overloaded, especially with the trend of over-consumption. ACLA’s book asserts that it is now time to reverse the effects of the urban sprawl and ‘reset the global environmental imbalances’.

Robbert van Nouhuys, director, ACLA, says the main challenge is to change how people perceive cities. He comments: “A lot of cities have been conceived on the basis of how they were planned 20-30 years ago but they are not equipped to cater to the demands of the 21st century.”

ACLA has worked on urban planning projects in China and Vietnam, and has been hired by Rakeen Development for the RAK Gateway City in Ras Al Khaimah. Authorities and developers need to be on the same page when creating cities and van Nouhuys says ACLA explains the importance of urban planning to both parties. The needs of end users are also different.

“Nowadays people are much more in tune about low carbon buildings, and living in green buildings is a lifestyle check. Sometimes there is a knowledge gap between what is possible in terms of what the authorities, developers and end users want.

We try to mediate between the wants and needs of the three groups, which is great because it shows planners are moving in the right direction and making cities more efficient,” adds van Nouhuys.

Aedas is another firm that is working on large scale urban planning projects. With the Aino Mina development in Kandahar, Afghanistan, the firm is looking to challenge urban boundaries.

A wide central park runs through the Aino Mina masterplan, dividing it in two and linking the retail area at the southern end with the Friday mosque at the northern end.

The park is the centre of the masterplan and is conceptualised as a trunk of a tree that structures the entire development. All important masterplan zones and functions either take place within it or branch off from this central green parkway.

Fariborz Hatam, director, Aedas, says the location of the project is key when designing a city from scratch. In addition, firms need to consider the needs of the inhabitants, including social, economical, health, education and leisure requirements.

Speaking about the Aino Mina development, Hatam says: “Afghanistan is a country that is marked by war and corruption and resources are limited. When designing in a country like Afghanistan, one has to consider the culture, climatic conditions, transport, water irrigation and infrastructure to provide flexibility for future growth.”

Mistakes are often made when carrying out a development project on a gargantuan scale. Factors such as growing populations and technological advancement will affect urban planning as well.

Hatam explains that the global urban population has doubled since the 1980s, and the developing world is rapidly urbanising. He points to Kabul, which has grown from under 500,000 people in 2001 to around three million at the end of 2004.

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