An international architecture workshop looked at redesigning urban voids in Bur Dubai

Dubai’s Al Ghurair University, Politecnico di Milano and Sapienza University of Rome recently hosted an architecture workshop in Dubai Design District titled ‘Towards Dubai 2020: Architecture in a transient city’. The participating students were encouraged to look at redesigning urban voids in Bur Dubai, a historic district in the emirate.

According to the organisers, including professors and architects Tiziano Aglieri Rinella and Rubén García Rubio, Dubai’s rapid development has led to the phenomena of urban sprawl, as well as the proliferation of ‘junkspaces’ – undeveloped areas located between high-density zones, resulting in the sensation of urban disorientation. The workshop aimed to provide solutions for the general contradictions of these urban voids.

The students of the participating institutions were broken up into three teams and sent in proposals that looked to provide suitable functions that meet the needs of the residents.

“In a city in constant transformation, the proposed interventions are aimed at the recovery and re-appropriation of public space, a basic need of citizens, currently forgotten in many of Dubai’s areas,” the workshop mission reads. “These new projects tried to reconnect the fragmented city’s fabric, transforming void plots, currently unused or used as parking, into dynamic common spaces to enrich the urban life of the neighbourhood and their citizens.”

The students designed a set of common facilities situated across different Bur Dubai neighbourhoods including Al Kabeer, Al Hamriya and Al Mankhool.

Al Kabeer

The three student proposals for Al Kabeer

Al Kabeer is characterised by the irregular and chaotic morphology typical of the traditional Arab cities where the high density and human scale are still present. The different groups designed interventions that connect all the areas of this neighbourhood while providing them with individual idiosyncrasy at the same time. All of the proposals moved the parking spaces underground, which helped create new dynamic walking and gathering spaces on the ground floor.

 Al Hamriya

The three student proposals for Al Hamriya

Following John Harris’ masterplan designed in 1959, Al Hamriya was built following a modern orthogonal grid while still preserving the traditional human scale. The similar proportions and geometry, yet different shape of the three subareas, guided the groups to a common but flexible strategy that solves the particularities of each place. This strategy was developed on three different levels: an underground level where the parking lot mixes with different uses, a carved and mould ground floor where new buildings arise from the surface, and a first level where aerial structures cast shadow and accommodate new uses.

Al Mankhool

The three student proposals for Al Mankhool

With most of its buildings only dating back to the 1990s, Al Mankhool is still largely under development. For this area, the groups experienced a dramatic change of scale. Buildings became taller and larger, and the size of the open spaces significantly increased. Al Mankhool follows an orthogonal grid were the empty plots are used as parking spots. The organisers believe this compound lost the human scale typical of the Islamic city and within the lack of public space there is a general sense of alienation. The cars’ pervasive presence is a fundamental urban issue that can’t be ignored, they said, and the project proposals attempted to solve the need of parking lots together with the enhancement of a quality public space.

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