B+H on designing for the public realm

As stewards of changing and shaping our urban environments, designers, architects
and planners understand that the public realm is intrinsic to a city’s urban fabric.

While the concept of the public realm has been around for centuries, the ways in which we think about it, in the context of modern urban design, continue to evolve. Such was the case with the masterplan of the residential Lu’Luat Island, located in the rapidly developing city of Abu Dhabi. Part of an ambitious waterfront development that spreads over five square kilometres known as Al Raha Beach, the Lu’Luat Island Master Plan redefines the notion of public space in a region best known for its sky-high landmark towers and superhighways.

Photo courtesy B+H Architects

Faced with the challenge of completely rethinking the urban structure of an existing masterplan, the B+H team set out to produce a new design solution. The updated design complements the development pattern for Abu Dhabi and responds to new market conditions and building height restrictions. With large public rights-of-way, private villas and townhouses lining the waterfront and tall towers of 45 storeys competing for attention in the original plan, the new approach preserves the same GFA allowance and density with a reduction to 11 storeys.

This height reduction reorients the design from a dispersed series of point-towers to a scheme focused on the pedestrian level. Of significant importance to this project was the creation of connectivity within the public realm and developing well-defined sub-districts with unique neighbourhood characteristics.

Through an integrated approach to urban design, the team designed a sequence of public spaces with clear at-grade relationships to adjacent buildings. Pedestrian-oriented streetscapes were created by narrowing streets to provide a sense of intimacy. Residential tower components still maintain optimal distance for privacy and view corridors, but together create a sense of a skyline and a concentration of development activity. The community space, rather than automobiles, became the principal focus of the design of streets and public areas and for the layout of mixed-use corridors.

Photo courtesy B+H Architects

The design of the “Village Main Street” represents a pedestrian-focused right-of- way as a new concept in Abu Dhabi and required work with the Department of Transport to justify and obtain approval for the design.

The network of pedestrian amenities and linear promenades and parks is designed to draw residents into the surrounding social realm. The main street – the “Village Centre” of the island – connects a beachfront park at the western end of the island with a community park and a commercial plaza that leads to the marina and features a promenade along its perimeter. Retail and food and beverage outlets spill onto generous sidewalks.

The pedestrian promenade, encircling the island shoreline, provides a scenic opportunity for jogging, cycling and other recreational activities.

The masterplan for Lu’Luat Island marks the beginning of a new school of thought in Abu Dhabi’s development. Its detailed attention to the public realm promises a new model for community living and is evidence that tomorrow’s cities are indeed shaped by the experiences and ideas of today’s designers, architects and planners. In a world where it seems as if we are continuously gazing upward at glittering new towers, it’s important, now more than ever, that design is rooted in deeper connections within our communities. It’s only when these intricacies are respected that a newly planned city can begin its evolutionary journey to become one of the great cities of the future.

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