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“Architecture is the New Diplomacy. The Mohammed Bin Rashid Gardens capture the spirit of Civic Design, creating new hope for the Middle East by restoring the soul of Arabian civilization to the heart of its cities.
Enlightened leadership has filled history with grand precedents for such grand designs. By ordering his Persian capital to be moved to Isfahan, Shah Abbas I realised a vision for his parks, gardens and libraries of Nisf-e-Jahan (Half the World) to reflect the heavens above.
As Domenico Fontana was to Pope Sixtus V’s Rome; Peter the Great to St Petersburg; L'Enfant to Washington DC; Hausmann to Napolean III's Paris; Frederick Law Olmstead to Manhattan; Edwin Lutyens to New Delhi; and Walter Burley Griffin to Canberra, so Sheikh Mohammed’s vision for a new Dubai will redefine the quality of civic life for the citizens, residents and guests of the Arabian Gulf.”
The City: The Mohammed Bin Rashid Gardens represent the most innovative approach to urban form to be found anywhere in the Middle East. Celebrating the intricate geometry of Arabian art and science its 56 million square feet of verdant parks and gardens divide an 880 million square foot city into a network of sustainable neighbourhoods, each containing the molecule of daily life. Scaled around walk-able distances that provide easy access to food, healthcare and education, this enlightened model of urban planning will help reverse the Gulf’s existing commuter culture that has eroded both communities and the environment.
The Form: The Mohammed Bin Rashid Gardens offer a culturally resonant alternative to the sterile Western-style street grids that currently dominate the Middle East. They replace those rigid, rectilinear lines with the sweeping arcs and circles of the planispheric astrolabe; an instrument perfected by Islamic scholars, craftsmen and astronomers. Fusing the spheres of art and astronomy into an intricate object of enduring beauty, the astrolabe represents one of the greatest leaps of human imagination.
It maps the movements of celestial bodies through the vastness of space, etching them onto a brass plate that can be held in the palm of the hand. Dubai is likewise a product of great imagination: A royal vision for a modern city that has risen from an ancient land. To base a new city plan upon an object embodying 2000 years of human invention is to build upon the bedrock of civilisation itself.
The Gardens: A literal translation of the astrolabe’s ornate brass rete, the city’s parks and gardens form a lush green net that catches all the cultural and residential districts within its spreading strands. The lungs of the city, these linear public parks act as carbon sinks that purify the surrounding air while providing shaded ‘green corridors’ that support sustainable modes of transport. Drawing upon the rich heritage of Islamic landscape design the Mohammed Bin Rashid Gardens will be a city of canals and fountains, pools and lakes. Their cooling surfaces shall temper the heat of the day, while the sound of trickling water will help create oases of calm amidst the busy metropolis. With garlands of golf courses, bridleways, cycle paths and promenades, the citizens will have ample opportunity to enjoy a healthy active lifestyle.
The Canals: Carving the patterns of the heavens into the desert sands the Union Canal describes the celestial path of the Milky Way. Flowing inland from Dubai Creek it describes a wide arc across the Mohammed Bin Rashid Gardens before rejoining the waters of the Gulf once more. Cutting across its meandering course, the dramatic diagonal of the Grand Axial Canal points to way to the holy city of Mecca, furbishing the city with a permanent means of spiritual alignment. Reversing the current trend for reclaiming land from sea these canals bring water to the desert, transforming the arid dunes into valuable real estate. Unifying the city’s masterplan this 21st century navigation functions as both urban artery and leisure amenity, open to citizen and visitor alike. Creating miles of lively democratic waterfronts the Union Canal will be the envy of the world.
The Centres: In orbit around the Garden Ring, three distinctive geometries announce the presence of the Houses of Humanity, Nature and Commerce; all centres of excellence within their respective fields. Surrounded by circular lakes they form grand termini for the separate branches of the Union Canal that reach out to every corner of the city. Their watery frames serve to highlight the geometry of their forms, all drawn from the rich vocabulary of Arabian design.
The 9-pointed star of the House of Humanity will become home to the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Humanitarian Establishment. Supporting the charitable goals of this institution will be the offices for UNICEF and other global charities, complemented by permanent museums along the themes of humanity and civilisation.
The distinctive crescent moon of the House of Nature will encompass an extensive family resort, integrated with wildlife parks and zoological research facilities. In this way, the wonders of the natural world will be brought to a wider public via eco-tourism, while providing the subjects for scientific observation. Specialised environmental laboratories and colleges will sit opposite hotels and entertainment clubs, while the generous pleasure gardens will provide flowers and herbs for clinics researching alternative medicines and natural remedies.
Responding to the everyday needs of office workers the amenities of the House of Commerce will allow them to shop, dine and relax, all within one square mile. This integrated approach will improve the quality of everyday life for thousands of employees, giving them the flexibility to achieve their perfect live/work balance. With its cluster of signature towers housing major financial institutions in banking, brokerage and insurance the House’s 8-pointed star will become a landmark in international business affairs.
The Centrepiece: Acting as the cultural lynch pin of Dubai’s knowledge economy, the circular Bait Al Hikma (House of Wisdom) will house a university campus whose grand central library and translation unit will continue the legacy of its illustrious namesake. Its central architectural element, inspired by a unique spherical astrolabe, offers up an iconic form that makes the link between the Islamic Golden Age and the modern world. Working in unison, the campus mosque, university and library will bring the rich heritage of Arabian scholastic excellence out of the archives and into light, for all the world to share.
Legacy: With its integrated collection of artful civic forms and iconic infrastructure the masterplan for the Mohammed Bin Rashid Gardens offers a sustainable model for the future. Raised in such enlightened surroundings Dubai’s next generation will be well equipped to participate in the market place of ideas that is driving our 21st century world.
© CivicArts LLP, 2011