x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Dubai's eco-conscious Al Barari development bucks housing trends

Large plots, mature greenery and customisable properties give its newest neighbourhood, The Reserve, a different landscape.

A show villa in The Reserve, where plots measure between 30,000 square feet and 75,000 square feet.
A show villa in The Reserve, where plots measure between 30,000 square feet and 75,000 square feet. (ANTONIE ROBERTSON / The National )

With large plots, mature greenery and customisable properties, the eco-conscious Al Barari development's latest residential element, The Reserve, is bucking trends.

"We always seem to go against what other people are doing," says Mohammed Zaal, the chief executive officer of the $3.2 billion (Dh11.75bn) Al Barari development.

The luxury, eco-conscious estate in Dubai's Nad Al Sheba enclave certainly appears to do things a little differently. Where most developers in Dubai rush to complete their residential offering before focusing on infrastructure and landscaping, at Al Barari the greenery came first, so people moving into the 189 first-phase villas were greeted with a lush landscape already in full maturity.

Instead of squeezing as many houses as possible onto the site, about 80 per cent of Al Barari remains covered in greenery, making it the lowest-density development in the UAE. Because of the four million plants already thriving there, temperatures can be significantly lower within the estate than in the rest of Dubai.

Instead of the ubiquitous international chains that dot many of Dubai's residential communities, Al Barari's culinary offering consists of The Farm, a home-grown cafe-restaurant concept that champions fresh, locally sourced produce. And now, with the launch of its latest residential element, a collection of 33 villas called The Reserve, Al Barari is bucking the trend once again.

"Over the years we have obviously had constructive criticism and suggestions from clients about the development, the foremost being that people want big plots, which are not readily available in Dubai. Also, in this kind of category, people want to be able to customise their properties; they want to be unique and they want bespoke designs," Zaal explains.

"With the last 10 or so sales that we made for the existing villas, at least 80 per cent of people were requesting plot extensions or asking us to make changes to the houses, so this is where the idea came from. Over the years we have lost some customers because they wanted bigger plots, so we are now inviting them all back," he continues.

While many developers are veering towards smaller-sized units, Al Barari has gone to the other extreme. Plot sizes on The Reserve start at 30,000 square feet and go up to 75,000 square feet, with one plot measuring more than 100,000 square feet. Even more unusually in a city full of identikit residences, The Reserve villas are only built up to shell and core, so owners can fully customise their new homes.

"This wasn't part of the original plan," says Zaal. "It is something that came after and is completely based on market demand. It is important for us to keep the aesthetics of the community, so we've decided to build these 33 villas up to shell and core standard.

"If someone wants to design the villa themselves, we have an architectural code for the exterior but the landscaping, layout, interior architecture and material selection is up to them. At the same time, we have a huge team that can support them and give them anything they want, so we are catering for both types of people. If they want to stay out of it and let us handle the job, we can do that for them; if they want to be part of the design, they can be partially involved, or fully involved."

The villas are located on five so-called "leaves", with five or six properties on each leaf. They are valued at between Dh20 million and Dh35 million and come in four basic types: Amber, which has a gross floor area of 16,448 square feet; Onyx, at 14,918 square feet; Emerald, at 13,858 square feet; and Topaz, at 12,713 square feet. The Reserve villas will be surrounded by botanical gardens and green areas, will offer striking views of the Dubai skyline and will be set near a large lake. The road network has been altered to create more space in front of the houses and to allow homeowners greater flexibility in terms of garage space and outdoor areas.

All 33 villas will be ready by the end of the year, with the first 15 scheduled for completion by the end of August. They are already on sale, with Zaal reporting a "very good response" so far.

He has reason to be confident. The 189 villas from the first phase of the Al Barari development are 95 per cent occupied, he says, with residents hailing from Europe, the subcontinent and the wider Middle East region. "We also have a lot of locals living here, which is encouraging because they can obviously build or rent a house wherever they like."

In addition to the greenery, the quality of the build sets Al Barari apart, says Zaal, who himself moved to the neighbourhood a little under a year ago. "The quality of the homes is undisputed," he says. He refuses to be drawn into a conversation about construction standards in other parts of Dubai, but accepts that "there is definitely room for improvement".

The one misconception that Al Barari is having to contend with, however, relates to its location. Tucked away in the Dubailand district, just off Emirates Road, it is viewed by some as being a little too far off the beaten track.

"People do perceive it to be far out, but we have a great infrastructure network in Dubai. There are great roads and you hardly ever have any traffic around here. Emirates Road is a central road to the whole UAE. Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) is 10 minutes away and for people who travel a lot, the airport is only 10 minutes away."

Where many developers have made ambitious long-term plans and then failed to deliver, Al Barari has taken a slow and steady approach to its evolution, and has yet to reveal much about its second phase. Zaal remains tight-lipped on details, but if The Reserve is anything to go by, phase two will be a fluid, well-considered response to current market demands.

"The whole plot of land was 14.2 million square feet. We've now developed a first phase of 9.3 million and we have another five million square feet of land and we want to create a destination," Zaal says. "We'll be moving on to the second phase where we are looking to make Al Barari a destination where people can go to do anything, not just live but work and enjoy and shop and eat."