A green heart for Abu Dhabi: Mushrif Central Park to reopen
A group of schoolchildren have paid their second visit to Mushrif Central Park in the heart of Abu Dhabi, which will reopen on 20 March after a Dh179 million makeover with a new cafe, indoor play area, sports hall and events venue.
What the school party lacks in size, it more than makes up for in terms of excitement.
It may only be 9am, but the 15 children waiting outside the glazed gateway of the new Mushrif Central Park are fidgeting and their voices can be heard clearly over the music that pumps through the reserve’s sound system.
“The last time I was here, it was just sand. I can’t recognise it now,” says Tommy, one of the nine-year-olds from the British School Al Khubairat, who have come for a sneak preview of the Dh179 million park on the school’s doorstep.
“This is like Singapore,” says another unidentified voice from the pack.
The children and their leader, Hannah Robb, have been invited back to the park for the second time in a year to check on its progress.
“There are three children from each class in Year 4,” explains the teacher in a soft Irish brogue. “We picked their names out of a hat, but they’re the same children who were here last year when the whole place was a building site.
“Last year, we brought out four classes of 125 children and it was absolutely amazing. They picked up a tree, uprooted it and then we saw them plant it somewhere else.
“The children were wowed, but they couldn’t really understand how the park would look when it was finished.”
The children have no problem envisaging how the park will look now.
Despite the lines of small plants that sit awaiting their final placement, the only other jobs that must be completed before the park’s grand opening are the final fit-out of its cafe, the completion of an indoor play area, sports hall and events venue.
Then there is the delivery of the animals – camels, ponies, rabbits and goats – that will live in the park’s Animal Barn, where children will also be able to listen to talks about conservation and wildlife by a team from Emirates Park Zoo.
The park also features exercise areas and playgrounds, an education zone that recreates the UAE’s desert and wadi environments, a botanic garden, outdoor Led cinema screens and a Great Lawn that can accommodate 2,500 for outdoor performances and events.
The focus for those events is likely to be the park’s amphitheatre, a sweeping stone performance space equipped with changing rooms and audio-visual equipment that can broadcast any performance through the park’s 299 speakers.
Crowned by an enormous, twisting canopy, the amphitheatre sits opposite the park’s other main architectural feature – the 215-tonne, 28-metre tall shade house that shelters the park’s tender plants and acts as its main viewing platform and landmark.
“I’ve been here for 30 years so I remember the old park,” she says. “When I first came here, this was a ladies’ and children’s park and was, in many ways, the centre of the community, but the park will be open to everybody now and I think it will become quite a landmark.”
That is certainly the intention of Abdul Aziz Ahmed, chief executive of Al Ain Properties, the investment and development company behind the new park.
“We hope that this park will allow people to engage in different activities, and we hope it will open doors for people and allow them to enjoy themselves as well as being educated and entertained,” Mr Ahmed says.
He says working on the park has been a very different type of development experience.
“When you do a commercial project there is an obvious return. One plus one equals two, but when you do a project like this, one plus one equals infinity,” Mr Ahmed says.
“This park is like a piece of infrastructure. When you look at a road or a bridge, you don’t think about the financial return, you think about what it will do for the city and this park is a piece of infrastructure that we hope everybody will benefit from.
“The park is a gift to the people of Abu Dhabi.”
It has taken two years and two months to get to the park to its state of near readiness and the journey, Mr Ahmed says, has been anything but straightforward.
“We have faced serious challenges. This wasn’t an empty plot of land. There were existing services and infrastructure that was obsolete, electricity cables had to be shifted and we found lots of asbestos that we were not expecting. All of these things delayed construction.”
One of the other major factors that delayed the park’s development was a commitment from the design and construction team to retain as much of the park’s invaluable and largely irreplaceable “green infrastructure” as possible.
When it closed in January 2012, the original Mushrif Ladies’ Garden was home to more than 1,000 mature trees, including native species such as ghaf, many of which were as old as the original park, which opened in 1982.
In a first for an Abu Dhabi construction project, a decision was made to save as many of these mature trees as possible, so even before construction began a survey was conducted to assess each tree’s health, whether it could be saved and whether it was worth saving.
The result was a protection programme in which more than 200 trees, some weighing as much as 40 tonnes, were dug up, potted and relocated to an on-site nursery.
There they were cared for by a team of gardeners until the moment when they could be re-used in the new design.
But before any planting could take place, the whole of the park’s 14 hectares had to be stripped of its existing topsoil and new, uncontaminated and plant-friendly topsoil had to be introduced, to a depth of 50 centimetres across the whole site.
Only once all of this had happened could the rescued trees be replanted.
These have now been joined by almost 1,000 new specimen trees and 250 species of fruit and vegetables, including oranges, lemons, mangos, aubergines and pomegranates that feature in the park’s demonstration fruit and vegetable gardens and promise to be one of the more popular horticultural features in the park.
If nothing else, the decision to retain the park’s existing trees has paid off visually, achieving an immediate impression of establishment and maturity more in keeping with a horticultural show garden than with a newly completed landscape.
Mushrif Central Park will open on 20 March 2015. For more details visit mushrifcentralpark.ae
Updated: February 26, 2015 04:00 AM