x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Dubai's old Bastakiya district holds new lessons for urban planners

The historic district of Bastakiya in Dubai holds secrets to cool design, modern urban developers say.

DUBAI // It is one of the oldest areas of Dubai, but Bastakiya may yet yield fresh lessons for modern urban developers.

The shaded, narrow streets of the district are several degrees cooler than average temperatures elsewhere in the city, a study published online last month by the Renewable Energy journal said.

Dr Bassam Abu-Hijleh, a report co-author and dean of the engineering department at the British University of Dubai, said the design of Bastakiya was in many ways superior to modern grid-based housing developments.

"If you walk between the buildings in Bastakiya, it's actually cooler than walking anywhere else in Dubai," Dr Abu-Hijleh said.

"Our idea was to go back and see what we can learn from the past. With the things that worked, maybe we can adapt it to the current designs. Maybe we can import some of these things into future designs."

The research was carried out by Dana Taleb as a master's thesis in sustainable design.

"I wanted to make a comparison with something that was typically modern, like a grid layout, with something that was a lot more organic, like an older development," Ms Taleb said.

Instead of taking measurements directly, she used sophisticated software called Envi-met to simulate the temperatures in the district based on the design of the buildings, wind speed and vegetation growth.

Ms Taleb compared these temperatures with a hypothetical grid-based development, similar to that used in Jumeirah.

The results showed that in non-windy conditions in Bastakiya in June, temperatures were 34.9°C, compared with 36.6°C in a grid-based development.

Dr Abu-Hijleh said the difference was significant. "A couple of degrees might not seem a lot but it can result in a significant increase in cooling loads for buildings, and could make the environment in between buildings even worse for pedestrians."

"If you have no shading and higher-than-average temperatures outside, then people will be reluctant to walk, which means more cars and more carbon emissions."

Dr Abu-Hijleh said the temperature difference came from the positioning of the buildings.

"The buildings shade themselves and the streets are able to capture the wind more effectively and use it to flush out the heat from the district," he said. "This is not always the case with modern, grid-based developments."

He added that the area developed organically to meet the demands of its occupants.

"I think it was intentional but not necessarily from some advanced academic plan," Dr Abu-Hijleh said. "Essentially, people learn from experience on where they should put the house to get more wind and less heat.

"This is not only the case for Bastakiya. In many places of the world, you'll find that the cities have grown in such a manner.

"It seems the older people got something right."

mcroucher@thenational.ae