x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

New town to keep heat at bay

An entire town is to be built along a north-south axis to take advantage of cool breezes blowing in off the sea.

An artist's impression of Xeritown, which will be built on a 60-acre area in Dubailand.
An artist's impression of Xeritown, which will be built on a 60-acre area in Dubailand.

In a novel example of man and nature working in harmony, an entire town is to be built along a north-south axis to take advantage of cool breezes blowing in off the sea. Architects, who say they have been inspired by the climate, landscape and environment of Dubai, have orientated the 60-acre Xeritown in Dubailand so the cool sea breeze is sucked into the town and the hot desert breeze is blocked out.

Farid Esmaeil and Ahmed al Ali of X Architects believe the principles behind Xeritown will provide Emiratis with their own architectural identity. "Cities in the UAE aren't growing in a way that their design respects this environment, this climate," Mr Ali said. "We want to do urban design in such a way that is as if it grew here naturally. We want to create an identity here." A xeriscape is an urban or garden area, which is designed to minimise the use of water. The idea, the architects say, is to make the desert elements central to the design of Xeritown, rather than taking the view that the natural elements have to be overcome in urban design. Where water is needed for non-domestic uses, grey water and industrial waste water will be used.

"The strategy was to maintain the existing landscape, to preserve it in its most original form," Mr al Ali said. "This hasn't been done in Dubai. Most of the buildings here could be anywhere in the world. But we have a unique climate, it makes sense to design with it in mind." The streets will be limited to two lanes, reducing the number of vehicles on them. Public transport, Mr al Ali says, will be key.

The town is an exercise in what he calls social sustainability, an attempt to make street life more comfortable and lively with cafes, shops, shade and benches. "We want different types of families, people of different ages, different incomes and different ethnicities to live here," he said. "We're thinking about social sustainability, not just environmental." The buildings will be tall enough to provide shade for the streets below, say the architects. They will provide shade without using palm or other trees, because most vegetation in the UAE is not native and is energy intensive.

Large flat circles will hang over the walkways on streets that are not shaded by buildings and photovoltaic cells will collect solar energy. "We want to use the sun as passively as possible, meaning we don't want to build a big, alternative energy machine, said Mr Ali. With PVC panels, we can direct energy to the grid and light spaces like the lobbies of buildings and parking areas, which will be underground."

Sustainability is a buzz word, says Enrico Perez, an architect at the Abu Dhabi office of the international design firm Atkins Global. While he agrees with the need to minimise environmental impact through design, he is sceptical when he hears some of the ambitious green plans, especially in the UAE. "People want to be able to say they are being green, the building is green," he said. "But we need to sustain sustainability. And that means more education and laws."

Mr Ali and Mr Esmaeil acknowledge the UAE has a lot to learn about good design and environmental responsibility, but believe the town could have a positive impact on residents if it is comfortable, enjoyable to live in and has streets that are built for people not cars. "There are three types of foxes, one who lives in a cold climate, one in a forest and one in a very hot climate," Mr al Ali said. "They are all foxes, but each one has different characteristics specific to the climate he lives in. Do you see what I'm saying? We need to be responsive to our environment. That's what this plan is. It's adapted to this place. It's organic."

@Email:jhume@thenational.ae