Can you make a park out of the desert?
The studio was asked to re-conceive a major piece of public land in Abu Dhabi. Following the rapid pace of the city’s recent development there was a desire to provide a local park and public space devoted to the well-being of the people of the city.
Designing a park in the desert presented a series of challenges, the most serious of which was how to protect visitors and plants from the hot desert sun. Offering a place for relaxation and leisure, the park also needed to be energy efficient and sustainable in its use of irrigation. The existing public space evoked a European park, covering the desert with a blanket of grass. However, counteracting evaporation required a significant amount of purified water, which had to be produced industrially from salty sea water through a costly desalination process.
The idea for the park’s design developed in response to these challenges, as a way of celebrating the beauty of the desert and its distinct forms. Instead of denying the desert, we set ourselves the task of making a park out of it.
The studio became interested in the patterns of the desert landscape, particularly the cracks in the earth produced through the heat of the sun. We also became fascinated by how, historically, people living in such intense heat had grown plants in the shade of a palm tree to dilute the strength of the sun’s rays. Experimenting with the idea of a structure based on the fractured desert crust, we developed a scheme revealing partially-shaded planted spaces below a concrete surface.
The project evolved as a series of cracked pieces raised on columns and forming a gentle dome across the site. The perforated canopy of partial shade could allow a lush garden to grow, protected from the harsh excess of the desert sun. This sunken oasis then becomes a landscape of plants and trees, forming a series of interconnected public spaces.
The 20m high shaded garden is conceived as a place for families to gather and picnic, as well as a place for learning and festivals. Visitors will find cafés, play spaces, a library, pools and streams, as well as date palms and community vegetable gardens. By creating partial shade for the planting, the canopy aims to reduce the amount of water lost to evaporation, and so will improve the park’s efficiency and sustainability. Whilst providing shade in the daytime, the elevated plates also act as a network of social and meeting places in the cooler evening hours.