Cities / Civil Engineering / Creativity / Dubai / Emirates / Middle East / Sustainability / urban design / Urban Planning

Dubai Amazes Again with Indoor City Design

mall of the world trolleyworld mall acquariumI’ve often dreamed of how marvelous it would be to have interesting places to walk indoors, safely at all hours, with some serious green spaces and entertainment options. During the day of course one can visit museums and then there are those dreaded American shopping malls–which people default to for the safety and climate control but are limited by fixed hours with an atmosphere of mindless materialist ambling amidst cookie-cutter storefronts, canned music and little of stimulating interest.


The Germans created an indoor beach for winter fun which seems to have functioned quite well and attracted lots of people.

A group in Manhattan is developing a skylight-lit underground park, called the “lowline” (inspired by the success of the Highline park.) Besides navigating the complex infrastructure beneath the great city of Manhattan, financing has been one of the biggest obstacles slowing the pace.  Everyone was skeptical of the Highline until they realized how much the public loved and used it.  Now, almost-sadly, it’s been discovered and real estate values are up dramatically.  The lowline will attract throngs of strolling curious from around the world to enjoy underground walks through inviting green vistas, below the hubbub of the city streets.  I suspect it could possibly also be a good example of sustainable development.

Of course, the main ingredient required for the imagination’s full flights of fancy is investment.  In comes the United Arab Emirates and its commercial city Dubai’s audacious new plan.  Already known worldwide for its largest malls in the world, offering every possible brand name shop and endless restaurant choices (including underwater,) for people seeking entertainment to escape the heat, Dubai will now create the most truly fantastical new Shangri La…. The Mall of the World. They had to take the next leap after creating seriously cold indoor skiing, so why not a fully temperature-controlled indoor city?  You can find the video, posted last July 2014, online.

I’m curious to learn the extent to which this ambitious project can be built sustainably?  That will be a considerable challenge given the outsized power requirements.  And, unlike Manhattan which is built on some of the most impressive bedrock in the world, Dubai’s foundation challenges are significant, combined with the global warming risk of rising water; so far, their skyscraper designs have seemed immune to limitations. What the Emirates does have is plenty of sun. These kinds of projects will spur innovation and development in how sustainable design can support the highest possible delivery of imaginative urban planning.

All Hail such Innovation backed by flush, confident investors to push the design envelope to the next level!  The UAE has advanced researched on the power of waves and gene studies, and in its capital Abu Dhabi, built Masdar City, the first zero carbon footprint city, another iconic example of their leadership in energy innovation.  To top it off, a new development is well along the way: Saadiyat Island which will be a global destination for culture vultures with full-fledged, partner museums: the Louvre Abu Dhabi (by Jean Nouvel) and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi (by Frank Gehry) and many other leading architect-designed fabulous venues for history and the visual and performing arts.

Beyond the current “wows,” the Emirates will continue to exceed expectations.  We can look forward to someday experiencing this indoor city where one can walk at all hours, access a variety of venues, cultural events, offices, institutions and services, all the while comfortably ensconced under glass. Given the stifling heat and humidity which plagues the Arabian Gulf for many months each year, locals and tourists alike will be drawn to Dubai’s Mall of the World, giving the city’s “traditional” malls–as dazzling as they are–some stiff competition.  This project will be yet another brilliant tourist draw for a city which is smartly diversifying to ensure a bright economic future.


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