UK designer and architect Thomas Heatherwick has been commissioned to design a new public park in Abu Dhabi. The Al Fayah park will cover 125,000 sq m (1,346,000 sq ft) and has been described by Heatherwick as, "part architecture, part landscape, part cultural destination." Its design is a response to the desert landscape.
Heatherwick is known for his London bus, 2012 Olympic cauldron and upcoming Garden Bridge designs, but has also been involved in other proposals in Abu Dhabi, including for a park in Khalidiya and a mosque in Masdar City. The plans for the Al Fayah Park have been under development by the 120-strong team at Heatherwick Studio for the past two and a half years.
Al Fayah means "shade" in Arabic and this theme is central to the project. "Designing a park in the desert presented the studio with a series of challenges, the most serious of which was how to provide protection from the hot desert sun for visitors as well as for the parks plants and vegetation," explains Studio Heatherwick on its website. In addition, the project also had to deliver spaces for relaxation and leisure and be energy efficient and sustainable in its use of water for irrigation (although no details have been provided on those last points).
As well as tackling these problems, the Studio wanted to celebrate the beauty of the desert and work with it, rather than trying to fight against the heat. In a press release, Heatherwick himself explains, "To us, the idea of taking a European-style park, unrolling that on to the desert like a piece of turf and then watering the hell out of it felt somewhat at odds with the local context."
The resulting design is inspired by the patterns that form in the desert landscape when the earth cracks from the heat of the sun and the recognition that it is possible for vegetation to thrive in the desert temperature if it is in the shade. A dome that mimics the cracked desert ground rises above the park, providing a semi-covered space in which vegetation can be grown. It is described by Heatherwick Studio as a "sunken oasis."
"We wondered what would happen if we pulled the desert apart and lifted it into the air so that you could be raised up and, at night, walk on top to view the Grand Mosque," says Heatherwick. "You’ll either be able to walk up on to the top of the park or down into its center, where there will be lush planting and pools, like a wadi."
Explaining how Al Fayah Park will differ to the space it will replace, Heatherwick says, "We were aware that there was an existing, very exposed piece of ground that was using a lot of water and it felt to us like it was following a European model of what a park can be. We wanted to go back and reinvent a public space of nature, contemplation and leisure in the context of the utterly different climatic conditions of the Middle East."
The park will include a mosque, play areas, an outdoor cinema, a library, exercise paths and gardens where fruits and vegetables will be grown to supply food and drink outlets. The shade is conceived as a means of providing places for families to gather and picnic, for learning and for festivals.
Work is expected to begin early next year, with the park is due to open two years later.