Thomas Heatherwick unveils 125,000 sq m cracked landscape park for Abu Dhabi
At Cityscape Abu Dhabi this week, Thomas Heatherwick unveiled his 125,000 sq m park design for the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation. Heatherwick and his London team at Heatherwick Studio have been working on the project for the past two and a half years, with construction due to commence in Abu Dhabi in early 2015. It is estimated that the park will open to the public in 2017.
Entitled ‘Al Fayah’, the Arabic term for ‘shade’, the concept is an alternative notion as to what constitutes a public park. Heatherwick 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.”
Instead, the team has pitched a landscape reminiscent of a cracked salt flat, rising into a shaded canopy 20m above ground level. This smoothly transitioning platform will become a cavernous social space supported by thick columns, as shown in the renderings displayed here, creating a dramatic vaulted ceiling.
“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 centre, where there will be lush planting and pools, like a wadi. The idea is to create a contrast between the desiccated desert, which is spectacularly dry and cracked, and the spectacularly lush planting that is revealed within those cracks.”
Heatherwick Studio were keen to create a park that would speak directly to its context, in contrast to a number of existing developments within Abu Dhabi which, they note, ‘could exist anywhere in the world’. The resulting concept provides a contextually-rich development that offers Abu Dhabi residents with a social venue that does not encourage commercial activity, ‘it will simply let you be’.
Alongside the open public spaces, the development will include a mosque, children’s play areas, an outdoor cinema, a library, exercise paths and gardens for growing fruit and vegetables to supply local food and drink outlets.