Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

A scorched-earth public park? Only in Abu Dhabi

By Daisy Carrington, for CNN
updated 6:00 AM EDT, Thu June 19, 2014
Thomas Heatherwick recently unvelied plans for Abu Dhabi's Al Fayah Park. The underground park will be shaded by a series of canopies, which will resemble cracked earth.
Thomas Heatherwick recently unvelied plans for Abu Dhabi's Al Fayah Park. The underground park will be shaded by a series of canopies, which will resemble cracked earth.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • British designer Thomas Heatherwick recently unveiled plans for Al Fayah Park
  • The park will be covered with a dome that resembles a parched desert landscape
  • Underneath, the park will have pools, streams and lush community gardens

Editor's note: The wording of the first paragraph of this story has been updated to address unintended offense caused to some of our readers. Read a version of this story in Arabic.

(CNN) -- Sometimes it seems that Abu Dhabi, despite being one of the richest cities on earth, is uncertain of its identity: much of its new architecture is heavily influenced by European examples rather than a desert or Gulf vernacular.

British designer Thomas Heatherwick aims to change that.

"Some of the parks that have existed here have been based on the romantic notion of a European park. It's as if someone went to Paris and said, 'ooh, that's a nice park,' and rolled it up and dropped it on top of the desert," notes Thomas Heatherwick, the British designer of the 2012 Summer Olympics and Paralympics cauldron and the London Routemaster bus.

Heatherwick is hoping to renew the UAE capital's pride of place. His weapon of choice? A cracked, underground park that embraces both the natural aesthetic and flora indigenous to the land.

An artist's impression of Heatherwick's design.

"There can be a mentality that can easily exist here that sees the desert as a surface to be covered up, instead of maybe celebrating its uniqueness," says Heatherwick, who recently unveiled plans for proposed 1.3-million-square-foot Al Fayah Park.

On the outside, the public space will resemble a 65-feet high mound of parched earth.

Heatherwick imagines it as a space where residents will congregate to picnic, or catch an outdoor concert.

Underneath the dome (which is really a patchwork of canopies held up by several columns) will live lush gardens (including date palms and a community vegetable patch), streams and pools, cafes, and a public library.

Dubai Mall attracts 75 million people a year
Dubai Mall's famous fountain show

"The amazing thing about living in a city, in a place where people live in close proximity to each other, are those times when you want to see your fellow citizens, when you want to be amongst them and have your mind move forward," Heatherwick notes.

An alternative to shopping malls.

"Unlike in London, where you can go for a walk down the street, the extreme climate in Abu Dhabi limits your options. That kind of socializing tends to happen mainly in shopping malls," explains Heatherwick.

Al Fayah Park, he hopes, will be offer the city's residents a viable alternative. The domed park will also give the otherwise flat city an undulating quality.

"It's almost two stories in the middle. It's almost like Abu Dhabi's first hill," he says.

To reduce the nation's carbon footprint, Heatherwick has also opted to mix concrete from desert sand, eliminating the need to rely on imports. Furthermore, the shade provided by the rooftop will also reduce the amount of desalinated water needed to irrigate the plants underneath by restricting evaporation.

"The partial shade will mean we can use half the quantity of water that the current site used, and create more lushness in the process," he says.

Read: Discover the world's tallest tower

Read: Inside the world's largest mall

Read: Why was Petra really built?

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:12 PM EDT, Wed October 8, 2014
Managing over 2 million people during the Hajj takes some serious technology.
updated 2:11 AM EDT, Tue October 7, 2014
More needs to be done so women from Saudi Arabia can become world champions in sports.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Mon October 6, 2014
Is nothing sacred? How tech allows narcissism to run riot.
From the waters of the Persian Gulf a new mega museum is emerging.
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Where better to start a record-breaking solar powered flight than the desert?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Ahmed Eldin is the 18-year-old behind the prog-rock band's new album cover. Shine on you crazy diamond.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
The Humans of New York photo project exposes the hopes and fears of ordinary people in Iraq and Jordan.
updated 10:06 PM EDT, Tue September 9, 2014
Dubai's appetite for construction continues with multi-billion dollar boost to build the world's largest airport.
updated 11:02 PM EDT, Mon September 8, 2014
The UAE is becoming a hub for plastic surgery with more Emiratis going under the knife each year.
updated 7:20 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Meet Erdal Inci, a digital artist from Turkey who is transforming the medium.
updated 9:39 AM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Iran is pumping billions of dollars into a scheme to save a lake. What's so important about it?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT