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Oliver Ephgrave visits Al Bateen Park, Aldar’s huge Emirati housing scheme which is nearing completion in the heart of Abu Dhabi
Less than three weeks before the first handover, Aldar’s whitewashed Al Bateen Park housing scheme is teeming with activity. While hard-hatted construction workers patrol the 100,000m2 scheme in Abu Dhabi, a meaty stack of construction drawings is piling up on the desks in the site office of architect Dewan.
“These are just the top priority drawings for today,” remarks Imad Sadiq, resident engineer for the UAE-based firm. “We have a busy few weeks ahead of us – we’re currently on the pre-snagging stage; the contractor has to address our comments before we move onto snagging.”
The huge residential project for Emirati nationals, in the affluent Al Bateen district, is divided into two parcels. The smaller plot, which covers 33,000m2 with nine blocks and 284 apartments, is due to be delivered at the end of August.
Meanwhile, the larger plot, covering 66,000m2, is pencilled for delivery at the end of September. It contains three blocks of apartments as well as 75 villas. Ten of these are six-bed super-luxury homes with their own private pools, while the remainder is made up of 25 four-bed townhouses and 40 four-bed villas.
An unusual feature of the site, and the scheme itself, is that it surrounds Al Bateen cemetery. According to Sadiq, this proved to be a challenge for the architects. “We are planting trees around the cemetery boundary. It will be a curtain through which you can’t see. It is a big challenge in dealing with the cemetery. More landscaping will be planted on it.”
Yann Pennes, projects director, Dewan, adds: “We created a visual continuity and urban feel all around the site, therefore the cemetery remains private.” He explains that a separate park adjoins the cemetery, which can be accessed by residents.
Another challenge, according to Sadiq, is the client’s tight timeframe. He elaborates: “A big challenge is the fast track and the large scale; the project duration was just 20 months.
“It was on hold for many years, then Dewan was asked to start from zero, but just adopt the initial concept. We started design in 2010.”
Sadiq explains that the main package is worth $538m, while the enabling package was $25m, both won by contractor Seidco. Dewan was appointed as lead consultant, following conceptual work by Serendipity. The MEP consultant is Ian Banham & Associates.
Described as an ‘Arabesque’ style on Aldar’s website, Pennes elaborates on the aesthetics. “We tried to create a more contemporary version of Arab buildings. We used a new type of mashrabiya screens and placed them in different areas.”
He continues: “There is a deeper skin to the buildings – they are more insulated and energy efficient. This was to create the traditional Arabian feel. We mixed the rendered walls with wooden elements, in the form of pergolas and screens, to enhance the appearance of the buildings.”
In addition the mashrabiya panels, the villas contain stone cladding on the entrance facades to “give a private feel” according to Pennes.
The flat roofs and clean white render lends the development an almost art deco quality. Aside from the Arabic panels, the apartment blocks would not look out of place in the suburbs of London. However, the scheme with take on a decidedly Middle Eastern flavour once the landscaping is completed.
Dewan was involved in the overall landscape design while other landscape services were provided by Badri and Bensouda and Citiscape. “The landscaping will be a traditional style, with palm trees, vines and turf,” adds Sidiq.
He reveals that the 10 six-bed villas will have tailor-made back gardens, with end-users able to choose the plantation.
Pennes adds: “It will be a residential and family orientated landscape. The atmosphere will be very easy going; basic but quality. We arranged clusters of open space throughout, in both hard and soft landscaping, to break up urban fabric.”
Other outdoor components include fountains and sculptures, sandstone pool decks, childrens’ play areas with tensile canopies and a tennis court in the larger plot.
The scheme also contains two separate retail areas, with a coffee shop/restaurant that is open to the general public.
Access control will ensure the public can’t enter the residential area. There is also a boundary wall between the two plots, even though the scheme is viewed as one community, according to Sadiq.
When it comes to the design of the interiors, Pennes admits that the style is uncomplicated. “It’s a straightforward approach which harmonises with the modern Arabian feel. It’s an international style with open spaces and kitchens.”
Pennes’ description seems apt as the tour move inside an apartment block. The spaces are clean-lined and functional, with no extensive elaboration. Naturally the top floor penthouses enjoy the best views over Abu Dhabi and the surrounding cemetery and parkland.
In a 2010 Aldar press release, chief commercial officer, Mohammed al Mubarak, said: “This is going to be a great place to live that signals just how strong the underlying market for residential developments is in the heart of Abu Dhabi.”
Indeed, al Mubarak’s statement is backed up by a strong demand in the scheme. “Aldar launched the project seven months ago and sold it to locals. In certain sections they have sold every unit. It’s interesting to have such a project in the recession,” adds Sidiq.
One of the key reasons for its popularity is its central location. Situated between Khaleej al Arabi and Sultan bin Zayed streets, a stone’s throw from the centre of town, it’s close to the impressive Al Bateen Secondary School, also developed by Aldar and designed by Dewan.
Pennes adds: “We hope it will be a different type of offering in the city, with mid-rise luxury apartments and freestanding villas. It’s a quality of life that you would find outside the centre of the city.”
Another notable aspect of the scheme is its sustainable credentials. Pennes reveals that the project is gunning for a Pearl rating, but is complying with the 1 Pearl mandatory requirements for ‘Community’.
He adds: “Energy savings are achieved through the envelope insulation, solar hot water system and energy efficient appliances. Water savings are achieved through landscape specification/irrigation and sanitary fittings flow rate controls.
“It’s one of the first residential projects to go for Estidama, so it was a learning curve at every stage of design and construction.”