La Casa’s Ihab Nayal says connectivity is the future of UAE masterplans

La Casa’s Ihab Nayal says connectivity is the future of UAE masterplans

Ihab Nayal, La casa, Masterplanning, Masterplans in the UAE, Urban design, Urban development

Architects across Dubai are now working on improving the connectivity between the emirate’s once-isolated pods of development, said La Casa’s principal designer Ihab Nayal.

“I think that there’s been a realisation that there isn’t much connectivity,” he said. “Now, developers are leaning toward more openness between different masterplans and they are starting to consider the impact their work has on a pedestrian level. We’re moving away from the Los Angeles-style, vehicle-dependent urban developments and are becoming a more pedestrian friendly city.”

Nayal explained that in Dubai, buildings and developments have largely been built spread out from one another, rather than in compact configurations that help create shade and wind, and that are within walking distance from each other. Now, he said, architects are starting to consider how their buildings affect the surrounding urban fabric.

“When buildings are closely knit together, that makes the pedestrian the focal point,” he said. “What happens is that instead of a city where the natural growth is from the centre and begins expanding outward in circles, Dubai created different circles with the pedestrian link between them cut off.”

According to Nayal, Abu Dhabi differs from Dubai in that it follows a simple grid-like system, but it still faces challenges with connectivity and lacks “Dubai’s creativity”.

“I would say Abu Dhabi has less of an issue with connectivity, but it also doesn’t experiment in the same way that Dubai does, especially in terms of urban design, which is an important element of masterplanning,” he added.

“Dubai provides a few examples of where buildings have positive relationships with each other, in terms of the negative space between them, as well as the way pedestrians interact with them. These include Dubai’s financial centre and the Emaar Boulevard.”



At La Casa, one of Nayal’s favourite masterplans was a 26-hectare project designed in the GCC. Facing an active main road on one side and a large park on the other, the project’s pedestrian level was raised on a podium, which freed the grade level and allowed vehicular circulation to reach all of the project’s buildings.

From the early concept stage, Nayal aimed to create a contextual side for the masterplan’s street-facing edge (and address a connection to the surrounding city). He integrated organic buildings to create a “very different relationship with the park”, while the pedestrian deck was given a distinct character, he added, and occupied the space created between the two different building typologies found on the site.

Ihab Nayal, Photo by Richard Hall / ITP Images

The masterplan shed light on a major contributing factor to whether or not masterplans are successful – the regulation. If there isn’t regulation on density, said Nayal, developers are likely to over-build masterplans and reduce urban and green spaces.

“A challenge that I’ve found in a few GCC countries is flawed regulation,” he explained. “The other challenge is not having enough data to properly study the development in terms of traffic, impact and so on.”

He added that masterplanning in the UAE will start shifting — if it hasn’t already — toward smart cities, and reducing the carbon footprints.

“There are some masterplans that concentrate on that already, like Masdar City. I think it’s going to become more common,” he said.

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