Wahat Al Karama, Abu Dhabi
Wahat Al Karama, Abu Dhabi

The three pillars for successful urban design in the Middle East, according to AESG

According to AESG, an international specialist engineering and consultancy practice, 60 percent of the world's population is projected to live in urban areas by 2050. Considering the numerous mental and physical health impacts associated with urban living, AESG gathered a number of Dubai-based architects to discuss the key elements that drive successful urban design. 

Held under the forum 'Designing for Healthy, Happy Cities', AESG consultants Phillipa Grant and Katherine Bruce were joined by Rula Sadik, regional director at Stantec; Steven Velegrinis, head of masterplanning at AECOM; Nada Chami, business development manaer at Saint GObain UAE; and  Shaun Killa, design partner at Killa Design. 

The panel agreed on the three pillars to urban design, which include nature, neighbourhood and networks. 

As exposure to natural surrounding is fundamental to the well-being of urban residents, the design and planning of cities should consider green spaces that allow residents to easily integrate interactions with nature into their daily routine. Given the region's climate, the panel recommended that hardy desert plants should be considered when landscaping. The importance of parks of all sizes − especially pocket parks that are often cut out of the design process − to increase daily exposure to nature was also highlighted.

The group also acknowledged that technologies such as smartphones are minimising real-world engagements of citizens with each other and their natural surroundings, and noted the need to address this.

Communities need design principles that encourage social interaction. The experts emphasised that these principles need to extend beyond large public areas to facilitate micro-interactions in small spaces such as in building common areas, stairwells and lifts. In particular, the concept of scaling down communal spaces to increase social interactions was well received by attendees.

Urban planners need to give due consideration to public transportation and the connectivity infrastructure provided in cities as ease of mobility can greatly contribute to quality of life and happiness of residents. Furthermore, the arrangement of buildings within city blocks can influence the walkability factor of an area. Pedestrianizing streets, and creating dedicated bicycle networks and pedestrian bridge links may help improve the health of residents by making walking or cycling an easier choice than driving.