desert INK: The recently opened Dubai Water Canal has added 6.4 kilometres of new waterfront to the city while cutting through existing and planned future developments. Serviced by water taxis and a pedestrian promenade, the canal has generated great commercial and transportation value for developments fronting it. One such development, the Dubai Design District (d3), now sits on a prime 2.1 km stretch of canal. In 2016, d3’s management launched a competition to design a new canal-front park for a 400 m long section of their development. With a future plan to develop boutique hotels on the plot, the client team were keen to capitalise upon the stunning position, while being aware that the park had a limited lifespan and was littered with unwanted construction materials. Their goal was to attract a wider audience to enjoy the district, which is a regional home to a multitude of leading designers including Fosters and Partners, Chanel, Grimshaw, RMJM and Zaha Hadid Architects. Intended to become a landmark destination, the park would not only reflect the creative nature of the district, but tempt visitors from outside the community to visit the park, cafés, bars and shops found in d3. With an additional remit to add much-needed green and open space, provide a venue for events and create something genuinely unique, the competition was set.
Desert INK, resident Landscape Architects in ‘d3’, were successful in their competition entry due to their highly innovative use of site-found and recycled construction materials. Notably, over 700 surplus concrete quaystone blocks left on the site by the canal’s developers were stacked to create a multitude of features and play items around the park. This was the central design direction which defined the park’s aesthetic, but also prevented over 20,000 tonnes of concrete which was otherwise destined for landfill.
Constructed over a seven-month period, the park, known as ‘The Block’, features an outdoor gym, multi-sports court, urban beach, skate park/track and open lawns, with a warehouse structure and plaza at its heart. The concrete blocks feature throughout the park, being polished and inclined to create a slide, semi-buried to create box jumps in the gym or simply stacked to form the impressive angular boundary condition around the park. At the centre of the park the blocks are arranged three-high to create an intriguing labyrinth-like ravine that is naturally shaded, the floor of which is finished with recycled rubber and walls adorned with climbing holds.
Cognoscente of the limited lifespan of the park in its present position, the desert INK team ensured that construction materials are re-useable, recycled and locally-sourced. The locally-produced concrete block paving will be lifted for re-use upon decommissioning, while the entire warehouse structure is designed to be reassembled at a future site. The quaystones themselves are re-useable, while timber decks utilise wood from shipping pallets and spent scaffolding planks rather than virgin, imported materials. Native plants such as date palms, Leptadenia and grasses are found throughout, thriving in the site’s naturally sandy soils. Local stone is crushed to create a fine gravel walking surface reminiscent of decomposed granite. Rather than broad leaved trees, which take many years to mature and do not respond well to future transplanting, Date Palms form the upper canopy of the park. The tall vertical structure of the palms creates an instant impact, while also being utilised to fix lights and suspend shade fabrics in lieu of additional poles.
Having opened to the public in February 2018, The Block is already performing exceptionally well, with 2 large festivals being held at the venue within its first month of opening alone. The park is alive with families, workers on their lunch break, tourists arriving by water taxi and those coming for an outdoor workout. The skate park hosts a resident skater and BMX community, while climbers have flocked to the shaded passages of the ravine. desert INK successfully utilised site-found waste materials to create an iconic park defined by materials which would have otherwise cost millions to dispose of.
Short office name: desert INK
Role of the office in the project: Landscape Architects, Architects & Site Design Supervision
Project location: Dubai Design District, Dubai, UAE
Design year: 2016
Year Built: 2018
Best Public Landscape Design – People’s Choice Award – Architizer A+ Awards 2018
Landscape Project of The Year – Middle East Architect Awards 2018
Landscape Project of The Year – Design Middle East Awards 2018