Heralded as a significant public park, The Founder’s Memorial embodies the spirit of the United Arab Emirate’s Founding Father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan. At the park’s centre is The Constellation, a tribute to Sheikh Zayed comprising of suspended geometric shapes depicting a silhouette portrait. NB. Constellation excluded from scope. Our placemaking demonstrates critical thinking across design, innovation and implementation but also the resolution of issues, and our approach to various complexities.
Softscape: The Memorial represents one of the first public spaces in the UAE which spearheads the successful delivery of native planting. In order to ensure the species selected (e.g. coastal halophytes and saline tolerant plants) could withstand public open space environments, research was undertaken to test innovative approaches, to incorporate plants once considered unsuitable for this type of space. Propagation in nurseries of selected species was done where simulated conditions ensured the environment reflected that of the park.
Use of Materials: Of note, is a tunnel with a fluid wall and hyperbolic paraboloid surface planes. This surface required extensive research and innovation in wall-cladding, involving 3D scanning and modelling, development of 3D-printed scaled models and co-ordination with stone suppliers, to ensure the curvature would be an exact fit and provide a smooth, fluid finish.
Water Feature: Water, a critical element in the desert, is showcased with a central feature interpreted from the olden falaj irrigation networks. Historically, falajes irrigated agricultural land, and Sheikh Zayed personally developed the falaj system further for the benefit of the nation. Continual and consistent water movement was critical and so hydrodynamic research was employed where calculations were undertaken to determine the optimal water flow down both a gradual grade as well as to the circular vortex, (start and finish point of the feature).
Imperative throughout WAHO’s design journey, was the creation of an authentic space reflective of Sheikh Zayed’s vision, community involvement, conservation and stewardship and his overarching commitment to the nation. This design intent is translated through various areas:
Stewardship and Conservation: In addition to the falaj, WAHO also embraced Sheikh Zayed’s philosophy of greening the desert sustainably through adopting tree and plant species native to the Arabian coastline. The Heritage and Sanctuary gardens featured indigenous plants renowned for their medicinal and cultural significance, as Bedouin tribes relied upon such plants for their healing and spiritual properties.
Landscape materiality was considered and simplified, selecting locally occurring materials that added to the unique sense of place.Natural materials such as limestone paving and wall finishes sourced from the Arabian Peninsula, together with clean, fluid lines accentuate the aesthetic and simplicity of the space.
Philosophy Woven into Landscape Narrative: An elevated pathway encircling the park offers contrasting city views as backdrops to the Constellation. The pathway is punctuated with a selection of Sheikh Zayed’s visionary quotes, offering areas for quiet contemplation of his philosophy.
At night the geometric shapes of The Constellation shine like stars. Inspired by this imagery, a Polaris Point is incorporated in to the hardscape. When standing on this point (a metal plate integrated in to the limestone paving) one faces in line with the north star, or Polaris. Symbolic as for the local community, Sheikh Zayed is a guiding light almost personifying the Polaris. His values are woven into the tapestry of this country and his light continues to inspire and guide his people.
The success of any placemaking can be measured by how the community responds to the space. Social media comments reinforce how WAHO’s careful, considered and innovative approach has played an integral role in delivering a highly regarded experience. “Beautifully landscaped, at the centre the sculpture depicts the founding father. is a joy to behold because it can be viewed many times and each time offering, like all good art, a new perspective. The entire experience has a deep sense of authenticity and an almost magical quality, which is born of the landscape design and the lovely use of natural materials and simple elements. There is something of the spirit of Sheikh Zayed himself, in this masterpiece which has been created to celebrate his legacy”
WAHO’s intent to create an authentic space embodying the philosophy and principles of Sheikh Zayed, has been achieved. What’s more WAHO showcases how placemaking can effectively translate visionary ideas and historical elements into a landscape narrative which captures the hearts and minds of diverse local and international communities, whilst celebrating the life and contribution of a pivotal leader of this country.
Other designers: Verdaus Landscape Architects undertook high level masterplanning
Project location: Corner Corniche Road and 18th Street, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Design year: 2016
Year Built: 2017-2018