Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Boulevard is Dubai’s most famous street, encircling the Burj Khalifa tower in a 3km arc. The road & associated public realm resulted from a rare brief in todays’ urbanised world. With the creation of a major new global city came the need to create a Downtown District for Emirates to take pride in, for tourists to cross off their bucket-lists & for the world to recognise as a global centre. The 73m wide Boulevard links the iconic tower, Dubai Mall & other prominent visitor attractions, & residential, commercial & retail developments with an extensive pedestrian esplanade; together with a dramatic lakeside promenade it provides a civic focus for Dubai’s capital city.
The challenge was to create a world-class boulevard with the same recognition as the Ramblas & Champs Elysee, with activated public realm featuring high-end retail, art & theatre. The conversion of a desert defence site into a new city downtown was already familiar to Cracknell, being heavily involved in the design/site supervision of the Burj Khalifa, Old Town, Dubai Mall, Sales Centres, Island Park & a large number of development plots. This helped in creating a recognisable character. With the Burj Khalifa as the central navigational beacon around which the Downtown would ‘dance’, a key part of the brief was to create memorable views of the dramatic icon.
A critical step was to benchmark against famous European boulevards. Testing the findings, a 100m model looked at coordination of advertising & wayfinding, use of bespoke public transport elements, & the combining of lifts, stairs & vents to underground parking for a more refined design.
The Boulevard is trisected, reflecting neighbouring character areas, enticing visitors to explore. With open views of the Mall & Burj Khalifa, the Arrival Area is characterised by low planting punctuated by Delonix regia & its bursts of red flowers. Clear stemmed Pheonix dactylifera palms define the Urban Zone whilst both trees line avenues in the Garden Gateway, underplanted with ample shrubs & groundcovers.
Defined by feature paving & aligned with gaps between the buildings, the Boulevard intersections delight onlookers with framed Burj Khalifa views. Themed details such as ramped steps, artwork, stone faceting & water jets celebrate these moments, encouraging socialising & cafe culture.
Solidifying the area’s identity & referencing UAE culture, patternation was developed through optioneering. Created for expression in the paving, tree pits, sculptural settings, ramps & venting details, the pattern was proliferated through all public realm elements so that collaboration on street furniture, kiosks, wayfinding & lighting reflected & strengthened the sense of place.
Hard edges & elegant detailing defined the spaces. Observing the durability of European boulevards, the pedestrian areas were paved in sand blasted & polished rustic beige granites, with contrasting black granite kerbs & vehicular paving, whilst both colours were used to pick out pedestrian crossings & the upstand walls to the underground parking entrances. Building frontages stepped back after 6 stories to provide a more human scale, & guidelines were created to maintain continuity of materials, finishes & colours of the building elevations, street furniture & shade structures.
Trees, palms & plants sourced at mature size gave immediate shade. To accommodate for growth, 1.8m wide tree pits were installed. 16 years on, this foresight is providing year-round use with cooling established avenues, demonstrating the importance of urban greening.
Rebounding tourism levels since COVID reveal the abiding allure of Dubai, of which the Boulevard & public realm form a significant part. Tourists, businesspeople, families, dog-walkers, flower-sellers, shoppers & street entertainers all flock to the area.
Since completion, there have been a number of new interfacing developments. The Opera District, announced 2013, links directly with the Boulevard’s public realm. The Opera House itself (completed 2016) is an ‘icon’ for the artistic Downtown hub with a proliferation of independent galleries, theatre & performing arts. Atmospheric cultural celebration is enhanced at festive periods when the area is vibrantly decorated.
In the retail sector, Dubai Mall has been extended multiple times, including the luxury Fashion Avenue (opened 2018) which paved the way for a new active Boulevard & lakeside promenade expansion.
With the advent of personal electric transport transforming the way people move, the wide pavements are now marked with cycle/scooter lanes. And with the birth of social media, the way we interact with cities, art interfaces with landscape has changed irrevocably; the Boulevard’s popular 2010 Wings of Mexico statue typifies this.
The feel of the Downtown has remained true to the original aesthetic largely due to the success of the guidelines & design, showing the Boulevard to be just as enduring as its famous world city counterparts.
Other landscape architecture offices involved in the design of landscape:
SWA: Street furniture, Burj Khalifa tower entrance, select junctions
Architecture offices involved in the design:
Project Management: Turner ME
Concept Masterplan: RTKL
Others to mention:
Signage and Wayfinding: gsFITCH
Infrastructure and Road Construction: Hyder Consulting
Water Features: Wet Design and Crystal Fountains
Location: Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Boulevard, Downtown Dubai, UAE
Year Completed: 2007