Aljada, Sharjah’s largest ever mixed-use project, is poised to get off the ground shortly, following the official launch of the development’s first phase consisting of around 1,000 units in early September.
Tenders for Phase One’s main construction contract will be floated this month (November), Ibrahim Al Nemeh, design director for the developer Arada, tells Gulf Construction, adding that the company hopes to appoint the main contractor in January 2018.
“Construction will begin in the first quarter of 2018, and Phase One will be delivered by the end of 2019,” he says.
Being developed on the last major plot of undeveloped land in the heart of the emirate, Aljada will house 70,000 people – 40,000 of them residents – once the phased completion is over by 2025. It will be built in 10 phases that will incorporate different aspects of the masterplan.
The mega project will spread over a 24-million-sq-ft site which enjoys an excellent location adjacent to SAIF Zone and close to both Sharjah International Airport and University City, and has direct access to Al Dhaid Road and University City Road, as well as easy access to Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road.
The total gross floor area of Aljada is 3 million sq m and the masterplan will include 800 buildings, including the residential, commercial, hospitality and retail, facilities and the Central Hub – the project’s leisure and entertainment component. In particular, Aljada’s Business Park will consist of around 500,000 sq m of commercial space.
Commenting on the concept behind the project, Al Nemeh says: “The aim behind Aljada was to form a new destination in Sharjah, with vibrant residential, cultural, retail and entertainment districts, distinguished by its unique architecture and unparallelled quality of public realm. The plan was to provide Sharjah with a development with access to key urban components of the city, such as University City and Sharjah International Airport.”
He says Aljada is designed to cater to the needs of investors and end-users alike and includes flexible office spaces, retail spaces, showrooms, residential units, hotels, indoor and outdoor event venues, and social and leisure facilities. The project supports the efforts of the Sharjah government to provide a healthy lifestyle for its residents creating a walkable environment with a significant amount of green space.
Arada, the UAE’s newest developer founded early this year. engaged Woods Bagot to work on the masterplan. The global architectural and consulting practice has worked closely with Sharjah Urban Planning Council to finalise the overall Aljada concept.
In designing the development, the Australian practice has carefully considered various aspects of the project, including its site within Sharjah, surrounding context, urban connectivity (including public transport and site access), adjacent community facilities, contextual land use, existing site conditions (including onsite flora and fauna), and context studies (especially with regard to historical neighbourhoods in Sharjah and other large mixed-use projects in the UAE).
Al Nemeh says the masterplan design approach began by ensuring that the site’s edges were complementary to the neighbourhood, some of which are well established while others are new developments under construction.
“For example, the commercial thoroughare of Al Dhaid Road, which runs along the northern edge of the plot, was a logical place to locate a new business district, while key residential neighbourhoods were created along the western and southern edges, with streets aligned with prevailing winds to improve thermal comfort in the summer. At the centre of the plan is the retail destination and the Central Hub. The site’s trapezoidal geometry, with three main access points from the north, south and west, led to the creation of two curved avenues that link the four angles of the site together. These two avenues define a central buffer area that would later become the Central Hub.
“The grain produced by the curving avenues and linear connections to University City and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road created an opportunity for linear parks to run through the development, transforming the park from a stationary open space to a dynamic, healthy linkage,” he explains.
Woods Bagot also conducted extensive walkability studies, ensuring that most of the immedate public facilities – such as retail, open spaces, neighbourhood parks and playgrounds – are reachable on foot even in the summer.
In total, there are six primary access points to the site, from the four surrounding arterial roads. These primary access points deliver traffic directly to the promenade roads within the development that have an average width of 54 m. The zoning approach to the project was to create a one-stop shop where people can live, work and play in an all-inclusive and self-sustained district. Based on this approach, the site was treated on two level hierarchies, the core and the edges. The core was designated as the prime attractor for the cultural, entertainment, hospitality, public faciltiies and retail activities, while the edges, which wrap around the core, were designated primarily for the residential areas.
“The overall Aljada plan is predominantly residential in land use, resulting in 53 per cent of the land that can be developed, while about seven per cent of the developable land is mixed-use recreation and entertainment. The remaining 40 per cent accommodates other supporting functions,” says Al Nemeh.
In terms of building height, the tallest buildings in the masterplan are the hotels located at the northern edge of the site, which are situated to define the edges of the business park. From these highest anchors, the height drops gradually towards the Central Hub.
A 1.9-m-sq-ft entertainment and leisure precinct, the Central Hub is set to be the cultural capital of the Arab world. It will be anchored by a spectacular musical fountain showpiece, situated in a beautifully designed Urban Piazza, populated with an array of cafes and restaurants.
Other attractions at the Central Hub will be the largest children’s adventure and discovery complex in the Northern Emirates, alongside skateparks, an extreme sports centre and a wealth of indoor and outdoor entertainment. The first phase of the Central Hub will be delivered in 2019, with elements of the site coming online before the first residential phase is handed over to buyers.
In a first for the UAE, there will be two 2.2-km linear parks stretching the length of the project, allowing every resident to access large green areas just a few minutes’ walk from their front door. Two tree-lined boulevards, totalling 4.4 km, containing extensive retail and food and beverage (F&B) outlets, will also stretch the length of Aljada.
The Aljada masterplan also includes four hotels, from luxury to mid-range and serviced apartments, as well as a variety of retail and F&B offerings throughout the development.
Meanwhile, education facilities within Aljada include kindergartens, nurseries and four schools (two K-12, one primary and one secondary). And healthcare facilities include general, private and polyclinics, as well as two health centres. Other public facilities include four mosques, one post office, a public library, a civil defence centre and a municipal office.
According to Al Nemeh, the masterplan has taken into account the local environment when considering facades for buildings within Aljada. In particular, the residential areas are aligned east-west, minimising heat gain.
“We also drew inspiration from traditional Emirati designs in areas such as the historic Sharjah district of Al Khan, including sikkas (alleyways, in Arabic), which allow for wind-channelling especially in the hotter months. The overall massing strategy for the residential buildings uses a shared courtyard typology that enhances the quality of space in the units. It also improves air quality by encouraging ventilation, without compromising privacy. The facades are designed to help with this, while at the same time being aesthetically pleasing,” he says.
Commenting on the challenges in the masterplanning stage, Al Nemeh says: “The biggest challenge was also the largest opportunity. We had this entirely empty land plot, which gave us a blank slate on which to build the masterplan. It also meant that there was no onsite infrastructure, and that the masterplan would need to link very closely with the surrounding neighbourhoods, public facilities and so on.”
He says Arada had to work very carefully to ensure that the edges of the project corresponded with external neighbourhoods. For example, the Business District and showrooms are located adjacent to the SAIF Zone and Sharjah International Airport, while buildings with smaller apartments such as studios are located on the eastern side, close to Sharjah University City.