Designers transfer Hong Kong know-how to Dubai's new metro

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 December, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 December, 2009, 12:00am

To outsiders, Dubai's past may too easily be overlooked, whether or not work on the city's impressive infrastructure and some of its eyebrow-raising architecture is stymied by the global credit crunch.

Despite the travails of private developers caught up in the construction slowdown, government-backed projects continue with the aim of easing traffic congestion and improving the lives of people working or visiting the UAE. Rather than simply embracing the futuristic designs for which Dubai has become renowned, the city's latest engineering and design feat is architecturally impressive, civic-minded and also honours the nation's past.

And it is all being made possible by architects whose main office is in Hong Kong. Aedas is applying the expertise and experience it gained working on mass transit rail projects in Hong Kong and Singapore to the new Dubai Metro. As lead architects, the company designed the Dubai system's 45 stations, two depots and operational control centres.

The red line of the project's US$4.2 billion first phase was opened on September 9 by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai. The green line is due to open next March and, when fully operational, it will be the world's longest fully automated metro and a first for the Middle East, said Aedas managing director in the region, Robert Troup. who is also the firm's project director for the red and green lines.

The city authorities told Aedas they wanted the public areas of the stations to allude to the coastal city's history and culture, and this is evident in the shell-like architectural forms of the station roofs which refer to Dubai's past as a trove for pearl diving, in addition to certain heritage-inspired interior designs. The stations were also designed with barrier-free access for the disabled, elderly and parents with children.

With Dubai expected to have three million residents by 2017 and 15 million tourists by 2010, fully integrated public transport system is seen as vital to the city's efforts to combat traffic congestion, improve access to urban development projects and contribute to environmental sustainability.

'The red line is already exceeding its ridership forecasts and, with the fast pace of development in Dubai infrastructure, it was seen as necessary to have a modern and integrated public transport system,' Troup said. 'The Hong Kong system is actually a model for mass transport development for nations around the world. Public transport development in new cities like Dubai can be implemented swiftly.'

Aedas not only applied first-hand experience from its work on airport core projects and such stations as Tseung Kwan O, Tiu Keng Leng, Sunny Bay, Nam Cheung, Mei Foo and Tai Wai, the firm's global reach also brought to bear on the Dubai Metro, whether R&D teams in Britain, the project team in Singapore or expertise developed in other parts of the world.

'Our approach is international expertise with a strong local presence,' said Troup. 'One guide to operating successfully is to be willing to understand and relate to cultures of another country. The UAE has a very positive attitude towards business, and for anyone familiar with Hong Kong's can-do attitude that transition is easy.'

With the metro arguably Dubai's most promising project as it comes to grips with debt brought on by excessive private development, Hong Kong construction firms will be eyeing tenders for a tram system for the city, Abu Dhabi's transport master plan and plans for a high-speed rail network linking Middle Eastern cities.