Rethinking Density

Yahya Jan
President and Design Director
NORR Group Consultants International Limited, Dubai

During the 20th century, the great urban centers of the Western World witnessed an unprecedented transformation in the form and density of their built environment. Social, economic, and political forces aligned to create vertical cities that have come to symbolize the achievements of the Developed World. In contrast to these historic developments, mass migration and population growth to the urban centers of the Developing World has resulted in the emergence of ‘mega cities’ with populations of ten-million inhabitants or more. The resulting physical form of these rapidly developing cities is best characterized as unmitigated sprawl, as far as the eye can see.

Looking to the future, an alternate model for density which combines 3-dimensional diversity within a landscaped community, holds great promise for the Middle East region. The first part of this presentation focuses on a theoretical strategy for high density development, one based on a 3-dimensional model appropriate to the Middle East context. The study includes historical precedents, energy modeling, lighting, and environmental data to support its case. The second part of the presentation centers on a real project, designed for a site in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia. The concept for this project integrates massing and environmental modeling to test the principles of the theoretical model – a contemporary interpretation of traditional courts and gardens on an actual development. The fact is high-density communities are the most sustainable solution for the future demands of society. The challenge, to be more fully explored for this region, is how density can be sculpted and integrated with landscape to create a more appropriate reality.