Urban regeneration in its modern form can be traced back to the late 19th century in the western world. In the Middle East, however, it is a much newer phenomenon.

Construction projects, particularly in the Gulf region, have tended to focus on the development of virgin areas of desert, and, in more recent, years on man-made offshore islands. But as attractive new residential and business districts have sprung up around the region, governments have also been compelled to redevelop existing areas. As a result, urban regeneration projects have been launched in the UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Key fact: Aldar Properties, responsible for  Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina complex, is rebuilding the city’s Central Market at a cost of $1.2bn

Rebuilding history

One of the best examples is the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi. While developers are undertaking new projects on largely untouched islands such as Reem, Saadiyat and Yas, Abu Dhabi is also busy redeveloping existing urban areas on the mainland.

The biggest scheme under way is the Central Market area. Abu Dhabi’s Old Souk, which was located near the junction of Khalifa street and Airport road, was razed by fire in 2002.

At the site of the souk, which originally opened in 1970, local developer Aldar Properties is undertaking the AED5bn ($1.2bn) Central Market development, which includes residential and business towers, a shopping mall, as well as the redeveloped souk.

The scheme has been designed by UK-based architect Foster & Partners and will cover a built-up area of 490,000 square metres. The souk itself is expected to open by the end of 2010.

Al-Bateen [marina] is an historical part of Abu Dhabi, and we have to celebrate this tradition

Ali al-Hammadi, TDIC

“The souk was a very historical part of Abu Dhabi, and it is important that the new Central Market area links into the other sites nearby. Cultural heritage is very important to Abu Dhabi,” says Talal al-Dhiyebi, director of planning and infrastructure at Aldar.

The new shopping mall, called the Emporium, is also under construction and is expected to open in the fourth quarter of 2011. It will contain 150 shops and will cover an area of 62,000 sq m. The residential and business towers are expected to open in 2012.

Another urban regeneration project in Abu Dhabi is the Al-Bateen Wharf development. The Al-Bateen district is the oldest occupied area of the capital and is currently being redeveloped by Abu Dhabi’s Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC).

The project comprises a new fishermen’s marina, a five-star hotel and apartments.

TDIC is managing the regeneration of the marina independently, and is developing the Al-Bateen Wharf Hotel and Residences as part of a joint venture with local firm Belbadi Enterprises. The marina will include 323 berths, a fishermen’s community centre, a dry stack building for about 150 boats and a boardwalk.

The first phase the project was completed early in 2010 and the second phase is due to start in the third quarter of this year.

The Al-Bateen hotel project has been designed by US architecture firm Kohn Pederson Fox. The hotel will have 397 rooms, and will have a built-up area of 131,475 sq m. The entire Al-Bateen redevelopment is scheduled to be completed by the second quarter of 2013.

When designing the wharf, TDIC had to strike a balance between rejuvenating the area to attract tourists, while ensuring that local fishermen could still carry out their work.

“Al-Bateen is an historical part of Abu Dhabi, and we have to celebrate this tradition,” says Ali al-Hammadi, assistant development director, TDIC. “We have had to make sure that the marina is redeveloped in a way that enables local fishermen to carry on their profession, but is also hospitable so that tourists will want to come to the area.”

Local developer International Capital Trading (ICT) is also planning to develop a real estate project at Al-Bateen Marina.

ICT will build its Marasy project on two plots of land at the marina. The larger plot will have seven apartment buildings, while the smaller plot will have one, with a total built-up area of 100,000 sq m. Bids were submitted for the construction contract in August last year, and in April it was awarded to the local Pivot Engineering & General Contracting Company. The value of the contract was AED422m.

Another area of Abu Dhabi that is being redeveloped is Mina Zayed, formerly the emirate’s port. The port is going to be moved to Taweelah towards the end of 2012, and the remaining warehouses and port facilities are to be redeveloped. Aldar is the master planner for the 150-acre waterfront redevelopment.

One of the major projects planned so far for the Mina Zayed port is an MGM Grand mixed-use development by the government-owned Mubadala Development Company and US-based MGM Mirage Hospitality.

The development will span 3 kilometres of waterfront at Mina Zayed. It will include hotels with a total of 1,000 rooms, residential buildings with 500 apartments, a convention centre, a 10,000-seat indoor arena, a 3,000-seat amphitheatre and 25,000 sq m of retail space.

MGM invited firms to bid for the enabling works contract in February this year. US-based Gensler prepared the masterplan for the project.

The Danet Abu Dhabi (Pearl of Abu Dhabi) is another regeneration project under way in the emirate. The scheme is being developed by Al-Qudra Real Estate, part of the local Al-Qudra Holding.

The mixed-use project, located on Airport road, comprises 34 towers ranging in height from 15-23 storeys, a 200-room Holiday Inn hotel, and a shopping mall.

The remaining towers are being developed by private investors. The project will be split into five districts: Jumana, Doora, LouLou, Giwan, and Gemash.

Elsewhere in the region, a significant urban regeneration programme is under way in Qatar.

In May last year, Dohaland, a subsidiary of state-backed, non-profit organisation Qatar Foundation for Education, Science & Community Development, launched its Heart of Doha plan for regenerating the capital using traditional design techniques.

The QR20bn ($5.5bn) Heart of Doha project was renamed Musheireb at an official groundbreaking ceremony on 13 January 2010, attended by Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani and his wife, the chair of Dohaland, Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser al-Missned.

Neglected neighbourhood

The project is a reaction to what some describe as the ‘fast-food architecture’ that has been built in Doha over the past 10 years.

“With passing time, the area lost a lot of its rich community to migration out to other regions, leaving much of the historic neighbourhood neglected,” said Issa al-Mohannadi, chief executive officer at Dohaland, at the launch of the regeneration programme.

The Musheireb scheme involves the regeneration and development of a 35-hectare site situated in Inner Doha, the oldest part of the city.

The masterplan is divided into several districts, including a residential and mixed- use quarter, a retail quarter, a heritage quarter, and a commercial area called the Headquarters Gateway.

In March, Cat International Qatar, part of Lebanon’s Contracting & Trading was awarded a contract for the estimated QR530m phase 1a infrastructure works at Musheireb. Germany’s Bauer is working on the enabling works package for phase 1a.

But while the projects in the Gulf states are impressive they are on a much smaller scale than urban regeneration seen in the capital city of Lebanon, Beirut.

By the end of the 1980s, after more than a decade of conflict and civil war, much of Beirut’s infrastructure had been destroyed. In 1994, the then prime minister Rafik Hariri created the Lebanese Company for the Development and Reconstruction of Beirut Central District (Solidere) to regenerate the downtown area in order to attract business and tourists back to the city.

Solidere’s masterplan maps out the creation of a 191-hectare modern, mixed-use central district, comprising the 118 hectares of Beirut city centre, and a 73-hectare extension towards the sea.

The assassination of Hariri in 2005, and the destructive war between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006, caused setbacks for the regeneration efforts. However, the election of Hariri’s son, Saad, as prime minister in 2009 has given a fresh impetus to the programme.

The New Waterfront district planned for Beirut is a key element of Lebanon’s urban regeneration programme. The project will cover 29 hectares of the 73 hectares of reclaimed land that will expand the central Beirut district. The land extension has involved an environmental clean-up and adds 3.5 kilometres to the coastline.

The plan for New Waterfront district includes two marinas, a park, a corniche and quayside walks. Commercial and residential developments will be built around Beirut Marina to the west, which has berths for 186 vessels and will have a yacht club and customs and immigration buildings. The marina has a breakwater and a two-line defence structure.

The development is intended to attract businesses, including financial institutions, residents and tourists. The engineering, procurement and construction contract is expected to be awarded later this year, with the project scheduled for completion in 2014.

Sense of community

Solidere’s projects in Beirut have been widely praised by those involved in the Middle East construction sector.

“Solidere is a very good example of urban regeneration. Most of the developments are owned by different individuals, but Solidere has put down a framework that they want to administer across the whole of the master-plan,” says Steven Coates, head of consultancy firm Davis Langdon, UAE.

“This controlled sense of planning has been effective in enabling the different aspects of Beirut’s regeneration project to relate to one another, and has helped create a sense of community.”

But unlike greenfield construction projects, urban regeneration schemes often have major implications for the local population and, therefore, can be controversial. In Beirut, Solidere’s projects have been the focus of protests. Elsewhere, in Dubai, the government faced a rare outburst of public criticism from the local population in response to the AED350bn Jumeira Gardens City, who felt that being forced to relocate for the new development was unfair.

The original designs for the Jumeira Gardens project covered two main areas: the redevelopment of land in the Satwa area between Sheikh Zayed road and Al-Wasl road; and from Al-Dhiyafa street to the new Creek extension in the Safa Park area and seven offshore islands.

Conveniently for Dubai, the issue disappeared with the onset of the global financial crisis and the emirate’s property crash, and the project is now on hold.

The financial crisis has put constraints on governments and developers around the world, and regional urban regeneration projects have not been immune to the effects of the credit crunch.Therefore, it is important that governments continue to give funding and backing to these projects if states in the region wish attract businesses and increase tourism revenues. But if cities are to be successful in developing their own urban regeneration projects, they will have to learn how to deal with the social implications of their plans more effectively.