Building a happy home

Abu Dhabi developers tell PW how they are designing ideal homes and communities

By Manal Ismail
00:00 February 14, 2018
PW_180214_cover_modon_Riyadh City7

There’s no place like home, or so the saying goes. But what makes a house a home? Certainly the people who live there, the atmosphere, the energy and the emotions they evoke. What about the physical aspects of the home itself? What are the distinct features that make it a happy and comfortable place to live, both as a standalone property and as part of a community? As a homeowner, what makes you choose a particular address?

That is precisely what Modon Properties set out to discover in its Build Your Happiness nationwide survey. The master developer, which is developing the recently announced Riyadh City housing mega project in Abu Dhabi, surveyed Emiratis with the aim of understanding what they look for when it comes to the design of their ideal home. Just over half of respondents (51.6 per cent) were within the 25-35 age group, followed by the 36-45 age bracket (44.8 per cent), providing insight on the housing priorities for younger people.

Happy Home Emirati Survey Modon Properties

The survey reveals more than three-quarters of Emiratis (76.5 per cent) prefer a modern home design; under a quarter (23.5 per cent) favour a more traditional design. The majority of respondents said they want their ideal home to include a courtyard (91.5 per cent) and an outdoor tent space (88 per cent), which is traditionally used as a majlis for social gatherings.

Medical, schools and shopping centres were the public facilities Emirati respondents prioritised most when choosing a home. Meanwhile, access to these public facilities, the availability of land and housing loans, as well as proximity to work and government entities were the main driving factors for moving to Riyadh City.

The findings of the survey will predominantly be used for Modon Properties’ villa designs, as well as the development of Riyadh City as a sustainable and integrated community, says the developer’s CEO Abdulla Al Sahi.

“The main objective of this survey is to understand the housing needs of the modern-day Emirati family so that we can build homes that meet their requirements and in accordance with the funds provided by the national housing loans scheme,” says Al Sahi. “Based on the results, we have identified 12 [housing] typologies, which have been approved by the Department of Urban Planning and Municipalities. These typologies primarily vary in size, but offer something for every family and every budget.”

A survey among UAE nationals helped in designing the villas

Riyadh City villa traditional design

Meanwhile, a whopping 94.5 per cent of respondents said they would want a home with more than five bedrooms. “The need for additional space and flexibility is a clear requirement that came through in this survey,” says Al Sahi. “That is why all our home designs are expandable, allowing Emiratis to expand their homes in parallel with the growth of their families.”

Announced in November, Riyadh City is set to be the capital’s largest housing development, sprawled across 8,000 hectares, consisting of 26,000 plots and increasing Abu Dhabi’s residential area by 45 per cent. Taking shape in what was known as North Wathba and South Shamkha, Riyadh City is just 30km from downtown Abu Dhabi and is expected to be home to more than 200,000 UAE nationals. The infrastructure work for the northern area of the project is already complete, with development plans for the southern area under way.

Modon Properties is developing the overall community infrastructure and making the land plots available to Emiratis through various avenues, including the Abu Dhabi Housing Authority. Once a loan has been granted and a plot assigned, landowners then have a choice to have their homes built by Modon Properties or another developer. According to the survey, however, 65 per cent of Emiratis would like their homes to be built by Modon Properties.

“The idea is to offer Emiratis a one-stop shop for the building of their homes, so they don’t have to deal with third parties, be it a construction consultant or a contractor,” explains Al Sahi. “In addition, nine display villas will be built, complete with gardens, so that prospective customers can actually see and experience the choices available to them.”

Villas will range in size from 450-750 sq m before expansion and will fall under three categories: intermediate, plus and gold. The developer will be revealing its villa designs at it sales centre, which is due to open later this month, while villa construction and contract signing is slated in the second quarter.

Imkan: the art of placemaking

To say that Imkan has taken property development to another level would be a rather cavalier understatement. After all, breathing life into a long-established industry is no easy feat, but that is exactly what Imkan, Abu Dhabi’s emerging “placemaker”, has set out to do. The brainbox behind the recently announced Makers District has all but taken the traditional approach to building communities. Using a refreshingly different and far more inspired methodology, Imkan injects the invaluable elements of time, culture, sociology, psychology and law into everything it does.

“Our core objective at Imkan is to create soulful places that enrich people’s lives,” says Walid El Hindi, CEO of Imkan. “And we didn’t arrive at this objective at random. Unfortunately, many developments today are just a commercial reapplication of things done in the past. This may have worked before, when the canvas was still blank and the smallest drop of paint drew attention. But now, there is a lot of paint on the canvas, so you really need to go the extra mile to stand out.”

This goes beyond doing something extraordinary, but truly adding value to the community, explains El Hindi. “It is this unwavering resolution to bring meaning to people’s lives that is embedded in our DNA, and we do this by studying all aspects of the community we live in — from its history and future to its very social fabric,” he says.

Makers District, which is being developed on Reem Island, was the result of extensive research that brought light to the capital’s long-term vision. “Abu Dhabi is clearly trying to build a niche for itself as a hub of the arts and culture. And so we asked ourselves, ‘how can we add to this vision?’” El Hindi says. “While doing our research, we found that much of the capital’s investment is going towards the display of art. But to truly become a hub, you need to provide the full spectrum — not just displaying art, but also creating it. And so that’s how Makers District was born. We want to inspire and cultivate homegrown talent. We want the people who dream of having an installation in the Louvre one day to live and work in Makers District.”

All entrepreneurs are welcome

But it’s not just the artists Imkan is after. An Dh8-billion waterfront project sprawled across 18 hectares, Makers District is designed to attract and cater to all young, highly networked and creative workers, which Imkan says is currently an underserved demographic in Abu Dhabi.

“When people think of ‘makers’ they often think of artists, but the true meaning of the word goes far beyond that. We believe every entrepreneur is a maker, regardless of the field they specialise in,” explains El Hindi. “So whether you are a chef, a baker or a doctor, if you have the passion and determination to think and work for yourself, you’re a maker.”

That is the mindset that Imkan aims to capture with Pixel, the developer’s first mixed-use project within Makers District. With a built-up area of approximately 83,000 sq m, Pixel will offer 480 residential units across seven mixed-use towers surrounded by quiet pocket gardens, and will frame a centralised pedestrianised plaza that will be home to over 3,500 sq m of an artisanal mix of food and beverage, retail and office space.

Pixel reimagines the Arabian wadi


“The population of the UAE and the wider region is unique in that nearly 70 per cent of residents are under the age of 34. That is remarkable — it means people like me are a minority,” says El Hindi. “So we went to great lengths to research and study the millennial mindset, and what clearly came out is this desire for autonomy.”

And so every aspect of Pixel has been designed with respect to the needs of today’s entrepreneur, from co-working office spaces to restaurants and cafes. “At the end of they day, if you’re a freelancer, for example, you probably don’t need expansive office space. You’re likely to be working from more than one place and just need a base. We understand that and therefore offer a range of workspace options with that in mind,” explains El Hindi.

The first release of the Pixel towers has already been sold out, with more units being released in the first quarter of this year. The project, which offers studio, one-, two- and three bedroom units, is also located just steps away from The Artery, another example of Imkan’s ability to translate its research findings and forward thinking into innovations built for the future.

Not just a car park

A hybrid cultural hub and parking garage in the shape of a DNA strand, The Artery is a 26,000-sq-m multiuse building that serves as both an art space for makers to create and showcase their work, as well as a car park.

“In line with Abu Dhabi requirements, we had to provide parking space for 750 cars. However, our research showed that the market for cars is going to change considerably in the coming years. With the rise of electric cars and cab hailing services, car ownership will decrease as it transitions from asset to service. This ultimately means that in the long term, we may not need all that parking space. So we had to think very carefully about how we designed this structure and created a space that can be used as both a parking garage and a creative powerhouse.”

The design of the sophisticated structure, which is the first building to be launched in Makers District, has been awarded to Copenhagen and New York-based Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). The globally recognised architectural firm, most recently having won the Agha Khan Award for Architecture, is also responsible for designing Pixel’s 15,000-sq-m landscaped public realm.

Meanwhile, the design of the Pixel towers was awarded to Rotterdam-based MVRDV, which is recognised for its collaborative, research-based design method, and its portfolio of award-winning projects worldwide.

The developer has also appointed Ramboll as lead consultant for the entire first phase of Makers District. With over 1,000 residential units, 11,000 sq m of commercial and retail space and a construction value of Dh2 billion, phase one is scheduled for completion in 2020.

“At the end of the day, it’s not just about the aesthetic ‘wow’ factor. There are many places that are beautiful on the outside, but can you truly say they are soulful? Not necessarily,” says El Hindi. “And that is why we only work with partners who genuinely understand this and share our vision.”

Desirable destinations

For a residential property to be successful, it should play at least one of the following roles: provide a comfortable place to live, serve as a rewarding investment or demonstrate an opportunity of upward mobility as people climb the property ladder. This is a principle of Aldar Properties, the Abu Dhabi-based real estate developer. “For homeowners and tenants alike, it is all about the quality, an enriching experience and lifestyle — a place you call home. This demands urban amenities, a sense of community, convenience of location and facilities, good views and maintenance services,” the developer said in a statement.

Investors, on the other hand, are after a good return on investment with expectations of capital growth or a yield play. “They want to see strong, sustainable demand for property over a period of years and they want comfort that Abu Dhabi will continue to be a desirable place to live, work and play, and thus an attractive real estate investment option,” Aldar continues. “From all perspectives, we continue to see a flight to quality among investors in Abu Dhabi.”

Water’s Edge

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In a recent research it has conducted in Abu Dhabi, the developer noted a distinct lack of residential units catering to the mid-income segment. This is what principally drove the developer to launch two residential developments last year catering specifically to this market gap: The Bridges and Water’s Edge.

“Residential units in key locations at an attractive price point also have wide appeal to investors as well as owner-occupiers who may not have been able to access the Abu Dhabi market previously,” according to the developer, adding that it will continue to strengthen its offering within the segment.

The Bridges and Water’s Edge were sold out just weeks after their launch, which the developer says validates its push into the segment. Aldar also sees demand for reasonably priced, boutique-styled urban residences, which will also form part of its future offering. The developer plans to bring more town houses and villas to the market to cater to an increasing customer base looking for more space.

Aldar’s Dh6-billion flagship waterfront and golf development, Yas Acres, which was launched in 2016, will also add more than 1,300 villas to Yas Island once complete. The developer will also soon start handover of its West Yas development, adding more than 1,000 four- and five-bedroom villas to Yas Island. It will also begin to handover exclusive land plots on Nareel Island, located on the coast of Al Bateen, with prices starting from Dh450 per square foot.

Aldar Properties says it recorded robust sales last year, driven by the launch of The Bridges and Water’s Edge. In the third quarter, the developer achieved Dh604 million in development sales, bringing the total value to Dh2.4 billion.

“We continually look to how we can innovate and improve so that we can not only provide a great product for our customers, but make Abu Dhabi an attractive place to live, work and play by delivering desirable destinations,” the developer said.