Chris Grimley of Over,Under recently spoke to me about a unique project his firm is taking on in Abu Dhabi’s new central business district, Sowwah Island – in the largest of the United Arab Emirates, east of Dubai. Grimley’s company website describes the project:
Designated as Abu Dhabi’s new Central Business District in Plan Abu Dhabi 2030, Sowwah Island is designed to meet long- term commercial and community needs. Located at the nexus of the existing city and new growth areas such as Reem and Saadiyat, the 114 hectare project is envisioned as the focus of a fully integrated commercial and financial center that is also a vibrant mixed-use community. Sowwah Island will provide a compelling and dynamic environment in a compact urban context.
As Abu Dhabi’s new Central Business District, Sowwah Island represents a significant investment in the capital city’s future. As such, the client has sought to protect the vision of the Island as a world class development that is characterized by high quality architectural design. This is being achieved through the Architectural Design Controls that are both island-wide and plot-specific, intended to create a set of flexible performance-based criteria that permit scope for design imagination without sacrificing quality. The ADCs also determine the process by which design proposals will be reviewed for compliance.
How long has the Abu Dhabi, Sowwah Island project been in the works?
How is your firm involved?
What we’ve been doing is writing the guidelines for all the future structures on the island. We’re setting parameters around the range of materials that would be approved for use. We are essentially charged with envisioning the island, designing the towers on the main island and the north side of the island. It has been an interesting project, we’ve been finding a way for things to work together cohesively in a sustainable fashion all with an eye toward creating variety in a real urban space.
What sort of challenges have you faced on a project of this scale?
This is where the story gets interesting. On previous projects, we have used ArchiCAD exclusively to develop guidelines – it has always been our choice for BIM. On this island project, you can imagine there were many hands in the mix, a master planner, another design firm in Boston, the visualization effort in London. In order to generate all the imagery – which is obviously a very intense amount of information; we initially began the process the way we had done in previous projects in the areas. Soon after that we reached the limits of what we could achieve in ArchiCAD and had to jump out to investigate other solutions to help us visualize more quickly.
I’d love to see the next iteration of BIM to include City Information Modeling. That way we could encompass entire urban neighborhoods.
What kind of a timeline is there for a project so all-encompassing?
Well, we are still in the design phase, so it is hard to say what the timeline is – and it is very different from any other project since it is an entire island. I expect we’ll be involved for many years on it. Who knows when everything will be done.
What has this project taught you that you might be able to apply to other assignments?
We have been able to expand the amount of work we do for an individual building or group of buildings. When we have to expand our view to the entire city, we realized the amount of information it contained had to be reduced. That’s when we opted to use Sketch Up and Rhino. We did come across two issues. One was rendering, being able to transfer files, lightweight files to the rendering engine we were using. The other was instancing – for example where you have one cup on a table, render it, its there – you can multiply that and it is only “counted” once. So we found that the size of files we were generating were getting too large.
For the actual buildings – in fact, on another project we worked on in Abu Dhabi – we had the entire thing in chunks in ArchiCAD. I think as we move back into straight up creation of guideline documents for the island we’ll be using ArchiCAD.