Urban morphology and behavior mapping in Abu Dhabi’s public spaces: informality as an interaction of cultural context and urban form.

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Abstract Summary
Abu Dhabi’s galloping growth is shepherded by a stringent set of standards and guidelines for both the public space and the built environment. Its urban form that follows the main characteristics of most new Arab cities (automobile dependency, modernist grid and monotonous suburban sprawl) has already started gaining the attention of scholarly research. However, that research body still misses a critical analysis of the dynamic interaction between the qualitative quotidian practices and the produced urban form. Such an analysis could shed light on the relationship between socioethnic groups and urban space programming and appropriation. This paper presents findings from an ongoing research program for the search of a link between the design and use of public spaces and the surrounding urban morphologies within the diverse sociocultural context of Abu Dhabi. Fourteen public spaces of the city (both formal and informal ones) were examined in terms of their typology, functions and social profile, as well as for the correlation with their urban context and the public transportation networks. In situ methodological approaches such as behavioral mapping, impromptu discussions and photography were applied in order to shed light at the intricate particularities and qualitative properties of public spaces. The choice of those public spaces and their mapping were conducted under the prospect of comparability, either between themselves or with future studies in similar cities in the Middle East and beyond. The research program – albeit not completed yet – amplifies the importance of informality as an indicator of urban health and as a reminder of insufficient urban planning programming and urban design practices. It also underlines the importance of preserving or even pursuing informality as a catalyst of social cohesion, cultural flexibility and inclusivity. Furthermore, certain urban morphologies, more related to a higher and more organic degree of pedestrian connectivity seem to optimally contribute to a more diverse and successful public space. Future phases of the program could also reveal relations on the metropolitan scale with regards to mobility, public transportation needs, strategic approaches and the need to control urban sprawl and densities. This case study of Abu Dhabi could then become of valuable guidance on rewriting public space design manuals and on exporting urban doctrines.
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ISO52
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Associated Sessions

Assistant Professor of Architecture
,
Abu Dhabi University

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