A green oasis

Thomas Heatherwick has created a garden out of a desert in the heart of Abu Dhabi.

Thomas Heatherwick turns a desert green.

The British architect has reconceived and devoted a major piece of public land in Abu Dhabi to the wellbeing of its citizens.

As the Al Fayah Park is situated in the desert the project proved to be a challenging one for Heatherwick and his studio, the most serious of which was how to provide protection from the hot desert sun for visitors as well as the plants and vegetation.

Heatherwick transformed the existing public space into a park that takes its inspiration from European gardens. Featuring a blanket of grass and sustainable principles such as energy efficiency and water irrigation, the Al Fayah Park is a modern, sustainable public space celebrating the beauty of the desert and its distinct surrounding landscape.

We became interested in the patterns of the desert landscape and looked at shapes created when the earth cracks from the heat of the sun. We also became fascinated by how, in previous times, people living in such intense heat had grown vegetables in the shade of a palm tree to reduce the strength of the sun’s rays. Experimenting with the idea of a structure drawn from a fractured desert crust, we started developing a scheme based on revealing partially-shaded planted spaces below a desert surface, says Heatherwick.

The project evolved as a series of cracked pieces of the desert surface raised on columns to form a gentle dome across the site. The elevated pieces create a perforated canopy of partial shade under which a lush garden can grow, protected from the harsh excesses of the hot sun. The sunken oasis then becomes a landscape of plants and mature trees, forming a series of interconnected public recreational spaces.

Al Fayah Park features cafés, play spaces, a library, pools and streams as well as community vegetable gardens. 

Watch the Talk with Thomas Heatherwick