Situated on the south coast of the Persian Gulf, the city of Dubai made its money from oil and gas, but these days its primary income sources are tourism, real estate and financial services. As the city’s population has grown, so too have its urban areas, outlying universities and other development projects. In 2005, the government recognized the need for a sophisticated mass transit system to relieve growing traffic congestion and improve access around the city.
The Dubai Metro is the longest fully automated rail system in the world when it opened on September 9, 2009. Global architectural firm Aedas was brought in to design the state of the art Metro system’s 45 stations, 2 depots and operational control centres.
“The Dubai Metro is the largest and most advanced automated transit project in the world,” said Robert Troup, the managing director for Middle East operations at Aedas. “With the fast pace of development in Dubai, infrastructure is very important and the Metro will bring great benefit to the city.”
Dubai is a city of skyscrapers on the Arabian peninsula under the rule of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. But while it is a modern metropolis of glass-curtained buildings and corporate culture, its ocean and the sand dunes of the desert hark back to a time before oil became the initial pool of wealth for the United Arab Emirates. Dubai remains very aware of its heritage and asked the architects to come up with a design that reflected Dubai’s ancient traditions and long history. Aedas architects worked with ideas involving the sails of dhows and falcons’ wings, but finally hit upon the beautiful shell form of each station. Reflecting the bravery of Dubai’s divers who provided the pearls that led to the city’s early prosperity, the roofs of all the stations are an illuminescent shell – a long span steel structure without internal columns or supports based on an elliptical cone over a curve. With aluminum panels on the top, the double-skin cladding provides an environmentally friendly means of cooling the roof, using traditional “solar-assisted” natural ventilation techniques.
“The concept, the metaphor behind it, is based on the pearl,” said Boran Agoston, Aedas’ architectural design director for the project. “We had to make these stations relevant to the city, its history and foundations.”
Using a global team of nearly 100 architects, consultants and interior designers, Aedas worked to create designs that were both aesthetically pleasing but also functional and safe, to be used by millions of people.
Referring to the glass exterior of the stations, Mr Troup commented: “To design something like this, you need a standardised panel, without too many shapes so it’s easy to construct them. It’s very rational, pure geometry, done by computers.”
The metro, a US$4.2 billion project, is the world’s longest fully automated metro system and a first for the Middle East. The trains are fully automated, air-conditioned and driverless. The 45 stations include nine underground stations and their design again incorporates aspects of Dubai’s heritage and culture. Aedas contracted out the interior design of the stations and trains on the Red and Green Lines, which are already built, to KCA International, a UK-based firm. The interior designers used the themes of earth, water, fire and air. Each train will be able to carry 643 passengers in five cars. The Gold Class Cars have a luxurious, leather interior, with 18 wide seats and is furnished in blue/aqua tones. There’s also a car exclusively for women and children providing space for bags and strollers, a safe and comfortable environment designed in a turquoise pixel pattern on the walls and floor. The other Silver Class cars have seats laid out in a variety of ways to allow passengers an opportunity to admire the view or turn towards other passengers so they can chat with their friends.
Aedas developed a “Barrier Free Access System” to ensure that all passengers, whatever their needs, are able to use the metro system with ease. These include wheelchair access; an international standard tactile guidance path for the visually impaired around the stations; and simple and clear signage for direction and information for the hearing impaired. Key metro stations are equipped with taxi ranks and park-and-ride facilities.
The Red and Green Lines were scheduled to open on September 9 and March 2010, the Purple and Blue Lines are under development and the massive project is expected to be finished by 2012. Aedas has already been appointed by Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority to design the Green Line extension.
And here are a few statistics on the world’s longest fully automated rail system. When completed, the Dubai Metro will have a total of 70km of lines and 45 stations. Two lines are under construction and two lines are planned. The Red Line (50km long) runs from Jebel Ali Port, the American university in Dubai, thought the city centre to Al Rashidiya and has 35 stations. The Green Line is 20km long and goes from Festival City throught the city centre, Dubai International Airport Terminal 2 and the Airport Free Zone.
Dubai anticipates that its population will reach 3 million by 2017 and that 15 million tourists will visit in 2010 – all served by this pearl of quiet and sophisticated transport – the Dubai Metro.