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28 February 2024

At the forefront of island-building

By Adrian Murphy


Demand for sea-view properties coupled with a soaring tourist industry is driving the creation of manmade islands around the world. Pioneering work carried out in Dubai – most notably with The Palm Trilogy and The World – is being mirrored in neighbouring emirates, other GCC countries and as far as the North Sea coast off the Netherlands.

While land reclamation is not a new phenomenon – with roots in the 17th century – it re-entered the public consciousness when Dubai announced projects as ambitious as they were audacious.

Developer Nakheel has led the global charge to take back what Nature has claimed, with its so-called The Palm Trilogy, The World, The Waterfront, Dubai Promenade and most recently The Universe, which was announced last week.

Nakheel Chief Executive Chris O’Donnell said the firm was supplying demand driven by people who want to live in luxury by the water’s edge. “The reason we are looking forward to going ahead with The Universe is because The World is 50 per cent sold and The Palm Jumeirah is nearly 100 per cent sold. The other incentive is that the signature villas on The Palm Jumeirah sold for Dh4.6 million and today, in the secondary market, are going for Dh35m. As customers are experiencing the quality of product and the quality of lifestyle, they are realising the shift to the sea is really worth pursuing.”

Nakheel has invested Dh220 billion on its projects, which will extend Dubai’s 70km of natural coastline to more than 1,000km. The Palm Jumeirah – which along with The Palm Jebel Ali and The Palm Deira make up the Palm Trilogy – was the first to be announced in 2001 and is now almost complete. This has set a precedent for more land reclamation. Nakheel has announced after six years, $3bn and the movement of 327m cubic metres of soil, The World is now complete.
The Universe, a collection of islands whose shape is inspired by the planets and stars, will stretch from The Palm Jumeirah to The Palm Deira.

Peter Calthorpe is principal at urban designers and architects Calthorpe Associates, in Berkeley, California, which is involved in projects around the world including consultative work on the vast The Palm Deira. He said land reclamation, in theory, was a good idea, if the space was used wisely.

“My attitude depends on what you do on the reclaimed land. There are so many different environments you can create on land and reclaimed land, and the key question is does it have a good urban design? Does it offer a diverse quality of life? In a place like Dubai, is it walkable and transit-friendly?”

Elsewhere in the Gulf, ambitious projects have been announced by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Yemen, Qatar and Bahrain. In the UAE, every emirate has announced multi-billion dirham projects to develop beachfront and marina-style projects.

Richard Lee is vice-president of South Korean construction company Sungwon, which is involved in developments in Business Bay and Culture Village, Dubai. He said the trend of reclaiming land was likely to spread. “Looking at the UAE, it is also a great money-making project. In Dubai, they are pioneering a level of science involving the best people in land reclamation.”


The Dh1.83bn Saraya Islands project will occupy the 7km Julphar Island, between the Hajar Mountains and the Gulf. It will cover an area of more than one million square metres. The Cove project sits on a water inlet on Ras Al Khaimah beachfront just before the town centre and covers 50 acres.


From The Palm Jumeirah to The Universe, land reclamation in Dubai has made it the world capital of offshore, themed islands. When the projects are complete, Dubai’s 70km of natural coastline will have stretched to a staggering 1,000km at a cost of Dh220bn.


Saadiyat – Island of Happiness – is 500 metres off the Abu Dhabi coast with 30km of waterfront, golf courses and five-star hotels. The Dh99bn project will have a cultural district including the Louvre Abu Dhabi and Guggenheim Museum.


A marina costing Dh15bn was announced last month and, along with a 2,500-metre long beach, will be built on a one million square metre site on the Al Khan Peninsula. The project will combine tourism, shopping, entertainment, residential, business and cultural facilities in an Arab city environment.


The Al Zawra development is a Dh5bn, 12km strip of the emirate’s unused coastline and will include high-rise buildings, shopping malls and hotels and restaurants extending along the beach and into the sea. Al Zawra is being developed jointly by the Ajman Government and Solidere of Lebanon.


One of Fujairah’s major projects is the Mina Al Fajer Resort, a Dh600m seafront community consisting of a marina, 48 mountain villas, 13 solarium villas and 80 marina apartments in addition to a 200-room five-star hotel.


White Bay is an Dh8bn resort community on the shores of Umm Al Quwain comprising two manmade islands, a shopping precinct, a marina and luxury villas. The project will have 8,000 homes spread over 1.7m square metres.


King Abdullah Economic City is a Dh98bn project partnered with Emaar. It has a total development area of almost two billion square feet. The city is located between the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah and the commercial hub of Jeddah. As well as residential and office space, the city will contain the largest seaport in the region, covering 13.8m square metres.


Al Kout is a Dh194m project covering 1.6km and includes two piers, a lagoon connected by a bridge and surrounded by fountains. The project will feature a world-class marina for more than 160 boats, plus an exclusive private clubhouse for members.


Seef Island is a Dh273m project and the result of reclamation work that has changed the Bahrain coastline. Surrounded on three sides by the sea, it includes apartments, five-star hotels and the kingdom’s largest mall, Seef Mall.


The Pearl is a Dh9bn artificial island spanning nearly four million square metres. Creating more than 32km of coastline, the island is Qatar’s first international real estate venture, and will be home to 40,000 residents in more than 15,000 homes within 12 precincts by 2010.

12. OMAN

The Dh55bn Blue City project in A’sawadi is sited on a natural peninsula. The 32 square km waterfront city is being built along 16km of shoreline adjacent to the Gulf of Oman. It will also have a network of 5km of canals.