Dubai: When the Zaals were looking for a family home in Dubai back in 2003, they realised they could not find what they wanted.
“Having grown up in the UK, we were used to being surrounded by abundant greenery. There was nothing like that out here. But we decided if we couldn’t find it, why not create it ourselves?” recalls Kamelia Bin Zaal, daughter of Emirati entrepreneur Zaal Mohammad Zaal, recalling the story behind the birth of Al Barari.
The upscale community off Mohammad Bin Zayed Road today is not just a case study of how a verdant community has defied the odds of a barren desert, but also a benchmark for a greener UAE.
It is no happenstance that 80 per cent of the community developed by the Zaals is covered with greenery. Neither is it any coincidence that the area has a microclimate of its own, with temperatures three to five degrees lower than the rest of the emirate.
It has a homegrown nursery Green Works, the largest of its kind in the Middle East, and has created a unique city of gardens, meandering through six themes, with the addition of 28 more very soon.
So just how did this green wonder come about? Kamelia, a landscape architectural expert who worked as creative director for Al Barari for seven years, said: “The initial challenge lay in building a green community in a desert, levelling the area, ensuring the ground was suitable for construction and factoring water scarcity.
“We actually brought water to the desert and focused on sustainable landscaping. About 80-90 per cent of the water used had to be recycled. We used reverse osmosis for irrigation. The UAE also has extreme climate in summer, salty soil conditions and winds that change direction. All these factors had to be considered.”
She said the combination of the natural shade canopy created by the landscape’s high density planting, numerous waterways and clusters designed to direct the wind flow from the desert or sea had resulted in the creation of a microclimate with temperatures 3-5°C below that of the surrounding areas.
Living within the community, Kamelia said, “We have not merely planted a few trees to green up the area, we have developed verdant greenery, waterways, streams and lakes and built homes within nature.”
Al Barari’s lap of nature currently nestles 217 residences, with 563 more to be added in the second phase. Villas in the community command a premium for their natural bounty with prices ranging from Dh7.7 million to over Dh30 million. The community has no commercial offices, except its own, and offers only homegrown retail concepts like The Farm restaurant, Body Language health club and Heart & Soul spa.
“The villas employ an acute awareness of natural light and shade and have been grouped in leaf-shaped clusters to minimise the impact of infrastructure on land. The Nest in particular has solar panels on the roofs to reduce energy consumption costs throughout the home. Each residence supports its own energy-efficient home system and residents are encouraged to recycle through the underground waste system that separates organic from inorganic waste,” said Kamelia.
Through Green Works, Al Barari uses locally sourced planting and hardscape materials.
Kamelia said plants that provide year-round garden appeal are selected. “We use plants which can tolerate high levels of humidity, high/extreme temperatures and have a high tolerance to saline soil. We add compost, which we make from leftover materials to improve the soil and its water retention.
Mulching is used to reduce the amount of water lost through evaporation, which also helps to reduce soil temperature.
Sub-surface smart irrigation systems and larger water droplet sizes on our irrigation sprinklers (when required) are used to also reduce the amount of water lost through evaporation and to ensure plants are not over-watered. As a result, the landscape’s high density planting keeps the ground cooler.”
Al Barari’s Themed Gardens
Al Barari’s Showcase Gardens are accompanied by six themed gardens including the Mediterranean, Balinese, Water, Renaissance, Contemporary and Woodland Garden. Phase two of the community will see the creation of 28 additional themed gardens.
Mediterranean Garden: features a cantilevered timber deck and pavilion which sit harmoniously within the landscape facing an open body of water. The garden features an olive grove and a mist and light element.
Balinese Garden: represents a tropical wilderness setting and features Balinese pavilions, decks and timber structures as well as wind chimes and palm trees.
Water Garden: features elevated decks over water, and fountains and seating areas along the lake and also forms the confluence of all the water bodies that flow through Al Barari.
Renaissance Garden: incorporates the five basic elements of water, fire, earth, metal and wood, which are the fundamentals for historic landscape philosophy.
Contemporary Garden: is defined by its hard and angular lines which form a stark and architectural element in the space while the water channel that flows through it forms the heart of the design.
Woodland Garden: features specially designed social spaces for residents and trees form the major element in the garden.