15 Sep, 2023
Reimagining Open Streets

The Middle East’s urban environment is characterized by seemingly endless streets that stretch from one property line to another. These flat and continuous expanses pose issues for pedestrians, and questions regarding safety, usage, and space sharing.

However, ICON is embarking on a journey to change this, and exploring the possibility of creating more open and accessible streetscapes.

Uncovering a New Perspective

Drawing inspiration from the tributes to verticality and horizontality that are woven throughout the region, we are working to unearth a different rationale behind the existing street pattern. By viewing all properties and their walls as symbols of verticality, we can start to look at the streets as being within the domain of horizontality, and something that reflects the great expanse of the desert. In this context, the open streets become a stage, symbolising an ancient way of life that embraced the boundless landscape of nomadic existence. Suddenly, the open streets acquire newfound poetic and cultural value. They are no longer mere asphalt corridors, but vibrant canvases telling the captivating story of the region’s ancestral heritage.

Creating a Practical Reality

However, conflicts between this poetic vision and the practicalities of urban life are inevitable. The open spaces of the Middle East’s streets, while generous, are not infinite in urban areas. Pedestrians, cyclists, buses, and cars navigate these streets, creating unique dynamics of movement and speed that are distinct from the free-flowing desert. Parking concerns further complicate matters. Nonetheless, we have decided to turn to the shared-street concept, a model that is showcased across the globe, as a source of inspiration. It’s time to ask why this model can’t be seamlessly integrated into the region’s local open streetscapes? We have an opportunity to envision a model that encapsulates the local soul, while simultaneously addressing practical needs.

Dreaming of an Alternative

Creating such a model requires cultural expertise, a fundamental shift in the urban paradigm, and a profound level of awareness and education among all users. Let us dare to dream of possibilities that foster shared urban spaces that promote sustainability and efficiency. This analogy to the desert invites us to also reconsider the materiality of the streets. By integrating environmental and ecological elements we can create permeable and planted outdoor spaces that provide shade, collect water, maintain freshness and humidity, and foster biodiversity, all while mitigating the urban heat island effect. This aspiration warrants attention, further research, and real-life testing.

Embracing the Challenge

As designers, we approach the monumental challenge of reshaping our streets with a deep understanding of the region’s rich heritage and its interaction with the environment. We are reimagining the traditional streetscape, and creating a place where the environment and urban landscapes can engage in a poetic dialogue. We are working to create a natural harmony between comfort, sustainability, and preserve the region’s local identity.

Shaping a Sustainable and Vibrant Future

At ICON, we are conducting highly confidential research into a new generation of streets that offer optimal outcomes and experiences for users. Streets that improve comfort levels, protect the environment, and enrich the biodiversity of our cities. Imagine the achievement – a street model that not only reflects the ancestral culture and heritage of the region, but harmoniously coexists with the environment and enriches biodiversity in a truly distinctive manner. It would serve as a tribute to the past, while simultaneously paving the way for a sustainable and vibrant future.


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