• Projects
      • Manhal Oasis Masterplan
    • Client
    • International Capital Trading LLC
    • year
    • 2006
    • Site
    • Manhal Palace Abu Dhabi, UAE
    • Project architect
    • Kas Oosterhuis
    • Kas Oosterhuis, Ilona Lénárd, Gijs Joosen, Rafael Seemann, Michael Gorzynscki, Barbara Janssen, Rena Logara, Lidia Badarnah, Jan Gasparik, Tomasz Sachanowicz, Satish Kumar, Dimitar Karanikolov
    • Design team Hyperbody
    • Tomasz Jaskiewicz
  • Manhal Oasis Masterplan, applying swarm logic to the urban scale

    Tomasz Jaskiewicz and Chris Kievid


    Manhal Oasis is a master plan project designed by ONL [Oosterhuis_Lénárd] and Hyperbody for a site located in the centre of Abu Dhabi. The location, which was formerly occupied by the royal park and plantation, is now planned to become a vibrant urban centre, with two billion square metres of new, diverse programs.


    Planning such a large investment is a complex undertaking, which has to take a great number of factors and constraints into account. Normally, in projects of this scale, the resulting plans are the outcome of compromises between many constraints arising out of seemingly opposing conditions. These include financial, functional, spatial, social and political conditions as well as many other aspects of urban scale projects. With the help of design strategies and tools developed at Hyperbody, ONL was courageous enough to challenge that point of view. The Manhal Oasis master plan shows that by using new types of design tools and by approaching complex projects using swarm logic, such compromises are no longer necessary. All project constraints may be formulated in ways that actually create space for design freedom. Approaching a project in this way in fact transforms constraints from something that would normally impose design limitations into something that increases the design freedom of the architect allowing for new, out of the box solutions and the realization of unprecedented spatial qualities.


    In the Manhal Oasis master plan, the design process was played out as if it was a game. First, all the main components of the master plan were identified. These included many residential and office units, a mall, a souk, museums, a landmark structure, mosques, parking, a landmark tower and many other additional functions. Relationships between these objects were subsequently carefully studied, defining their potential positioning  on (but also under and above) the site and in relation to one another. Everything was described accurately, yet flexibly. Rather than using explicit values, value ranges were assigned to given objects in order to allow for certain tractability within the designed system. Global parameters, however, were defined very explicitly, making sure that regardless of the locally fluctuating changes, the overall outcome of the project would always be reliable and feasible in every way necessary for the project to be realized.


    All this information was fed into the prototypical design Swarm Toolkit developed by Hyperbody as part of the protoSPACE research agenda. The toolkit uses the 3D VIA Virtools visual programming environment, which allows not only for quick development, but also for easy modifications of the system, also during its use. The main idea behind the way in which these tools were designed to operate, is to allow for a high number of autonomously operating entities to look for local optima according to the individual behaviours by which they are programmed to operate, and the static or dynamic parameters of various kinds that they may contain. Additionally, all objects and their states are dynamically represented in a 3D virtual scene. A system created in this manner can be very complex, but does not require any fixed hierarchy. Objects can be mutually dependent on each other, multiple feedback-loops may be formed between their parameters and modifications to system content and structure can be made at any point.


    If parameters of go beyond allowed thresholds, if functions start to overlap or boundaries are exceeded, objects try to locally adjust their position and other parameters in small discrete steps, until the solution satisfies the constraints. Because hundreds of project components continuously perform such local adjustments, the overall system efficiently performs as a whole by staying within imposed constraints. If there is no solution achievable within the local object's optima, the object reports that back to the designer and global configuration of objects or global parameters can be consequently adjusted in a top-down manner.


    After the initial setup, the master plan design game was played in this environment. It involved moving functional elements in the virtual site, trying out various configurations, minimizing distances between parts of the project that had to be connected for functional and other reasons and, last but not least, an appealing spatial design had to be created. The natural flexibility that the design system allows, including being able to make easy changes in parameters on various scales without having to rework the entire hierarchy, allowed for an unmatched speed of project development

    [Figure 1]

    The design game involved multiple iterations, involving not only the architects, but also traffic construction engineers and the client. Ultimately a narrowed down solution range was found that surprisingly required no compromises between individual goals of all involved parties.


    The final master plan contains a large park going through the middle of the site. On its edges, covered parking lots go both under- and gradually sloping, overground. Above them, twenty office and residential towers rise, connected in mid-air with pedestrian bridges. In the middle of the development four large and four extra-large mixed use towers emphasize the central part of the development and surround a souk area, the future agora of the city (Figure 2). A dynamic water screen rising above it provides a unique spectacle each night and reflects all the activities happening around the souk, twenty-four hours a day (Figure 3). Within the park and on its edges, seamlessly integrated in the artificial landscape, various every-day facilities are located; from mosques to cultural centres and shops. On one end of the park a large 'Fit-for-the-future' mall closes the park axis. A one of a kind landmark structure with a viewing platform and restaurant on top is located on the other side, surrounded by two museums.

    [Figure 2] [Figure 3]

    The Manhal Oasis Master plan turns Abu Dhabi into a true destination city for global, regional and local users and visitors (Figure 4). It creates a downtown home for approximately 50,000 residents and an additional 50,000 workers and is planned to host billions of guests per year. The Al Manhal Oasis development has the ambition to become a true destination city, while being an attractive and economically viable solution, which respects and maintains the existing qualities of the site while providing enormous economical and added cultural value.

    [Figure 4]

    Since the project was developed digitally and parametrically from the beginning and in an integrated manner, subsequent steps did not require extensive work (Figure 5). All plans and sections were created directly from the 3D model, generated by the chosen outcome of the dynamic design game. Additionally, an interactive 3D model could have also been delivered to the clients, through which they could freely navigate to immersively experience the designed urban environment. If any, even far-fetched, changes were to be ever made to the plan, the entire project documentation could be re-generated in a half-automated way, and all calculations remade without losing their validity.

    [Figure 5]

    The Manhal Oasis is a milestone of urban planning and design. It not only shows the efficiency of a distributed, behavioural modelling approach to the design of complex spatial systems, even on the scale of an entire city area. It also shows that quality of achieved solutions can go beyond all standards, and provide new, out of the box design features.