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Gandong Cai, Mingjie Cai Dec 2021

International Competition

Award: 1st Prize Winner (top 1 from more than 100 proposals)





The Crescent in Question
Planned to be the world's largest waterfront development shaped like a crescent, the Dubai Waterfront is in trouble due to financial crisis, land sinking, and rising sea levels. Furthermore, the ecological controversies the project involved in oppose to the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals. Thus, the crescent is not included in the  2040 Dubai Urban Master Plan, leaving great uncertainties but at the same time a unique opportunity for design imagination. Suppose the former scheme no longer fits in the current sociocultural and geopolitical context. What waterfront and islands should be built to demonstrate Dubai's ambition to be the greatest self-sufficient and climate-friendly city in the world?

More-than-human Island
The Dubai Waterfront, together with its adjacent mega palm-like projects, is the most convincing example of the Anthropocene—the power of human beings is eventually equivalent to the drastic geologic forces and can manipulate sea and land. Given the contexts of recurrent economic and real estate crises, emerging climate disasters and ecological degradation, and the ongoing biopolitical controversies, do we need an alternative story now? The suspension of the project gives planners and designers time to reconsider this pivotal question. How can the Dubai Waterfront, the exemplar of human-centric development, be transformed into a project celebrating the inclusion of all lifeforms, from human to date palm, coral reef and algae? Can the site be a more-than-human island?


Phoenix dactylifera, commonly known as date palm, has been planted since 2400 BC and remains an important part of Arab culture. While Dubai's Palm Islands Project (Palm Jumeirah, Palm Deira and Palm Jebel Ali) is inspired by the image of a date palm, we argue that the tree can play a bigger role rather than just a graphic reference. Instead, as the tree of life, the concept and use of date palm in our proposal will be expanded and elaborated. This newly conceived date palm will support the prosperity of all lifeforms, provide resources and technologies to build self-sufficient communities, and trigger reimagination of the city's future. Thus, the Waterfront archipelago will become a more-than-human self-sustaining Palm-Oasis on which all lifeforms subsist equally and harmonically. 


Three Palms
For such a goal, three "Palms" are proposed in our scheme. The Sacred Palm is an ecological security system and an urban logistical framework based on the date palm tree. Rows of date palms are planted alongside the island's coast to block strong wind and stabilize soil attacked by the current, establishing the security system for the delicate man-made island. The date palms also provide food, materials, fuel, and other resources to support the island's metabolism and the city. 


The Marine Palm is a series of artificial islands floating on water, with structures going all the way down to the sea bed. The "leaves"—the floating parts are plastic containers, algae farms, salt drying fields, and scientist centers, while the "stem" is sensing devices and sonar hydrophones for detecting the condition of coral reef and its marine habitats. The plastics providing buoyancy for the floating islands is collected consecutively from the world's ocean gyres in a 50-years plan.


The Terra Palm is a machinic mega structure inserted on the site. It combines the functions of data center, research lab, education hub, tourist destination, saltwater purification, clean energy generation into one single palm-shaped vertical tower stretching from the ground level to the subterranean of the site. Though mostly invisible from above ground, the Terra Palm serves as a contemporary version of the tree of life in supporting the city's everyday life and people.  It will be operated by the government but financially supported by the island's potential residents, the world's wealthiest people.


The Structure of the Neighborhoods
The sacred palms support the self-sustaining lifestyle of the island residents by defining the spatial framework, while the marine palms are floating along the coast, while the resources they produced will be transported to the island and the terra palms are the engines below ground, offering technology and energy support for the island's daily operation. The island is reinvigorated, and the lives of human and nonhuman species are activated through the implementation of the three palms strategy.


When zoom-in to a specific neighborhood, one can see the everyday life happening on the island. But what's behind the scene is a complicated yet highly integrated system. This is the core spirit of our proposal, the Palm-oasis, as a comprehensive system underpinning the future lifestyle of the island, just like how date palms supported the traditional lifestyle of the region in the past thousands of years.

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