Sunday, November 24, 2013

Leading Inside out- interviews Nadine Bitar , founder of PLACEmaking

Leading Inside Out

Changing Pink are launching  "Leading Inside Out"  showcasing  inspiring women leaders within our local community, with themes centered around self-leadership and leading others. 

below is my interview with them .

Nadine Bitar

Founder, PLACE making

Nadine Bitar is the founder of PLACE making, an urban and landscape design consultancy with a focus on designing outdoor spaces, neighborhoods and districts that are healthy, prosperous, thriving, vibrant and animated and have their own unique sense of place. Prior to her founding role at PLACEmaking, Nadine was an Urban Planning Advisor at Abu Dhabi Municipality, Director of Planning for the Middle East at Mouchel plc., and Head of Planning & Zoning at Tatweer Real Estate.  Nadine is also a writer and a blogger. Her writing pursuits include poetic expressions of her experiences and passions.

Nadine is married and has two children, Taline and Fadi.  She currently lives and works in Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Nadine has an air of positivity, determination and knowingness about her.  When I tell her this, she laughs and speaks of a life with highs and lows, moments of hope and achievement and others of doubt and vulnerability, but mostly a journey of constant search and transformation. Over the next hour and a half, we speak of all this and more: what sparked her love for nature, failures that proved to be blessings in disguise and how today she is turning urban spaces into places. 

Looking back at your childhood, what were some defining moments that shaped who you are today? 

I was born and raised in Beirut in the midst of the Lebanese civil war. I remember being around five years old and asking my mother whether all countries in the world had to endure war the way we did. 

What I mostly remember is what went through my mind when my mum explained that not all countries are battling with war. I remember thinking that other options exist and that things can change.  This mindset of looking for alternatives and knowing that things can change would carry me through difficult moments in my life, and help me not only endure, but thrive as well. 
read the rest of the interview on

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Wellbeing and Placemaking

Ten Principles for Building Healthy Places provides practical steps that communities can adopt to have a positive impact on the health of their people. It is based on recommendations from a workshop of multidisciplinary experts convened last summer, which distilled findings from three ULI Advisory Services panels conducted last spring in Colorado to recommend strategies for fostering active living. The Colorado Health Foundation funded those panels and is a partner of the Building Healthy Places Initiative. The ten principles are:

1. Put people first. 

One of the strongest health/land use correlations is between obesity and the use of automobiles. For decades planners and developers have designed places for cars rather than people. The report recommends designing in a way that minimizes automobile dependence by mixing land uses and offering safe, convenient options for getting from one place to another. The report recommends making healthy living a priority and integrating it into the planning process.

2. Recognize the economic value. 

Compact, walkable, mixed-use communities provide economic benefit to developers through higher property values, enhanced marketability, and quicker sales and leasing. The report points to the likelihood that these communities will hold their value during economic downturns, noting that the economic viability of these communities is underpinned by their popularity with two of the largest demographic groups—baby boomers and millennials.

3. Empower champions for health. 

Community engagement is a powerful vehicle in highlighting the link between health and local land use, and in bringing about change. The report encourages local champions to communicate the benefits of healthy places, promote grassroots action, broaden the base of support, and forge collaborations and partnerships with stakeholders who share an interest in healthy communities, such as medical professionals.

4. Energize shared spaces. 

Places with high levels of social isolation often suffer from declines in well-being and increases in health costs. The report advocates incorporating public gathering places into the built environment and, where appropriate, using the “living street” concept, which gives priority to pedestrians and cyclists over cars and provides recreational space.

5. Make healthy choices easy. 

Make the healthy choice the one that is SAFE—safe, accessible, fun, and easy. Communities need to plan their environment to remove barriers that lead people to default to an unhealthy practice.

6. Ensure equitable access

. Make healthy choices accessible to all income and demographic groups. Neighborhoods should have housing options for all ages, enabling people to age in place, and communities should make facilities accessible through a holistic transit plan that reduces reliance on the automobile.

7. Mix it up. Integrate a range of residential, commercial, cultural, and institutional uses. 

Mixed-use development is more likely to create walkable or transit-oriented communities and mixed-income, cross-generational communities.

8. Embrace unique character. 

Places that are different, unusual, or unique can be helpful in promoting physical activity and emotional well-being. The report cites a Knight Foundation study concludes that the most important factor creating bonds between people and their communities is not jobs, but the community’s “physical beauty, opportunities for socializing, and a city’s openness to all people.” Communities should rediscover existing assets such as waterfronts or historic neighborhoods and embrace the unique character of their area to boost physical and mental health among the population.

9. Promote access to healthy food.

 Because diet is a major contributor to human health, access to healthy food should be considered as part of any development proposal. The report notes that when considering what constitutes a healthy community, planners and developers seldom assign food the same prominence as transit, open space, and housing mix. The report advocates rethinking the modern grocery store to make it more accessible for cyclists and pedestrians, considering use of mobile food markets, and employing historic markets to create a destination to encourage economic development and health eating.

10. Make it active. 

Urban design should be used to create an active community, boosting physical activity and reducing reliance on the car. Amenities for adults and children should be located together to serve both groups; for instance, adult exercise equipment should be provided near children’s playgrounds, enabling parents to exercise while supervising their children. Walking should be encouraged by looking at the provision of sidewalks and crosswalks, while cycling can be encouraged through bike-share schemes.

Adapted from uli guide on healthy communities 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

ecological urban design

Ecological Urban Design
Nadine chahine
Ecological urban design is becoming a reality - a reality endorsed by one truth -our cities are an ecosystem operating in a larger eco-system. Once we understand and are aware of the intricate details of how these two ecosystems can complement each other, our cities - being the largest man made creations - will definitely heal from the alarming ecological footprint they are producing.

Figure 1-cities as urban ecosystems
Roads act as main way of transporting people and goods from the point of entry of a neighbourhood to an array of potential stop stations. The choice we human make when designing such a road needs to be influenced by the way our brain interpret and perceive these different possibilities. As designers, we are responsible for ensuring legibility- the capability of a city arteries(roads) to be understood intuitively . Although it is a design factor, it goes a long way in addressing efficiencies; the more direct and clear it is for our brains ( or GPS ) to guide us through the maze of points we need to go to ,the more possibilities for alternative transport mode can be thought of such as tram, monorail, biking tracks ,pedestrian zones. We tend to always analyse the pedestrian network as running parallel to roads through the inclusion of sidewalks sandwiched between the roads and the buildings .However, cities that have been resilient through thousands of years prove to us that our rationalisation of how we walk in cities is reductionist to our urban spaces. Walkable cities are legible .

Figure 2 walking is a choice that legible cities force us to take
Whether it is surface, multi story or basement parking, it plays a role in increasing accessibility to public transport points , pedestrian retail zones within the city ,civic spaces .accessibility as a design facto is highly linked to proximity of public transport  to public spaces and recreational spaces .it results in  vibrancy and animation of these spaces during all days and across different population segments ,
An example of ecological urban design is Downtown Silver Spring .The Development near transit stations is often compact and intense which gave the developer an opportunity to do Placemaking. The design of Civic open spaces make the development unique and fulfil an important need in compact, urban neighbourhoods.
 After residents in Silver Spring, Maryland, called for more open space, Montgomery County, Maryland, planners wrote guidelines for a Transit Oriented Development. A developer of a 27-acre project a short distance from the Metro stop responded by redeveloping the  suburban superblock around a series of public spaces by Bing Thom Architects and Sasaki Associates. The public spaces add to the urban centre distinctness and a sense of place .


Cities in the Gulf are part of a larger ecosystem – a coastal desert .The heat in urban spaces is caused through the reflection of the sunlight rays on the horizontal and vertical surfaces. This warming leads to an over use of  air conditioning - air cooling that consumes fossil fuels . In these days, our technologies are focused in either inventing materials that do not get affected by sun rays or cooling technologies to save on energy. What about wind? What about we work with the wind? Understanding the relationship between sun, wind and the orientation of our city fabric, streets and public space is important to manage efficiently the city as an ecosystem leading to efficiencies in energy consumption especially if it is applied on a district level and city level. Xeritown is a development in Dubai that have used wind in shaping its urban fabric-see figure 2

Figure 4-Xeritown  used wind to reduce heat by reorienting the fabric to benefit from cool breeze coming from the sea to the desert

Greening the city is gaining momentum as a substantial resource efficiency initiative. There is always a pitfall in our cities to consider greening the city as just dedicating a big plot of land for a park .Actually, greening the cities now is expanding into urban ecosystem management through Urban agriculture and Biodiversity protection activities. We share with these city elements the oxygen and carbon - carbon being the enemy number one across the world when it comes to national sustainability campaigns. We look for ways to buy, share , transfer , calculate and resolve carbon footprint issues . What about plants? Cities are looking for various ways now to incorporate urban agriculture projects. In Dubai, Zaabeel park acts as an urban haven reducing heat and the impact of sheikh zayed highway high traffic activities carbon emissions. Zaabeel park also hosts a numerous of local adapted flora species that with time might become also a haven for local birds, insects and other fauna species. One of the interesting use of zaabeel park is storm water management due to its proximity to Dubai International Financial center .In case of wind storms, its palm trees might reduce the impacts of san erosion on the neighbourhoods in karama and bur dubai.

Figure 5-possible projects in urban agriculture
In ecology, urban ecosystems are not mere assemblages of their parts but are continually growing and changing along with their elements. The generative field of a living system extends into the environment and connects the two, for what is needed for the health of the entire system.  It is about the connected fabric of constantly evolving relationships between all living things.
 Ecological urban design, in face of the current pressures, adopts a holistic design approach that combines accessibility, walkability, local climate constraints, greening cities in order to produce places that are meaningful . Our spaces will turn into places that breath, inspire, uplift and even heal...

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Regenerative Urban Design

Invitation: Construction Week's 6th Annual Building Sustainability conference on Nov 13 in Abu Dhabi

Placemaking  is excited to be part of the  6th Annual Building Sustainability Abu Dhabi Conference being hosted by the magazine Construction Week.

The conference , in its 6th edition, promises an in-depth talks about sustainability efforts in the development and construction industry featuring talks on buildings, legislation and certifications.

the speakers background are diverse and come from different disciplines making the discussions rich in content and information.

I listed the details below- register and join us ....

 Wednesday, November 13th, 2013
Venue: Westin Golf Resort and Spa, Abu Dhabi
Timings: 09:00 – 15:00
Registration: 08:15 – 08:55
Speaker Bios

Sunday, May 12, 2013

One society .. One space

It was a sunny day .. As I stepped into my appointment , i could not but notice that I was in the middle of an urban acupuncture phenomenon ..
During the planning of Um Suqueim - the urban area where burj al Arab proudly stands - Dubai Municipality used the different urban scales of neighborhood , community and district to over lay its social infrastructure onto the subdivision plans grouping together the education , medical and convenience needs into one cluster .. The guidelines were published in the 1990's when dubai structural plan was formally approved and then reevaluated in the 2000's after the large scale urban developments springing in the city ..
These plots were silent for a long time .. Although school plots were the first to be built , the objective of providing a social infrastructure to the community could not be yet achieved ..
As I was stepping into my appointment at Aswaq, I realized that the vision that the planners back then were thinking of has materialized .. Next to Aswaq was a mosque and on its left was king's school .. You can see in the southern centers coffee shops and local small restaurans spilling ..
As I stepped into Aswaq gate , I saw an old prayer , one that was said in old Islamist era when one enters the souks .. In between Aswaqq ( souks in English ) and the actual souk in Arabic is one denominator , local community .. Aswaq brands were 100% Local brands from French bakery to the bookshop to the spa to the supermarket .. There is an air of informality , of spontaneity , of familiarity .. There was an air of being A Dubawian * and Dubawis ..
In old Islamic souks , the mosque was always next to them making it easy on people to leave their businesses and pray but also for Friday prayers crowd to spill over and regenerate the souk .. It was interesting to see that connection made thousand of years later ..
The one thing that I felt may need more attention on this coming- back- to - life- old- planning idea is the urban design aspect .. Between the contemporary design of king's school , the heritage inspired wind towers of Aswaq and the ornamental architecture of the mosque, the street perspective was kind of lost.. Urban design has been always a in- between no man Land between architecture and land use planning .. Design guidelines are always seen as discounting value by developers , restricting their creativity .. Many research done on urban neighborhood proved that adhering to flexible yet consistent guidelines actually increase real estate value because it is perceived as maintaining a long term sense of aesthetics and safeguarding the neighborhood spatial character and therefore identity . As we all strive to be distinct and unique , the urban space in between us suffers because its character leaks out trying to be everything for everyone .
As a social infrastructure project, guidelines might have been in fact a much needed dialogue between how as dubawians *and local dubawis we aspire our community values to be manifested architecturally.. Small focus groups might have been ideal to pinpoint objectives and then the technical consulting team might have deduced guidelines based on multiple residents sessions and their aspirations on how the area will develop..
Guided participatory sessions might have lead to a journey of discovery .. An interesting ride into um suqueim past , present and future aspirations as a community of transient , permanent and resident dubawians and Dubawis also .. It may also be an opportunity for Aswaq to relate more strongly to the community it serves by emotionally investing in building trust and communication ..
What is a relationship but trust and communication ?
So as I was leaving the parking , my head was boiling with sketches and bursting with this urban dilemma that while doing our best to anchor ourselves in values such as heritage , authenticity , creativity, we need to foresee The denominator in all - the space itself in the perceived and the perceiver .. In the experienced and the experiencer ..
We are the space and in return , the space becomes us as we build around it meanings and therefore character.. Urban character ..

PS I invented Dubawian to name residents of dubai emirate and Dubawis the citizens of dubai emirate

Thursday, May 9, 2013

young minds and Creativity--AUD final year showcase -Interior Design

It was raining...

As I parked my car and walked on the wet sidewalks, I remembered the tension I had when 10 years ago I was hanging my final year project..

By sheer faith in the conceptual foundation of my design thinking, my professors encouraged me .I reached the Jury incomplete still struggling with solving the openness of the project to the waterfront and the privacy needed for the guests..


 What experience we would have today sitting on the other side of the educational act?

As I stepped into the cosy office of Dr. Albert Fakhoury, greeted by familiar faces from last year jury, the talented and handpicked professionals, I could smell the tension as we went through the standardized students presentation.

Sophisticated and carefully designed banners, laid out reports, Sketch books and report thesis.. All put up showing clearly the information that as juror you need to grasp in five minutes the work of two semesters of hard work..


The first thing that stroke me is the genuine interest of these students in their city Dubai.. Each one of them is relating his project to the community and the life of Dubai adding to the  cultural, social, educational, artistic even spiritual aspects of the city dwellers experience... From cultural centres to spas to libraries to meditation centres to centres of cultural understanding to fashion, we had an overview of genuine reflection of these young minds insights on putting their imprints on the city fabric.

As a juror , I learned a lot from this outburst of creativity..

First, my belief that Design is a thinking process has renewed .Although the designer needs to immerse himself in it, there is a need for observation moments..Moments that you step out and observe the stage where you are in close out and becoming aware of how you need to start the next stage. Design Development if not controlled mentally by the designer might take you to final outcome that instead of reinforcing the creative spark originating from , might bring out its dysfunctional aspects..

I also discovered that Design is a volumetric poetry .It is a poetry of spaces, an interplay of rhythm, language and proportion and is a tool to assert how we relate to our cultural identity and our environment…Fashion, spirituality might be a starting point to engage us in a dialogue as a designers.As we research the interrelationships between the theme  we have embraced and its physical manifestation, we understand more ourselves and engage architecture as a tool to share this understanding with others..

I realised that Design is also Silence ,,just like a piece of jazz music, the melody needs to move out of silence and back to it just like breath, just like thoughts, just like human beings birthed out of the silence of the womb and back to it,,


A designer needs a high level of architectural presentation. The projects we have seen explained their intention and aspiration in detailed plans , sections , elevations and mood boards : the distinguished students were able to relate them in depth to their design development and original conceptual foundation building consistency throughout  the project  .

I was delighted to sense the high self esteem and confidence emerged from these young minds ; they presented business cards , projects and topics in a lucid style and passion ..Their projects exhibited a great understanding of the relationship between architecture and interior design.. Some projects even spilled over urban design and even landscape.. It was the first milestone in honing Their ability of working in multidisciplinary environments..

I realized that young minds like seeds have in them the power and the will to flourish and to bring an added flair of skills and undiscovered tools.. All what we need is to be present for them and attend to them motivating them... This is surely what we aspired to do  as jurors and this is exactly what AUD has been successfully providing it  as a learning institution .

Monday, February 25, 2013

Sustainability generate revenues

During a master planning meeting , we spent one day discussing biking routes alternative and standards for bikers to safely circulate across the community . a hard edge conservative complained about the useless waste of time specially that we have not yet fixed road corridor widths.. I have to admit that as an urban designer i had a moment of self doubt .. Are we making a big deal out of it .. Today I learned that in fact it is worth it .. Dubai just announced its plan to rent visitors f it's downtown bikes to discover it .. This is not due to an instant decision .. Bike lanes and cycling master plans are part and parcel of the human dimension of Evan design .. Biking master plan are now though of in regional and metropolitan level .. I can imagine the planning team of dubai downtown master plan sitting in a meeting and arguing if it was taking too much of their time thinking about it .. Little did they know that it would make their development the first in the Middle east to offer online bike rentals .
Dubai rent a bike has its seed back Into those meetings .. Let us give some credit to the urban planners of the planning team who made this come true

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Valentine and cities

Valentine day .. Red hearts .. Red roses .. Red gadgets .. Teddy bears .. Candle lights .. The day where couples celebrate love , romance and intimacy ..
Love has been always associated with intimacy with the capacity of opening up a deep part of ourselves to another .. It begins With trusting oneself .. Trust is built through communication and space ..
How cities can support communication ? How cities can support trust ? How cities can support intimacy ?
Florence comes here as a good example .. It's network of piazzas , human scale streets, and unpredictable fabric is a physical manifestation of intimacy ,,, it is as if the buildings are supporting each other .. There is no boundaries between urban - public an facade - private .. Although both are well defined well enclosed ..
Cities are our most complex human creations and as such it needs to be essentially human allowing intimacy to be embodied within its streets within its architecture

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

It is not just another software.. It is GIS

GIS stands for geographical information system . It's technicalities are known to most urbanises and teams engaged in urban planning because of the versatility and the diversity in which it's base map and database is built ..
During the years , working with private and public sectors institutions , I realised that the focus on the output and the form in which the analysis need to shown especially the interactivity of the web-view made GIS a one time exercise ..
As a professional , I perceive GIS as a decision making tool on the planning decisions ranging from land use allocation to height .. It is this focus and function that optimises and justifies the investment in the application and the training it needs ..
For GIS to be that, it has essentially to be adopted as an essential part of the organisation policies and development procedures .. The management as well as the employees need a change management strategy that focus on true challenges in the organisational culture as well as the technical skills upgrade program that need to roll out ..
So may argue that GIS is a tactical decision .. It is just a software .. Well, it is not .. It is a strategic decision that implies that we need a more sophisticated platforms that enable multiple decision points to weigh in before we approve a a direction or approach..
So, before you sign the procurement form or the invoice for acquiring a GIS in your company , ask one question : what is your strategy to make it a part of the daily tasks of the employees ?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

What about urban design ?

As the property development became more obsessed with the investment analysis ratios and crunching. The bottom line numbers , we lost the spontaneity of urban design being essentially a creative process
Urban designers in mature property markets became the tool to prepare ready made streets sections , ready made urban form , ready made urban typologies that enables the developer to get the yield - of course financial yield
This short term thinking defies the current research whereby more and more people chooses communities that make them enjoy a sense of place - place being the holistic experience which the space attributes and values convey...
One time , I was asked to produce in one day a sketch for an urban square in order for the development team to plug the numbers in their sheet and calculate the value driven from these design changes .. Everything else became secondary although the main and essential meaning of the square is about the sense of place and the meaning it conveys ...
Urban design is a creative activity ... Creativity means leaving the known to venture into the unique and original ..
This essentially means an industry who has the guts to embrace the original .. Do we have what it takes for that ?

Saturday, February 2, 2013

More life energy in urban space

Cities are one of the most intricate human inventions ..multiple generation think , imagine , plan and incrementally build neighborhood , communities which grew into districts connected by an increasingly interconnected flows of goods and people .. It is the largest laboratory to see in real time how human shape their physical environment by the way they think about their relationship with space
We are the space .. Because urban space essentially is born in our minds
So to answer the question , if we need to have more life energy In our cities , we need to study the beliefs system of its communities regarding how they energize themselves
Is it through socializing in open public spaces ?
Is it through small gathering in their houses ?
Is it through exchanging knowledge ?
Is it through getting in touch with nature ?
What are their habits in shaping their urban space?
It is in these simple questions that the civil contract by which they decided to live together is revealed ... That civil contract that list of values , habits and beliefs will point out to the sources of life energy that are needed to be injected in failing cities , sad cities , unhappy cities , soulless cities .