Abu Dhabi’s First (But Never Implemented) City Plan (1962)

By the mid-20th century, the pearl trade, once a major industry in Abu Dhabi, had declined because of the 1930s economic crisis. The discovery of oil in 1958 began Abu Dhabi’s urban development. Sheikh Shakhbut, previously mentioned in the post “The Underdeveloped Years of Abu Dhabi (1962-1965)” as a conservative ruler, commissioned the city’s first master plan, proposed by British architect John Harris from Halcrow & Co. Halcrow is a British company founded as a civil engineering firm. It was one of the first engineering firms to find work in the Gulf region, arriving in Kuwait in 1952.  The 1962 plan integrated the old city with the new one, and was characterized by curved roads and organic shapes. However, this plan was never implemented.

The plan commissioned by Halcrow & Co was based on the British New Town, and had series of features which included: North facing buildings. road network which was not based on straight lines, and raising the ground level through de-edging and reclamation. From an interview with Abu Dhabi’s second city planner Abdulrahman Makhlouf, he has made clear that Halcrow’s plan assumed Abu Dhabi’s full build-out with a small population. According to Halcrow, Abu Dhabi would never be a large city. However, there is no city that can provide services of a modern city (schools, hotels, hospitals, etc.) without having a population that provides or allows for such services. For instance, one cannot make a school for ten children. A school has a minimum size to justify a staff of teachers. So the services have to be justified by a certain population number. The minimum population for a modern city is 250,000. Today, the Abu Dhabi’s population is over 630,000.

In 1966, Sheikh Zayed came to replace his brother and called in new planners and engineers. Under his supervision, the Arabicon engineering firm and British architect John Elliott planned the utility networks, American planner Katsuhiko Takahashi designed a new master plan in 1967, who suggested that Abu Dhabi be built according to a utility grid. The city would be easy to get around, and its infrastructure would be quick to access. In 1968, Egyptian planner Abdul Rahman Makhlouf inherited the Elliott and Takahashi plans, which he amended and continued.


Yasser Elsheshtawy, “Informal Encounters: Mapping Abu Dhabi’s Urban Public Spaces,” Built Environment, vol. 37, n.1, 2011, p. 95-97.

“Plans the Earth Swallows: An Interview with Abdulrahman Makhlouf.” Interview by Todd Reisz. Portal 9 | Stories and Critical Writing about the City, Apr. 2013. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.

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