Al Zahia is a milestone community in the Emirate of Sharjah, UAE

Al Zahia is a milestone community in the Emirate of Sharjah, UAE

This premium residential area embodies the traditional values of Sharjah in a progressive and contemporary setting.


The Al Zahia development broke new ground in the UAE, pioneering new standards for environmental assessment. It used BREEAM Communities certification to measure ecological, health and wellbeing and other factors to great effect. The development achieved a rating of Very Good and set the standard for future projects of its kind.


Al Zahia is a 90.4 hectare development, a milestone community in the Emirate of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates.

It is located between Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road and University City Road, with convenient road network links connecting it to the rest of Sharjah and just minutes away from Healthcare City, University City, the school district and the adjacent Al Qarayen residential neighbourhood. The development was previously a military base and was considered a brownfield site. Geo-environmental testing was undertaken for the site prior to development.


The integrated mixed use community was planned to include a range of villas, town houses and affordable garden apartments. These can all access areas for recreation, worship, childcare, communal areas and retail facilities. This was intended to create an ideal environment for a contemporary community lifestyle, steeped in both Sharjah’s and traditional Arab values.



The Al Zahia development capitalised on the opportunity to utilise a brownfield site. This meant that development needed to minimise any potential risks or impacts of encroaching on sensitive land, including natural and existing habitats.

Even disturbed and occupied spaces can support a range of species and therefore thorough investigation of the site was undertaken to determine if this might be the case within the proposed development area. The outcomes of the terrestrial ecology survey revealed the presence of foxes, birds, and a large lizard species. In order to further identify the residential lizard population, a targeted survey was organised so as to facilitate a translocation of the lizards in case they were a protected or vulnerable species.

While ultimately the translocation service was not required, the Al Zahia development, being the first regional BREEAM project, can say that it did not cause undue ecological damage. By pursuing BREEAM Communities certification, Al Zahia had the opportunity to provide an overall net positive biodiversity contribution to the general area.


Al Zahia was one of the first mixed use development to be developed in the emirate of Sharjah, which provided a new opportunity for the team to develop and coordinate the traffic studies. This was a good opportunity to propose strategic input for the existing infrastructure to provide the required access to the development. In addition, involving the authorities in incorporating BREEAM requirements, such as rerouting the existing public bus routes to cater for the needs for the development, provided an educational experience for the wider team that will hopefully be implemented in other projects across the Emirate.


This project has provided a valuable opportunity and experience as a first BREEAM project in the Middle East for the team. The challenge was to make sure that pragmatic and cost-effective solutions are provided to meet the mandatory and elective credits and that the presentation of this information was clear and concise. Effective communication with the client proved to be essential in achieving this goal.


Working on the Al Zahia BREEAM project was a great opportunity to study the impact of different sustainability and energy measures, such as shading analysis and photovoltaic power generation. The project requirements have motivated the team to ensure that all potential sustainability initiatives are assessed and incorporated in the design where possible. The results for energy savings indicate that there could be significant reductions in energy consumption from the grid.

Ground engineering

Being the first BREEAM Project in the region was an exciting challenge. Whilst assessment of contaminated land is frequently undertaken, the application of results to achieve credit points was an interesting aspect of the work. An optional credit was considered achievable, if contaminated land outside of the ground investigation was encountered. The masterplan was subsequently amended so as to reduce risks to receptors by planning, rather than costly remediation or major civil engineering works. Client agreement of this is key in achieving the credit.

The premium interior of the Al Zahia development.
The premium interior of the Al Zahia development.


The region has relatively little in terms of a formal planning process so BREEAM Communities has been crucial to the creation of a sustainable masterplan. It also set a precedence for future developments in UAE and the region as a whole. This included:

  • Ecological impact assessment and an ecology strategy to assess the current ecological value of the land and ensure no value is lost because of the development.

  • Noise impact assessment to reduce the impact of noise on residents.

  • Geo-environmental survey to check whether remediation was required.

  • A study of public transport and cycling facilities so that future needs can be incorporated in the development.

Exploring bespoke options to meet the intentions of the BREEAM criteria…clearly highlighted the different contexts of the UK and the UAE in planning requirements, climate, society and culture. The developed alternatives standards will be used as starting point for any other UAE BREEAM projects.
– Gail Williams, Assessor, WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff

Khatib & Alami & Naga Architects

Khatib & Alami & Naga Architects
Sharjah Holding, a partnership between the government of Sharjah and Majid Al Futtaim Properties
WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff
Communities 2012
BREEAM rating:
Very Good (63.9%)

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