Time seemingly stood still for much of the world after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
But in the UAE, the landscape continued to evolve, with new developments coming to fruition.
Under-construction high-rises have become taller, plots of land have been cleared and new projects have been announced.
The year is already shaping up to be one filled with mega-projects — and not only in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, but in the Northern Emirates, too.
Our slide show above and list below shows what is in the pipeline or has recently been opened. Original completion dates may be subject to change.
Al Quoz Creative Zone, Dubai
This area of Dubai is to be turned into one of the world’s largest creative hubs.
The plans, developed by Dubai Municipality, were given the go-ahead by Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed, chairwoman of Dubai Culture & Arts Authority and Member of the Dubai Council.
It will ultimately provide housing for more than 8,000 people and attract about 33,000 people a day. When complete, the number of creatives who will base themselves in the zone is expected to increase from 900 to 20,000.
Mohammed bin Rashid Solar Park
This just keeps getting bigger and bigger. As of the end of October, it had a production capacity of 1,827 megawatts, and the facility, in the Dubai desert, is planned to have a total capacity of 5,000MW by 2030.
It is the largest single-site solar park in the world, with total investments of about Dh50 billion ($13.61bn). Upon completion, it will eliminate more than 6.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually.
The sixth phase of the park will become operational in stages, starting from Q3 2025.
Dubai Urban Tech District
This new district, announced in September, is set to create 4,000 jobs in green urban technology, education and training.
It will be located on the Creekside of Al Jaddaf district in Dubai and will cover 140,000 square metres of built-up area.
The district will be able to host conferences, seminars, business incubation programmes, training and research sessions, and will offer various amenities, URB, the company behind it, said.
Work on the project is due to start by 2024 and will be completed in two phases by 2030, URB said.
What was formerly Deira Islands has been rebranded as Dubai Islands by Nakheel. The developer said the new vision "will redefine the concept of waterfront living".
It will comprise five islands with a total square area of 17 sq km, and have more than 20km of beaches, 2 sq km of parks and open spaces and premium golf courses overlooking the Arabian Gulf.
A well-connected network of marina promenades and pathways for water and road transportation, walking and biking support the Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan in developing vibrant and healthy communities, according to Nakheel.
The islands will also be home to more than 80 resorts and hotels.
The islands are within a short distance of Dubai International Airport, Dubai Creek, Jumeirah and Downtown Dubai.
This Riviera-style project by Imkan stretches 1.6 kilometres along the Arabian Gulf coast between Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
The first phase, comprising 293 small, “ranch-like” villas, is due to be completed by mid-2023.
The project has nature at its heart as it seeks to conserve the existing 100,000 trees, sea turtles and other wildlife at the Ghantoot reserve.
The overall masterplan features a private school, shops, restaurants, boutique hotels, parks, heritage sites and a canal adding eight kilometres of prime waterfront real estate.
What will be the 14th tallest tower in Dubai at 340m is closing in on completion, with facade work now done.
The 79-floor high-rise will be available for handover later this year, according to the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre.
It is the first of two “super-tall towers” in the DMCC’s Uptown Dubai District.
Mohammed bin Rashid Library
Books, books and more books. The Mohammed bin Rashid Library spans more than 54,000 square metres, with seven floors and nine thematic libraries.
It is in Al Jaddaf, by the Dubai Creek, and offers spectacular views of the waterway.
Natural History Museum Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi's Department of Culture and Tourism unveiled plans in March for a museum in the Cultural District on Saadiyat Island.
Named the Natural History Museum Abu Dhabi, the project is under construction and is due to be completed at the end of 2025.
Its galleries will span a 13.8 billion-year journey through time and space, from the beginnings of the universe to a glimpse at its possible future.
A photograph in October revealed huge progress in the construction.
Louvre Abu Dhabi Residences
Could there be a better address than this?
Louvre Abu Dhabi Residences will be within Saadiyat Grove and the development has an expected handover date of 2025. It will comprise 400 apartments — a mix of studios, one, two and three-bedrooms — and five penthouses.
The building is inspired by Louvre Abu Dhabi, with art and sculptures inside resembling those exhibited by the museum.
Saadiyat mixed-use development
Aldar in April said it had acquired 6.2 million square metres of land on Saadiyat Island as part of its plans to develop a Dh15 billion ($4bn) mega mixed-use project.
The integrated community will include about 2,700 residential units, most of which are villas, and will be home to more than 15,000 people.
Work on the four-year project is scheduled to begin in the second half of the year.
In October, Aldar announced Saadiyat Lagoons, a nature-inspired residential community on the parcel of land, with villa prices starting from Dh6.1m.
Sharjah forest community
A Dh8 billion Sharjah megaproject featuring a vast forested community and a host of leisure attractions is taking shape.
Masaar, which is being overseen by property developer Arada, will feature 4,000 villas and townhouses split into eight gate districts, with a “green spine” of 50,000 trees across 1.76 million square metres (19m square feet).
The ambitious mixed-use project was unveiled in January last year and will be in the heart of Sharjah's Suyoh district.
The first homes are due to be handed over in the first quarter of 2023.
Abu Dhabi's Reem Island, a popular location for residents of the capital, will receive a new community featuring a man-made hill.
Q Properties' new Dh8 billion gated development, Reem Hills, has been designed with enhanced greenery “to encourage its residents to indulge their senses”, the company said.
As well as the man-made hill, the villa project will offer access to the beach, parks, schools, mosques, a community centre and shops.
Al Hamra's Dh1 billion project will be built within Al Hamra Village residential community that also has a shopping mall, yacht club and hotels.
The Ras Al Khaimah-based developer is set to start construction in the next few months and will be completed in 24 months to 28 months. It will have 501 villa units, ranging from two to seven bedrooms, with prices starting from Dh1.2m.
Abu Dhabi's ever-evolving Reem Island has one particularly large-scale project planned — Reem Mall.
The island already has Boutik Mall, but this will be on another level, meaning residents won’t necessarily need to “island-hop” over to Al Maryah, which is home to Galleria Mall.
Reem Mall will have 400 brands, a hypermarket (Carrefour is now open), one food courts and a multiplex cinema, plus Snow Abu Dhabi, which is set to be the region's biggest snow park.
Royal Atlantis Resort
Why have one Atlantis on Palm Jumeirah when you can have two? This one does not have the famous arch of the long-time hotel at the tip of the island but does have “a playful contrast between fire and water”, according to its website. The architecture is typically eye-catching, too.
The right wing of the Royal Atlantis in Dubai will house 231 residences while the left will be made up of 795 guest suites. The two are linked by an infinity swimming pool that is 90 metres above ground.
The hotel's public reservations have opened, and guests can book from March 4. Its grand opening will take place in late January.
The town of Hatta is to be transformed into a major tourism destination, with an inland beach, lake and cable-driven mountain railway.
The Vice President and Ruler of Dubai recently unveiled the latest vision for the town.
Hatta, near the border with Oman, has in recent years been transformed into an adventure getaway, with mountain biking and kayaking emerging as popular activities.
The Midfield Terminal may not be welcoming passengers yet but it is very much part of the Abu Dhabi landscape as you reach the outskirts of the city.
Spread across 742,000 square metres, it will be able to process 8,500 travellers an hour once open. However, the opening date has yet to be confirmed.
Expo 2020 Dubai site — District 2020
Sheikh Mohammed has appointed a committee to oversee the development of the next stage of the site.
When transformed into District 2020, it will become the UAE’s first 15-minute city, a cycle-friendly, traffic-free suburb of the growing metropolis.
It will include a route for self-driving vehicles, a 10-kilometre cycling track, interconnected pedestrian pathways and a 5km jogging track.
It will also have space for 85 start-ups and small businesses when it opens to its first corporate tenants towards the end of this year.
Meydan One Mall
Malls are not only about shops and restaurants these days; they are more a living, breathing experience.
This one, located between the existing Meydan racecourse site and Al Khail Road, is certainly expected to have a little bit extra — including a 1km-long indoor ski slope and winter village, plus a 400-metre Central Canyon and football and cricket amenities.
The groundbreaking ceremony was held in March 2017.
Abu Dhabi's new waterfront entertainment complex is partially open, with more to come. The 2.6km canal-side development features an aquarium, e-sports academy and adventure activities.
The centrepiece aquarium was the first project to open its doors at Al Qana. It was opened in November, is spread across 10 zones and is home to 46,000 creatures and 300 species.
Pixoul Gaming, which spans 4,500 square metres over four floors, is home to the region’s first Esports Academy and offers all types of gaming. It opened at the beginning of November.
Rixos Marina Abu Dhabi
Architecturally very similar to Dubai’s Atlantis The Palm, this structure dominates Abu Dhabi’s Corniche skyline.
It will be the Rixos Marina Abu Dhabi, having originally been planned as a Fairmont hotel, and will open in the capital this year.
The hotel's all-inclusive concept will start in 2023, an Accor representative told to The National.
The new hotel will share facilities with the existing Fairmont Marina Residences.
A haven of tranquillity, Jubail sits between Abu Dhabi's Saadiyat Island and Yas Island, and is set to become an upmarket residential community.
The 4,500-hectare island already contains a large mangrove park and the developer is planning to add restaurants, a beach club, a business centre, sports amenities, schools, clinics, nurseries and a community centre.
Homes for more than 5,000 residents are set to be built. A contract to build the first 300 villas was awarded to Arabian Construction Company in April 2021, and 60 per cent of the site's infrastructure is said to be already complete. The first villas will be ready by the fourth quarter of 2023.
SeaWorld Abu Dhabi
Construction on the tourist attraction has been gathering pace on Yas Island. It was said to be 90 per cent complete and will open in 2023, according to property developer Miral in September.
The 183,000-square-metre venue will have habitats and ecosystems housing a variety of species. It will be home to the UAE's first dedicated marine research, rescue, rehabilitation and return centre.
This pair of towers is located next to Dubai's Trade Centre and connected by a 7,700-tonne bridge.
Once completed, the buildings will feature luxury residences, a hotel, offices and retail spaces.
Tower A is 304 metres high and topped out in April 2021, while the 241-metre Tower B topped out earlier.
Parts of this project on Abu Dhabi's Yas Island, such as the Etihad Arena and Hilton hotel, are already open.
There will be 15,000 residences and the new headquarters of twofour54, the media free zone that operates from Khalifa Park, which is expected to be ready this year.
It was said in September that the construction of Yas Creative Hub, Abu Dhabi’s newest centre for the media, gaming and entertainment industry, is 95 per cent complete.
The city already has the world’s tallest hotel — the 356m Gevora Hotel — but there is set to be a new record holder.
Construction of Ciel tower in Dubai Marina is under way and it will eventually reach 365 metres, according to developer The First Group.
It will have more than 1,000 luxury hotel suites spread over 82 levels, plus a glass observation deck with 360-degree views.
The first phase of Dubai's Dh3.2 billion e-commerce free zone has been launched.
It is being built at the project in the Umm Ramool area of the city, close to Dubai International Airport.
The first phase will have a “business cluster” with more than 95,000 square metres of office space and 50,000 square metres of logistics units and “multi-client warehouses”.
Abu Dhabi Hindu temple
Construction is well under way at the Abu Mureikha site.
The UAE's first Hindu temple, it will be the largest centre in the country for people of all faiths to learn about Indian culture and the Hindu religion when it opens in 2023.
It will feature an amphitheatre, prayer halls, library, community centre, play area for children, parks, a visitor centre and food court.
Abrahamic Family House
Designed by the renowned British architect Sir David Adjaye, it will be a place for religious tolerance and education, with a mosque, church and synagogue on the same site on Saadiyat Island.
The vision for the Abarahamic Family House originated after the signing of the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together by Pope Francis and Grand Imam Ahmed Al Tayeb in February 2019.
The project is set for completion this year.
Sharjah’s east coast exclave is the focus of a major revamp, which will result in the restoration of one of the emirate’s most historic houses, construction of a clock tower roundabout and the opening of a revamped Corniche.
Then there is the Kalba Heritage Museum project — a sail-shaped museum to be built on the seashore.
The projects are expected to provide a big boost to tourism in the area.
Dibba Fujairah Sports Club Stadium
There is a new sports stadium taking shape in the UAE. The stadium in Dibba, Fujairah, will be able to host up to 10,000 fans and is expected to cost about Dh100 million to build.
It meets the requirements of the UAE Pro League and the Asian Football Confederation in terms of hosting regional championships.
The development of the railway service has been under way in the UAE for some time as part of the government's goal of connecting the country with the rest of the GCC.
Stage one is complete and operating along a 264km route from Shah and Habshan to Ruwais, transporting sulphur.
In January 2021, it was announced tracks were being laid for the 139-kilometre stretch connecting Ruwais with Ghuweifat on the UAE border with Saudi Arabia.
It will eventually stretch for about 1,000km — from Ghuweifat to Fujairah on the UAE’s east coast.
Freight is the focus but its mandate includes a passenger element.
A launch date for the passenger service has yet to be announced but The National was granted rare access to part of the line between Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
Guggenheim Abu Dhabi
The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi is on track to open its doors in 2025, according to Abu Dhabi's Department of Culture and Tourism.
Designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, who is also behind the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, the UAE site is set to be the latest and largest outpost of the Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation’s list of international museums.
The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi was first announced in 2006 and was initially meant to welcome visitors by 2012. The museum’s completion date was then pushed to 2017.
The museum aims to present global modern and contemporary art, said Mohamed Al Mubarak, chairman of DCT-Abu Dhabi.
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* This article was first published on April 22, 2021