A New Wayfinding System Promises to Transform Abu Dhabi

A new wayfinding system promises to transform the way locals and visitors experience the emirate city.

All photos courtesy Selbert Perkins

Until a few months ago, if you found yourself lost in Abu Dhabi, you would be given directions based on well-known landmarks. Since the city’s network of nearly 100 streets lacked any formal address system, navigation was a bewildering process.

That conundrum has been solved with the Onwani Unified Addressing and Wayfinding System, which saw the creation of 12,000 street names, 200 district names, and 20,000 roadway signs. An initiative of Abu Dhabi’s Department of Municipal Affairs, Onwani (meaning “my address” in Arabic) was brought to life in collaboration with Los Angeles–based Selbert Perkins Design (SPD).

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The wayfinding and signage master plan includes signs—for information, addresses, and directions—made from locally sourced recyclable aluminum and enamel, and is equipped with QR-coded smartpoles that provide local information. “It’s remarkable that a street sign can truly transform the identity, economy, and experience of the city,” says SPD partner Clifford Selbert. “The signs will save lives, energize the economy, and link the city to the future.”

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