By Carter B. Horsley
Philip Jodidio has produced a lavish yet inexpensive
series of books on recent architecture projects in many countries
and the newest one, which concentrates on the Emirates, surely,
and not surprisingly, contains the most exciting projects, all
captured in copious and very colorful photographs and renderings.
The format of the books, unfortunately, is rather short on descriptive
texts and will be difficult for many readers because of the main
descriptive text being printed on bold and dark colored glossy
Several of the projects and architects are
widely known but there are a lot of stunning surprises. The book
has 20 chapters and while it is not the last word on the incredible
building boom in the area it is a convincing introduction that
the rest of the world, and especially New York City, has a great
deal of catching up if it wants to capture the imagination of
The most spectacular project is the Rak Convention
Exhibition Hall in Ras Al Khaimah, UAE, that has been designed
by Rem Koolhaas of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, which
is based in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Ras Al Khaimah is the
northermost of the seven United Arab Emirates, located near Oman
on the Arabian peninsula. According to Mr. Jodidio, its present
population is about 105,000 people.
"Confronted with the race to create extravagant
shapes in a new construction, particularly in the United Arab
Emirates, OMA and Rem Koolhaas have proposed to confront this
issue 'not though the creation of the next bizarre image, but
through a return to pure form.' The 'perfectly autonomous' shapes
of the RAK Convention and Exhibition Center will be an integralpartof
the merging urban landscape. The RAK Center was originally designed
to be the outstanding complex located at the edge of the ambitious
37-million-square-meter Gateway project being undertaken by RAK
Investment Authority, intended to house 150,000 people. OMA did
not win the competion for this project, although the design may
move forard elsewhere. The architects conclude, 'In spite of their
apparent simplicity, the sphere and the bar could come to present
a milestone in the construction of the new RAK and provide it
with a powerful universal symbol: Western and Eastern, futuristic
and primodial, contemporary and timeless.'"
The project began in 2006 and harkens to Stanley
Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" in its floating rectilinear
"monolith" and in the "pod" like spacecraft.
Whereas the horizontal bar/monolith is smooth,
simple and conventional beautiful in a mimimalist and modern fashion,
the sphere is a megastructure punctured by a circular "voids"
with very spectacular interior spaces. The exterior of the sphere-like
structure is asymmetrically designed: Much of its rounded facade
is horizontally banded, but the circular openings are surrounded
by a lot of diagonal bracing and the horizontal bands extend slightly
into the "voids." This building promises to become a
major icon of modern architecture, almost on a par with the Eiffel
Tower and the Chrysler Building.
Adrian Smith of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
has designed the soaring Burj Dubai tower that is expected to
be the world's tallest structure when it is completed in 2009
in Dubai. "Burj Dubai is not a mere vertical conquest or
a race for fame; it is an icon for the collection aspriation of
the poeple of Dubai, who have been led to dream of the impossible
and attain it," said Mr. Mohamed Ali Alabbar, chairman of
Emaar Properties. The building will have 1,000 apartments as well
as offices, and the Armani Hotel, Dubai.
Mr. Jodidio notes that Adrian Smith "admitts
he was thinking of the towers of the Emerald City in the film
version of The Wizard of Oz....'I just remembered the glassy,
crystalline structure coming up inthe middle of what seemed like
nowhere. The funy thing is, I didn't remember it being green."
Mr. Jodido notes that the developer initially wanted a tower of
about 550 meters in height, but Smith persuaded them to go higher:
"At the very top, it didn't feel like it was resolved properly."
AEDAS LTD is an architectural firm based in
Hong Kong that has become, as of late 2007, the fourth-largest
architectural firm in the world. Andrew Bromberg is the firm's
Of its spectacular and quite graceful Pentominium
project in Dubai, UAE, that is due for completion in 2011, Mr.
Jodidio noted that "The slender building has two different
sides that share a central core: one, southern-oriented, has a
gently spiraling vertical layer of glass and balconies to 'mitigate
solar gain,' while the other displays a staggered form, 'alternating
between apartments and voids of sky-gardens.' Six five-story pods
are attached to the core and project from its surface allowing
the tower to 'breathe,' according to the architect. An observation
deck is planned at an altitute of 400 meters and a swimming pool
on the next level down."
WS Atkins & Partners is the largest engineering
consultancy in the United Kingdom and, according to Mr. Jodidio,
the world's third-largest global design firm with a staff of 17,000.
It is best known for its Burj Al Arab project about 15 miles south
of Dubai, UA, that was completed in 1999 and is part of the Jumeriah
Beach Resort. At 321 meters, it was the tallest hotel in the world
and its iconic sail shape has made it the most well-known project
in the Emirates. The building has a helipad and 202 duplex suites
and a 180-meter-high atrium and many water features.
A more recent Atkins project is the Bahrain
World Trade Center in Manama, Bahrain. Mr. Jodidio notes that
it "features the first large-scale integration of wind turbines
in a building and the 50-story project was inspired in part by
traditional Arabian wind towers." "Three 29-meter wind
turbines are suspended between the towers and, indeed, the very
shape of the buildings is related to this function. The architects
write, 'Vertically, the sculpting of the towers is also a function
of airflow dynamics. As they taper upwards, their aerofoil sections
reduce. This effect when combined with the increasing velocity
of the onshore breeze at increasing heights, creates a near equal
regime and wind velocity on each of the three turbines."
The stunning towers hae spectacular facades
with brise-soleils and diagonal bracing.
At 300 meters, the Aspire Sports
City Tower in Doha is the tallest building in Qatar. It was completed
in 2007 and designed by Hadi Simaan, an architect based in Florida.
The stainless steel facade incloses ofices, a health club, s a
sports museum, a 80-person revolving restaurant at the height
of 240 meters, and a hotel with about 137 rooms. The lobby has
a 63-meter-high atrium and the building hangs from its concrete
core. The tower was designed to be seen as an Olympic flame for
the 15th Asian games that were held in Dohai in December, 2006.
The form is quite exhilarating.
Mr. Simaan is the architect
also of the Buzwair Tower (BU2) in Doha. The tower was designed
to be 235 meters high but its original beachfront site was sold
and Mr. Jodidio notes that "the project is awaiting a new
The top of the tower will house
light shows and the main tower s diameter is 61 meters.
"A stepped structure facing
the beach contains the hotel 'chalets' with private balconies,
and a private penthouse villa is located at the very top,"
Mr. Jodidio wrote, adding that "The lozenge-like forms of
the tower give it an unexpected presence on the skyline, with
its enormous arched opening at the top further calling attention
to the project."
The bright aqua-blue facade
on the shorter parabolic element is a bit startling and not too
conservative although Morris Lapidus would surely have been enchanted
by this project that is almost sort of an exploded version of
the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami.
One could view this tower as
a scaly white whale thursting up from the oceans to scoop up the
plankton of human civilization. One could also marevel at the
boldness of the form and the precision of the facade treatments
and elegance of its curves.
Jean Nouvel first came to international prominence
with his Institute du Monde Arabe building in Paris that was highlighted
by the delicate tracery of one of its glass facades. Since then
he has designed many prominent buildings in a wide variety of
styles. For the Doha High Rise Office Building in Qatar, which
is expected to be completed in 2010, Nouvel has applied an exquisite,
glass curtain wall of intricate, calligraphic design to a 231-meter-hall,
cylindrical tower that has a rounded top and very narrow spire.
"Calling on ideas that Nouvel first developed
in his unbuilt 'Tour sans fins' (Paris, 1989), and more recently
in the Agbar Tower (Barcelona, 2000-05), the new building relies
on a circular plan with structural elements grouped on the periphery
rather than in the core. The Doha building, round lke its forebears,
measures 45 meters in diameter and is topped by a dome. Butterfly
aluminum elements 'echoing the geometric complexity of the mashrabiyya
are set on the facade according to the specific orientation of
each part of the building - 25 % toward north, 40 % toward south,
60 % on east and west. Beneath this layer, a slightly reflective
glass skin complements the system of solar protection. Roller
blinds are also provided inside."
One of the captions for this project describes
it, correctly, as "admittedly rather phallic."
Nouvel is also designing a Louvre Museum building
that is expected to be completed in Abu Dhabi, UAE, in 2012 and
is distinguished by a huge, but not high dome consisting of "a
web of different patterns interlaced into a translucent ceiling
that lets a diffuse, magical light through in the best tradition
of great Abrian architecture," according to Mr. Jodidio.
Zaha Hadid and Patrik Schumacher have designed
a trio of very similar, mixed-use, high-rise buildings known as
the Signature Towers Business Bay that will be not far from the
Burj Dubai Tower in Dubai. The towers, according to the architect,
"are intertwined to share programmatic elements and rotate
to maximize the views from the site toward the creek and neighborhood
developments." The towers share a low-rise base and have
dramatic and complex facades and slightly angled tops and many
corner balconies. "The dancing, swaying movement of the towers...,"
Mr. Jodidio maintained, "appears to challenge theprincipales
of engineering, placing the bulk of the apparent weight of at
least one of the towersin perilous equilibrium."
Zaha Hadid has also designed the Opus Office
Tower in Dubai, UAE, which is scheduled for completion in 2010.
A mid-rise office project, it is essentially a box with a large,
sinuously shaped space cut-out that is open at the top and two
sides and whose base and walls are covered with curved reflective
glass. The building also has a large, irregular-shaped wedge carved
out of the middle of one of its outside facades. The building's
"freely formed void" is extremely sensual, a sort of
Terminator 2 liquid metal apparition and it is lit from within
at night and "pixelated striations are to be applied to the
glass facade reducing solar gain, Mr. Jodidio wrote.
Ms. Hadid has also designed a low-rise performing
arts center in Abu Dhabi, UAE, that is due to for completion in
2012. It is more typical of her fluid and organic style that either
the Signature Towers or the Opus Office Tower.
The Manhal Oasis in Abu Dhabi, UAE, has been
designed by ONL of Rotterdam, The Netherlands and demonstrates
a far greater sense of symmetry than any of the designs recently
proposed for the redevelopment of the MTA rail yards in the far
west midtown section of Manhattan (see The City Review article).
The plan calls for four 60-story towers to
rise within a square with similar shaped but shorter towers at
the corner as the center of a long site with a central green space
flanked by towers, some linked, of folded-plane design and others
with cantilevered sections.
The central cluster of towers are referred
to in the book as "rounded tree-like buildings" and
bear a similarity to the forms of some recent skyscraper designs
by Sir Norman Foster in London and Jean Nouvel in Barcelona both
of which conjure the eggs in the movie "Alien." To ONL's
credit, it should be noted, its "eggs" are not perfect
and tend to be slightly lop-sided and imperfect, which enhances
their design. One pair of the 300-meter-high towers would be clad
in green glass and the other in blue, contrasting their residential
and office use.
The book provides the following commentary
by architect Kas Oosterhuis, who is a principal along with Ilona
Lénárd of ONL:
"The initial coniditon of the master plan
development is like a board game where two teams of players are
neatly arranged along the opposite long sides of the site. ONL
has transformed the board game into an interwoven mixed-use urban
area where the players have made several moves and have become
interlaced on a complex web of relations."
Asymptote is a New York-based architectural
firm headed by Hani Rashid and Lisa Anne Couture. Mr. Rashid is
professor of architecture at Columbia University and Ms. Couture
is the Davenport chair at Yale University School of Architecture.
In 2009, its 50-story, Strata Tower at the Ali Raha Beach development
in Abu Dhabi, UAE, is expected to be finished."
The book provides the following quotation from
Mr. Rashid about the project's design:
"The tower's architecture is neither symbolic,
nor narrative, but rather seeks meaning through an abstract use
of form and dynamic movement to work with the environment, light,
sea, and atmospheres that envelop this magical place on the Arabian
Sea. The flow and movemennt of the surface affords the architecture
its iconic status without being an overt gesture or building reliant
on a set meaning or associaton. Rather, the mathematical procedures
uses, not unlike those in the manifestation of the arabexque or
abstract Islamic calligaraphy, afford the building its elegance
"Meant for luxurious residences,"
Mr. Jodidio adds that "the building's design is also based
on the flowing computer-desgned style of the New York architects,"
adding that "Despite the large number of buildings being
erected in the UAE, few are as evocative of architectural quality
as this one, a sign of the times surely becuase Abu Dhabi seems
to have seen the interest of increasing the design excellences
of its new structures."