Elsewhere logo

Architecture in the Emirates

By Philip Jodidio, published by Taschen, 2007, 192 pages, $29.99

Interior of RAK Convention Exhibition Hall in Ras Al Khaimah

Rendering of part of the interior of the RAK Convention Exhibition Hall in Ras Al Khaimah, UAE, designed by Rem Koolhaas of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, 2006-

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 paper.

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 world.

Rendering of RAK Convention Exhibition Hall

Rendering of the RAK Convention Exhibition Hall in Ras Al Khaimah, UAE, designed by Rem Koolhaas of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, 2006-

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.

Burj Dubai by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

Burj Dubai, Dubai, UAE, by Adrian Smith of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, 2004-9

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."

Pentominium in Dubai by AEDAS

Pentominium, Dubai, UAE, by AEDAS, LTD, 2006-2011

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 executive director.

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."

Bahrain World Trade Center

Bahrain World Trade Center, Manama, Bahrain, by Atkins, 2003-7

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.

Aspire Sports City Tower in Doha, Qatar

Aspire Sports City Tower, Doha, Qatar, designed by Hadi Simaan, 2004-7

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.

Buzwair Tower (BU2) by Simaan

Buzwair Tower (BU2), Doha, Qatar, by Hadi Simaan, 2006-

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 site."

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.

Doha High Rise Office Building by Nouvel

Doha High Rise Office Building, Qatar, by Jean Nouvel, 2003-2010

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.

Signature Towers Business Bay, Dubai, Zaha Hadid

Signature Towers Business Bay, Dubai, UAE, Zaha Hadid, 2006-

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."

Opus Office Tower, Dubai, Zaha Hadid

Opus Office Tower, Dubai, UAE, by Zaha Hadid, 2007-2010

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.

Manhal Oasis, Abu Dhabi

Rendering of Manhal Oasis in Abu Dhabi, UAE, designed by ONL of Rotterdam, The Netherlands, 2006-

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."

Strata Tower in Abu Dhabi by Asymptote

Strata Tower, Abu Dhabi, UAE, by Asymptote, 2005-9

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 and musicality."

"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."

Click here to order this book from amazon.com for 34 percent off its $29.99 list price

Use the Search Box below to quickly look up articles at this site on specific artists, architects, authors, buildings and other subjects


Home Page of The City Review