Friday, May 16, 2008

Abu Dhabi Builds Its Architectural Image

The capital of the United Arab Emirates is footing the bill for a building boom to appeal to international investors and tourists
With the recent news of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority's (ADIA) $7.5 billion investment in Citigroup, the capital of the United Arab Emirates has been grabbing headlines. But in addition to the spectacular global business deals, it's also attracting attention for its growing number of spectacular architectural projects. Much like rival emirate Dubai, as well as ambitious cities such as Beijing, Abu Dhabi is in the midst of a building boom that's an ambitious attempt to capitalize on a flourishing economy to remake the area as a cultural and tourist destination.Over the past two years, numerous Abu Dhabi-based real estate projects with big-name architects and over-the-top budgets have been unveiled, bringing billions of dollars to the region in the form of construction projects and promising more in terms of ongoing tourist revenue. Many of the "starchitect" projects created by luminaries such as Frank Gehry are set to open in the next five years or so. These have gotten a lot of attention in the media—but tourists are also being lured by other destinations offering new, show-stopping buildings. Other projects in the works also make Abu Dhabi worth paying attention to—either as an investor or as a tourist. These include ambitious sustainable complexes, such as a zero-waste city-within-a-city, what promises to be the first LEED-rated structure in the United Arab Emirates, and a skyscraper with the world's largest atrium—built with mainly local, rather than imported, materials.

Emirates Palace Hotel
This hotel, which opened in 2005, features 114 domes covered in mosaic glass tiles, including the 138-foot Grand Atrium dome. Much of the hotel's interior is covered with nearly 20,000 feet of gold leaf, making it the world's largest gilded expanse in a single building. Built for approximately $3.9 billion, the Emirates Palace is currently the world's most expensive hotel construction project.

Louvre Abu Dhabi
Designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, this 24,000-square-meter extension of Paris' famed museum is scheduled to open in 2012. Galleries will open to the public in successive phases. It's one of several museums opening on Saadiyat Island, which is being developed as a cultural destination for tourists by Abu Dhabi Development & Investment Co., which oversees the real estate investments of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, a governmental body.Nouvel designed the museum's dome with a web-like pattern that lets natural sunlight filter through the roof. The idea is not only to cut down on lighting costs, but also to suggest the effect of sun rays filtering through palm-tree leaves—a reference to Middle Eastern foliage. The emirate is paying $520 million to France's Louvre to use the museum's name.

Guggenheim Abu Dhabi
Can the so-called Bilbao effect—the magnetic pull attracting tourists to Frank Gehry’s design of the spectacular Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain—work in Abu Dhabi, too? Gehry is the architect behind the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, scheduled to open by 2012, which, at 320,000 square feet, promises to be the largest Guggenheim in the world. Gehry's design features four stories of galleries surrounding a courtyard and natural cooling via skylights, which should cut down on electricity costs. The facility, also part of Saadiyat Island's $27 billion cultural district, will include a conservation lab and a center for art and technology, details of which have yet to be revealed.

Performing Arts Center
Zaha Hadid, the Middle East-born, London-based architect, has designed a 62-meter-tall building that promises to be larger than London's Royal Albert Hall—by more than 1,000 seats. Hadid designed the space, another Saadiyat Island destination due to open within five years, to have multiple "summits," or peak-like roofs, that house each of the center's five theaters (each venue offers a setting for a different style of performance, such as music or theater). The five auditoriums were conceived to represent "fruit on a vine," the architect said in a statement.

Maritime Museum
Minimalist Japanese architect Tadao Ando designed a simple yet elegant edifice that will house a reception hall, maritime-related exhibits, and a large aquarium as yet another part of the Saadiyat Island cultural district, this one to be completed by 2012. Ando has stated that his design concept, which features a reflective surface, was influenced by Abu Dhabi's natural surroundings—and it literally reflects nearby water. To carry through the maritime theme, Ando designed the interior with decks that recall those of ships. Ando also plans to position lines of trees in front of the building to create a neat, modern version of the traditional oasis.

Al Reem Island
This mixed-use development, the largest so far in Abu Dhabi, will take up 6.5 million square meters. Three developers from the region are spearheading the project: Tamouh Investments, which has a 60% stake, the rest being split between Sorouh Real Estate Development and Al Reem Investments (whose $8 billion waterfront residential development, Najmat Abu Dhabi, is seen here). The entire development, covering 20 million square feet, will accommodate 80 thousand residents and is scheduled to be completed by 2012. Engineering firm Arup is currently working on designs for an eco-friendly car park for 2,300 vehicles on Al Reem Island. This will include an innovative cooling system for the garage, featuring pumps that will channel cold deep-sea water into the structure, as well as a giant misting system that will produce a fine cloud to reduce temperatures when they soar.

Central Market
London-based architectural firm Foster + Partners unveiled plans last year for remaking Abu Dhabi's historic Central Market. The idea is to bring the traditional marketplace into the 21st century with offices, residences, hotels, and, of course, shopping areas. The design of the two-block shopping area plays off the concept of the souk, or market: The mini-city will be filled with small courtyards and pedestrian-friendly alleys and will include low-rise buildings. Shops will offer a mix of global, luxury brands (yet to be announced) and local merchants. Plans for many of the buildings include roof gardens. To keep a contemporary look, Foster + Partners also is designing a set of three towers to create a new landmark for the Abu Dhabi skyline.

Masdar Development
The ambitious goal of this 6-million-square-meter development is to create a carbon-neutral, zero-waste walled city within a city. Foster + Partners is completing the master plan, or the layout of the area and its buildings, for its client, the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Co. Power to the whole locale will be supplied by a large photovoltaic system, and the entire city will be car-free; walking is encouraged by placing buildings close to each other so residents won't need to drive. Future plans also include wind farms to supply sustainable power. Early designs were unveiled this year; completion of the complex will roll out in phases, with an end date yet to be confirmed.

Miami-based Arquitectonica was hired by Sorouh Real Estate Development to build the Skytower, the tallest skyscraper in Abu Dhabi. The architects and developers plan to have the 83-story structure be the first in the United Arab Emirates to achieve the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) rating. The height of the Skytower, part of an eight-tower complex featuring residences as well as commercial offices and shops, is meant to stand out in the cityscape as a powerful landmark welcoming visitors to Abu Dhabi. The architects plan to use glass glazes that control sunlight to keep the building cool, as well as water-saving fixtures throughout. The smaller towers feature multistory windows that encourage natural airflow, reducing the need for air conditioning. The entire complex is scheduled for completion in 2009.

Tameer Towers
Architecture firm Gensler is designing the Tameer Towers, being touted as a sustainable skyscraper. It’s a $100 million mixed-use development with 9 million square feet across six 72-story diamond-shaped towers. By the time of its completion in 2011, the complex will feature 1,900 apartments, a hotel, shops, and offices. Apartments will be partially cooled from above by shade provided by landscaped terraces. The plan is also to use local rather than imported materials to create the 72-story building. The project is not without spectacular, show-stopping design details: It promises a 650-foot high atrium—the tallest in the world.

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