The Middle East has historically been known for many things — sustainability not being one of them. The clash of Western values with the harshness of the local climate can often wedge sustainability between a lot of sand and a hard place. Though there is a broad critique of the unsustainable attributes of the region’s development path, for years there has been a shining exception: Masdar City in the United Arab Emirates, seventeen kilometers east-south-east from the city of Abu Dhabi.
Masdar City exists as an urban development project run by the renewable energy company Masdar, who has committed $15 billion to making Masdar City the planet’s most sustainable new city. Unlike Abu Dhabi, a city which unthinkingly follows antiquated models and Western building principles, Masdar City has a wealth of potential to offer the world of green urban planning – something the world sorely needs.
But Masdar City is certainly not without its share of critics. On first approach, the concentrated development, located in the center of six square kilometers of empty space, does little to awe, especially in comparison to the sprawling wave that is Abu Dhabi. Thanks largely to the global financial recession, buildings currently comprise less than 10% of the area committed to the urban experiment. Even today there is a group of onlookers that suggest Masdar City may just be a mirage after all.
However, this broader view is not necessarily synonymous with the bigger picture.
The delicate mashrabiya has offered effective protection against intense sunlight in the Middle East for several centuries. However, nowadays this traditional Islamic window element with its characteristic latticework is used to cover entire buildings as an oriental ornament, providing local identity and a sun-shading device for cooling. In fact, designers have even transformed the vernacular wooden structure into high-tech responsive daylight systems.
Jean Nouvel is one of the leading architects who has strongly influenced the debate about modern mashrabiyas. His Institut du monde arabe in Paris was only the precedent to two buildings he designed for the harsh sun of the Middle East: The Doha Tower, which is completely wrapped with a re-interpretation of the mashrabiya, and the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum with its luminous dome.
More mashrabiyas, after the break…
Humanity’s ability to construct and change an urban landscape is incredible, but rarely do we get to see that interaction at full scale. Beno Saradzic’s “BEYOND: Memoirs in a Timelapse” captures just that. Taken from more than two years of footage from Abu Dhabi and Dubai, this film showcases hourly transformations wrought on some of the city’s most famous buildings, such as the Al Bahar Towers and Burj Khalifa.
Thomas Heatherwick has been commissioned to transform a 125,000 square meter park in the heart of Abu Dhabi into a multifunctional “sunken oasis.” Inspired by “fractured desert crust,” the park is designed as a series of fragmented canopies that rise to form a three-dimensional landscape across the site. Beneath the cracked surface will be a series of interconnected public spaces cooled by lush vegetation that provide organic produce to local restaurants and space for community gardens.
In this powerful interview, Jean Nouvel explains his relationship to Arabic architecture. Discussing his various projects in Arabic countries – such as his office tower in Doha or the Louvre Abu Dhabi - Nouvel discusses how he is influenced by and integrates the abstraction and geometry of traditional Islamic architecture into his modern designs. He also espouses a strong opinion on the understanding of context in architecture, saying: “I’m a contextual architect, but for me the context isn’t only the site. It’s above all a wider historical context – a cultural context… each time, building is trying to continue a history, and to take part in this history.” His architecture, he says, is about listening: “The architect is not meant to impose his own values or his own sensitivities on such general plans.” Video via Louisiana.
Becoming a destination in itself and potential catalyst in the future urban growth of Abu Dhabi, the Zaha Hadid designed Sheikh Zayed Bridge was conceived in a highly mobile society that requires a new route around the Gulf south shore, connecting the three Emirates together. Hufton+Crow shared with us their photos as they capture the many viewpoints of this sinusoidal waveform structure. A complete gallery of images after the break.
The Bulgari Pavilion, a temporary installation commissioned by prestigious luxury jewelry brand Bulgari, was designed by NaNA for the Abu Dhabi Art 2012 event held Saadiyat al Manarat, Abu Dhabi November 5-10. The architects were given a prominent outdoor space at the entrance of the event to create a lounge for VIPs and dignitaries of the art fair. Their design was conceived as an exclusive and private venue with live music, a bar, and a specially curated selection of Bulgari’s high end jewelry. More images and architects’ description after the break.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum, designed by Ateliers Jean Nouvel, aims at creating a welcoming world which associates lights and shadows as well as shimmers and calm places in a serene atmosphere. Its objective is to belong to its country, to its history, to its geography, avoiding being either a dull translation of this reality or a pleonasm meaning boredom and convention. It also aims at emphasizing the fascination generated by rare encounters. More images and architects’ description after the break.
Challenged to define a distinctive image that would reflect Al Hilal Bank’s unique brand while also setting an international aesthetic, Goettsch Partners designed a bold, contemporary tower that shifts in massing as it rises. The flagship commercial development, located in the heart of Abu Dhabi’s Al Maryah Island, formerly known as Sowwah Island, conveys a timeless image through its distinct architectural form. With an expected competition in the last quarter of 2013, the new 24-storey speculative office tower will be a key element for the central business district. More images and architects’ description after the break.
A quick glimpse at the upcoming weather for Abu Dhabi will show a week of intense sunshine, temperatures steadily above 100 degrees Fahrenheit with 0% chance of rain. In such extreme weather conditions, even architects listing environmental design as their top priority are up against a tough battle. Never mind that the sand can compromise the structural integrity of the building, the intense heat and glare can render a comfortable indoor environment relatively impossible if not properly addressed. For Abu Dhabi’s newest pair of towers, Aedas Architects have designed a responsive facade which takes cultural cues from the “mashrabiya”, a traditional Islamic lattice shading device.
More about the towers’ shading system after the break.
Architects: LAB Architecture Studio in association with ERGA Progress
Location: Danet Abu Dhabi – Al Qudra, United Arab Emirates
Design Team: Donald Bates, Oliver Hunt, Peter Davidson, Joseph Sawaya, Faris Hammady
Project Year: 2011
Project Area: 53,800 sqm
Client: Guardian Real Estate
Photographs: Javier Callejas Sevilla
Architects: MZ Architects
Location: Al Raha Beach, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Owner & Developer: Al Dar Properties
Project Manager: Al Dar Laing O’Rourke Construction
Civil, Mechanical and Electrical Engineer: ARUP
Facade Design and Construction: Josef Gartner
Total built-up Area (including basement): 123,000 sqm
Cost: AED 1,000,000,000
Completion: Jan 2010
Photographs: Courtesy of MZ Architects