Modern architecture exists in Abu Dhabi. People tend to think of modern architecture as tall glimmering skyscrapers such as the Etihad Towers pictured here, which were featured in the movie Furious 7.
In fact “modern architecture” refers to a building style begun in the early 1900’s with the advent of steel framing replacing load bearing walls. Other important materials used in the modern style were reinforced concrete and large expanses of glass. The modern movement emphasized pure geometric forms such as circles and spheres; squares and cubes; and triangles and pyramids. Clean lines and an expression of volume were equally important. And finally, the idea that “…form follows function” (paraphrased from Louis Sullivan) was paramount. You should be able to “read” a building. By that, I mean that you should be able to tell the use of a building by the form or layout of that building. A bank should not look like a school. An apartment building should look different than on office building.
Modernism was brought to Abu Dhabi in the 1970’s and 80’s by Sheikh Zayed. The city at that time was small and undeveloped. People and oil money were pouring into Abu Dhabi and the need for housing and development boomed.
Tim and I went to a lecture at NYU about Modernism in Abu Dhabi and it opened our eyes to this new side of the city. I will show you 5 buildings that I particularly like and write some of my thoughts about them. I’d love to read what you think about them too.
The first is a Fish and Vegetable market built in 1985.
With the single story building and repeating pattern of higher and lower roofs, you can tell that it houses things similar to one another, but maybe with slight differences between each thing. That would make sense for a market with individual stalls selling similar kinds of produce.
The varying heights of roof lines allows for daylight to come inside the building making it feel very open and airy…almost like you are at an outside vegetable market. The building is broken into sections, 8 bays wide and 4 bays deep, which you can see from the front and side elevations. The building is a hidden jewel amongst much taller and newer buildings.
The second building is an apartment building built in 1989 and located on Airport Road, one of the major streets in Abu Dhabi.
You can tell from the design that one function occurs on the bottom three levels and then with the 45 degree shift, that something else happens above. The first three floors front the street and house stores and commercial establishments. Above that, the floors shift and contain apartments. The entrance to the building is clearly marked by the vertical band that runs directly over the front door.
The beauty of the shifted floors is that the tenants in the apartments don’t look directly into the neighboring apartments. They look beyond and to the park across the street. Though the building is in disrepair, which a number of these buildings are, good quality materials such as wood and metal were used.
The third building is a shopping center/apartment building along Zayed the First Street.
Again, you can tell where the break between shopping and apartments occurs due to the placement of the pre-cast concrete screen with the circle/triangular motif.
The solid walls from that point down contain the stores inside the mall and the shading panels above screen the ribbon windows of the apartments. The two blocks appear cube like and have diamond screening on the sides. The entry is clearly marked by the black void between the two blocks. The use of reinforced concrete and glass is quite striking.
The fourth is another apartment building built in the 1980’s further along Zayed the First Street. What a play of circles!
It is almost comical. What was once a fun building with corrugated metal panels creating the circular patterns and wooden handrails sliding behind, it is now falling apart. Tenants of the building say it is decrepit inside as well. The UAE has to decide if these buildings are important and worth saving or not.
The final building is the best – a round apartment building sitting on a square base, which houses a restaurant. It is thing of beauty and geometric fun. The white concrete “lattice” connects each floor with the one above. The lattice is applied in a three-dimensional half drop pattern. The weaving of the vertical structure with the metal railing is playful and beautiful. This is Modern Architecture in Abu Dhabi at it’s finest. Come visit and we’ll give you a tour.