In a region internationally renowned for its buildings, the future is an exciting place. Jessica Hume sees the Middle East taking a different direction with this year's projects.
The building boom in the Gulf may have come decades after those in North America and Europe, but it seems that here, we are not so much playing catch-up as we are taking advantage of what others already know by trying to avoid the mistakes of the past. Sustainability has become more than just a theme: it now guides development and dictates regional, national and civic priorities. It has come to mean more than just energy efficiency, embracing social responsibility as well. The economic crisis means that people want more than design superlatives in their homes, offices and places of leisure. Affordability, practicality and functionality have come to define our quality of life. In wanting to build liveable cities, designers and regional leaders have had to shift their priorities away from luxury and toward intelligent growth. This year marks the real beginning of that change.
There are four building projects that are set to be completed this year and best sum up the new growth in the region. Aldar headquarters: The 23-storey, coin-shaped building clad in glass at Al Raha Beach is unmissable for anyone driving into central Abu Dhabi. Upon completion this month, this green-certified building will become the new Aldar headquarters and, its designers hope, a new landmark for the city.
An all-too-rare exhibit of high-level functionality and good design, the Aldar building promises to give as much to its users as it does to the surrounding urban fabric. Its designers, MZ&Partners of Qatar, focused on environmental sustainability and worker comfort, maximising the natural light penetrating the building to reduce dependence on fluorescent lights, while at the same time reducing the heat entering the building with double-glazed glass. The design specifically takes plans for future public transit lines into consideration with all the parking spaces built underground.
Charlie Acworth, Aldar's head of commercial leasing, believes the building is unique in the region. "The shape is remarkable, I've never seen anything like it," he says. "It's not the tallest, it's not twisting, it's not the biggest, but it's visually stunning and it's not overly flashy. It does what it's supposed to do. This building's design is all about the user, not the developer." Sheikh Zayed Bridge: The roughly 1,000 people working on building Sheikh Zayed Bridge, designed by the British-Iraqi Zaha Hadid, will feel like they've slayed the dragon when this engineering nightmare is completed by the end of 2009. Of course, the deadline has been pushed back so many times that no one is holding their breath for Hadid's curvy brainchild to become usable infrastructure. For now, as any commuter can attest, the two arteries that connect Abu Dhabi island to the mainland are insufficient. Public transit routes constitute part of the city's future plan, but until then, residents are using infrastructure designed decades ago for a population a fraction of its current size.
The bridge, with its large cement slabs snaking inside and outside the roadway, has been an overwhelming engineering challenge, to say the least. But upon completion, it will not only be one of the most visually appealing structures in the city, it will also alleviate some of the traffic congestion, and thus provide some welcome relief to our environment. Burj Dubai: The project's long construction process will end in 2009, but it is already the tallest building in the world. Designed by the Chicago-based Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture for Emaar Properties, it is currently more than 780 metres tall. Upon completion the building will hold records in the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat's four categories of highest structure, roof, antenna and occupied floor.
However, the building's height isn't what impresses us. Smith, the lead architect, says that Dubai authorities wanted sustainability in the design, not just a building that would put the city on the map. A wind tunnel at the top of the building cools the temperature inside by about 10 degrees. The glass is designed to optimise natural lighting within the building, and a five-acre green roof will be planted above the garage.
The Dh73 billion project will bring new meaning to vertical living, at the same time anchoring the Burj Dubai district by providing pedestrian-scale amenities. Tripoli International Airport: Since UN sanctions against the country were lifted in 2003, Libya's trajectory towards modernisation and increased tourism has been steep and steady. Tripoli's airport, scheduled for completion in September, reflects just that. After launching an international design competition in 2006, the Libyan Civil Aviation Authority awarded the French architecture firm ADPI the contract. A subsidiary of Aeroports de Paris, ADPI also designed the new terminal at Dubai International Aiport.
Tripoli International will respect the culture and existing urban fabric while creating a modern facility that will become an architectural icon, balancing functionality with design excellence. Although it only has 130,000 annual visitors now, the Libyan government wants this number to rise to 10 million, and so the airport is designed to accommodate 20 million passengers. Gérard Andreu, the head architect, says the most important idea in this design was to convey a strong image of Libya. His concept, he says, is based on movement, inspired by the desert, dunes and sea of the Libyan landscape. "In Libya the wind is the engine of movement. We can find this idea in the roof that seems to slide and come to rest on the tarmac. Water is a really key point in this project. The building starts with a mild ripple that progressively builds up into the landside oasis surrounding the central part of the building, welcoming the passengers."
Environmental sustainability plays an integral part in the design. Air inside the airport is made fresh with interior gardens; natural lighting is maximised, but shading is also provided by using overhangs from the roof. The double-skin roof allows for natural ventilation while creating thermal insulation.