Visitors who marvel at the scale, splendour and intricate detail of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and the Emirates Palace hotel are in good company, as their admiration is shared by an expert in Islamic architecture.
The Abu Dhabi landmarks are the outstanding examples of an eclectic approach that combines western techniques with aspects of Islamic architecture, according to Yasser Tabbaa.
"Both present a near-encyclopedic display of some of the most illustrious forms and features of Islamic architecture, from Spain to India," he says, adding that this approach first emerged in the late 19th century in Cairo and Istanbul.
Tabbaa, a visiting professor of art history at New York University Abu Dhabi, is a specialist in medieval Islamic architecture and uses the study of buildings as a way of understanding the social, political and religious conditions that existed when they were created. He is one of more than 100 authors who will be speaking at next month's Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai.
"Interestingly," he says, "this hybrid style has been revived once again in several buildings in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. These generally date to the last decades of the 20th century, but there are more recent manifestations, including the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation and many of the neo-Mamluk mosques that dot the Abu Dhabi cityscape.
"Of course, the two jewels of this eclectic approach are the Emirates Palace and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Overall, this hybridising approach to architecture has proved more successful in resorts, including the magnificent Qasr al-Sarab in Liwa, and of course mosques, rather than in commercial and residential high-rises."
Tabbaa says some of the tall structures built in Abu Dhabi between 1985 and 2000 incorporated elements of Islamic or traditional architecture, including pointed arches, wind-catchers and stalactite ornaments.
"More recent buildings have opted for a global, high-tech and rather undistinguished architecture," he explains. "However a number, including the Aldar HQ, the Hyatt Capital Gate and some of the Marina Gate buildings, aim for an immediately iconic image that tilts and twists the very concept of modernity and seems to defy gravity.
"These outstanding buildings, which occasionally pay lip service to Islamic ornamental forms, perhaps reflect a sense of globalism within a veil of the Arab cultural brand."
The studies of old buildings Tabbaa has conducted over the past 30 years have been primarily intended to reconstruct and interpret the past, he says, but argues that they can also illuminate the present.
"My primary intention in the study of Islamic art and architecture has been to provide a nuanced and humanistic idea for the motivations and intentions of the makers of these past monuments, with the ultimate purpose of proposing a humanistic concept for Islamic culture.
"I also hope to enhance the possibilities of sectarian harmony in a world of increasing sectarianism."
He praises the students at NYU Abu Dhabi for their "intrepidness, open-mindedness and perseverance" in choosing to study at such a new institution rather than attending an established university.
"This is only the second year of the brave and ambitious academic project of NYUAD, but there's no doubt that the students are the highlight," he says.
"In my view they have mostly lived up to the vision of a branch university of the liberal sciences and arts and have enriched this vision with their own global backgrounds, hands-on learning and voracious appetite for exploration and travel."
Yasser Tabbaa, the author of several books, will be appearing at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature on March 8, in a session titled Cultural Encounters in the Islamic World.
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