x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Inspired by Islamic scientists, André Meyerhans says Al Nadi Tower is a beacon of Abu Dhabi’s potential

Al Nadi Tower, which glows red at night, is a beacon of what The Club and Abu Dhabi can do in the next 50 years, says the Swiss architect Andre C Meyerhans.

Al Nadi Tower is five storey's tall, doubles as an observation deck and glows red when illuminated at night. Courtesy Andre C Meyerhans
Al Nadi Tower is five storey's tall, doubles as an observation deck and glows red when illuminated at night. Courtesy Andre C Meyerhans

Over the past year, as the capital’s 14.5-metre Al Nadi Tower gradually took shape at the tip of the breakwater at The Club in Al Mina, the Swiss architect André Meyerhans began preparing for the reactions.

Al Nadi, which translates to “The Club”, is a white, five-storey tower that doubles as an observation deck and glows red when illuminated at night. It stands right across from Al Maryah Island, the city’s new financial centre.

“I’ve received mixed reactions to the tower,” Meyerhans admits. “On seeing it for the first time, a lot of people took a while to understand the shape. It may require getting used to.”

But he says he is satisfied with the feedback. “It is a good sign,” he points out. “Visitor engagement is stronger if they can react to it.”

The brief given to him in 2010, Meyerhans says, was to create something that would commemorate 50 years of The Club, a private members-only organisation, founded by a few expatriates in 1962 on land gifted by Sheikh Zayed.

The structure, he was told, “could be anything – a horse, a falcon – that represented The Club and Abu Dhabi’s history”. Also, it would have to “create a dialogue” between The Club and the residents of the city.

A horse seemed a bit far-fetched, says Meyerhans. “I just did not want to create a horse and add a staircase where you can look out from the eyes because that would not have much meaning.” He explains that in choosing to design a tower, he attempted to marry unconventionally modern, organic design with local tradition.

The architect, whose design for the new Garhoud Bridge in Dubai won the MEED Award in 2010, first proposed a less organically shaped structure, which was rejected.

“A typical sign of UAE architecture, if you boil it down, is that lots of buildings are ‘bent’, or round in shape, and The Club thought we should incorporate that,” he says. “At the same time, it was important for me that the shape we chose must not be without meaning.”

Meyerhans says he “wanted to look at an interesting way of exploring culture in the Islamic world”, and his fourth blueprint was created after reading a historic discourse by Islamic scientists on the Earth’s rotation. The French physicist Léon Foucault proved this with a simple pendulum experiment in 1851, which is the inspiration behind Al Nadi – the tower’s shape replicates the oscillating movements of the pendulum, and spirals all the way to the top.

The steel structure is cocooned in a glass-reinforced plastic shell, which was built off-site and assembled on the edge of the break­water. The exterior features a “skin” of cut-out patterns – contemporary but evocative of traditional Arabian design – like dozens of small windows, adding to the building’s symmetry.

“The tower is a beacon of what The Club and Abu Dhabi can do in the next 50 years,” says Meyerhans.

Initially, it was decided that an artistic centrepiece would be appropriate, but Meyerhans believes such structures also need to be interactive.

“It was important that we make an observation deck,” he says. “That is the difference between architecture and an art install­ation. Interaction with art is more on an emotional level, while that with architecture has to do with experience. It had to be for the people, so that they can look at Abu Dhabi.”

The “red lantern”, which can be reached by climbing up a spiral staircase, can accommodate about 50 people at a time, allowing them to enjoy a bird’s eye-view of the city.

Meyerhans, who has contri­buted to diversifying Dubai’s architectural landscape with a less-engineered approach to bridges and with futuristic designs on The Palm Jumeirah, hopes the tower opens an opportunity for a “dream Expo 2020 project”.

“I would like to do something for the Expo,” he says. “I hope with this tower, someone sees the design and would like to work on a collaborative project, perhaps a culinary outlet or a transport- related creation for 2020.”

aahmed@thenational.ae

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