x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Abu Dhabi raises its profile with new skyline

The capital's skyline now features new buildings of innovative design and size that capture global attention, as builders anticipate increasing density in downtown areas.

New jewels on the skyline: builders are working on tall structures as they seek to accommodate the population growth that is forecast in the Abu Dhabi Plan 2030.
New jewels on the skyline: builders are working on tall structures as they seek to accommodate the population growth that is forecast in the Abu Dhabi Plan 2030.

Abu Dhabi's skyline has begun sprouting the type of towers that help put a city on the world map. Not only is this new generation of buildings taller and slicker than the glass edifices of yesteryear, they include features that would make them stand out in any metropolis.

The entire Capital Gate building, part of the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, tilts at an angle of 18 degrees. This is more than 14 degrees further than the leaning tower of Pisa, which leans by accident, not design. And the new Abu Dhabi Investment Council building, which is under construction on the Eastern Ring Road, will feature a "diaphanous screen that envelops the most exposed aspect of the building in the form of a dynamic 'Mashrabiya', opening and closing in response to the sun's path", according to a description from the architect Aedas.

Builders are also at work on the tallest structures in the city's history as they seek to increase density in the downtown areas to accommodate the population growth that is forecast in the Abu Dhabi Plan 2030. "It corresponds with what Abu Dhabi has been trying to do in these last few years to become recognised globally," says Yasser Elsheshtawy, a professor of architecture at UAE University who has been studying Abu Dhabi's architecture and development.

Prof Elsheshtawy points to the two Central Market towers from Aldar Properties that have become some of the tallest in the capital as an example of the effect of new buildings. At more than 370 metres tall, they can be seen by pedestrians throughout the downtown area. The residential building, which is the taller of the two, will comprise 88 floors, making it one of the tallest residential towers in the world.

"They are becoming very visible now as you walk around the centre of the city," Prof Elsheshtawy says, adding that the new buildings are a stark contrast to the older ones around Abu Dhabi that rarely rise more than 20 storeys. One of the capital's very first new landmark towers was completed in 2006, with the delivery of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority headquarters on the Corniche. Its wavy design by Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates became the backdrop for countless photos of Abu Dhabi to illustrate the wealth of the emirate and its growing ambitions.

Meanwhile, Dubai was becoming known for its architectural exuberance with buildings such as the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, and other projects. There were at least three designs in Dubai for buildings that rotate, giving occupants 360-degree views of the area. Many of the more ambitious designs in Dubai have been scrapped after the onset of the global financial downturn. In Abu Dhabi, too, developers have put some projects on hold and have redesigned others to reduce costs in the slower market.

David Dudley, the head of the Abu Dhabi office of the property consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle, says that one challenge of these "trophy buildings" is that they will be "delivered to the market at a time of a major increase in supply and increasing competition among developers". This means interesting designs will not be enough for commercial developers to make a profit on their projects, Mr Dudley says.

"In this increasingly competitive environment, the most successful projects will be those where the developer can deliver all the key aspects of truly Grade A real estate on competitive lease terms," he says. "Location will remain fundamentally important but other key factors will include securing the very best anchor tenants, ensuring efficient access and car parking, and delivering international-grade technical specifications.

"[This will ensure] efficient and functional floorplates and building design, ensuring high-quality common areas, committing to international quality asset management, as well as offering flexibility on lease terms." The new Aldar headquarters near Al Raha Beach, shaped like a coin on its side, is an example of these issues. The building is in a new area of Abu Dhabi and is surrounded by construction sites.

Despite intense interest from prospective tenants early last year, the building has only been half leased and the company is looking at ways to draw in more companies. While some of the new, dramatic buildings are the headquarters for Abu Dhabi companies, they will also rent space to tenants. The new International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC) building along Muroor Road will rise to 35 storeys then descend in a series of structures.

According to a prospectus, IPIC will use only a quarter of the space and lease out the rest. These taller buildings are also meant to serve a population that could grow to 3.1 million in the next two decades from about 1 million today, according to the Abu Dhabi Plan 2030. The Urban Planning Council acts as an overseer of the plans of individual developers to build towers, reconciling the effects on the look of the city, population growth and the commercial interests of companies.

"It is a balancing act in this current market to get that right," says Jason Kroll, a vice president at the consultancy AECOM in Abu Dhabi. "It's about aligning the long-term vision of Abu Dhabi with the developers own needs." bhope@thenational.ae