Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 12 November 2019

Historic souq to be demolished due to safety fears

Zaab souq found to have structural defects that posed a risk to shopkeepers and customers

A much-loved Abu Dhabi souq will be demolished because serious structural defects threaten the safety of shoppers and workers, the local council confirmed.

Abu Dhabi Municipality said inspectors visited Zaab souq – a small strip mall in Khalidiya dating from the late 1970s or early 1980s – in June as part of regular assessments made by the local authority.

They found some of the shops abandoned, much of the building in severe disrepair and ordered the structure to be evacuated.

The news follows The National’s story about the building - formally known as the Commercial Market – that closed two months ago.

With its concrete arcade and use of local motifs such as arches and crenellations, Zaab souq is redolent of early Abu Dhabi architecture. But photographs of the building taken by municipality inspectors and shared with The National showed crumbling walls, holes in the ceiling and splintering brickwork.

“The building is old, dilapidated and represents a negative and distorted appearance of the neighbourhood,” the municipality said.

“It does not meet the requirements of security, safety and public health and contains obvious structural defects. Accordingly, measures were taken for the evacuation and demolition of the structure to secure the safety of shoppers and employees.”

Its closure prompted an outpouring of nostalgia on social media from residents past and present. In the days before Abu Dhabi’s theme parks, children played under the concrete arches and neighbours met in the souq’s cafes.

Holes in the ceiling of Zaab souq. Courtesy Abu Dhabi Municipality
Holes in the ceiling of Zaab souq. Courtesy Abu Dhabi Municipality

Fahad Al Zaabi grew up there and remembers it as the only place to meet friends. “We had no mall or shopping centre so we went there,” said Mr Al Zaabi, 33, who still lives in the neighbourhood.

“It is part of my childhood but they needed to change it. It was very old and they need modern buildings.”

After it was revealed that the souq was to be torn down, many reflected on their own memories of the building.

“Abu Dhabi didn’t have the massive malls then,” said Tim Pick, 46, who lived in an apartment beside the souq from 1997 to 2000.

“You had to engage with local shops. These days it is high end. I’m quite nostalgic for those days,” said Mr Pick, a British lawyer.

“That strip mall is a classic example of the 1980s expansion – it is a bit old and shabby and tired, but it is a shame they are being lost. It is inevitable but it is sad.”

“I was born and raised in Abu Dhabi and my memories of the strip start from my childhood in the late 90s,” said Yasmin Hamad, 25, an urban designer who is originally from Sudan.

“But my most vivid memories revolve around picking or dropping off laundry at New Al Zaab Laundry. They would recognise and chat with everyone who dropped by,” she said.

Pillars that support the Zaab souq are crumbling. Courtesy Abu Dhabi Municipality
Pillars that support the Zaab souq are crumbling. Courtesy Abu Dhabi Municipality

The impending demolition is part of wider plans by the municipality to remove older buildings that are dotted throughout the city. Many were built with poor materials that do not meet modern standards; others have not been maintained adequately.

At least 25 old, unoccupied buildings have been demolished so far this year, and the municipality is monitoring a further 47.

“Abandoned buildings distort public appearance, have negative social and environmental effects and are a fertile source for the spread of insects, rodents and waste.

“[They] may also be a risk for children who may choose to play in their surroundings,” the municipality said.

“It is necessary to take measures that protect the population and preserve the civilised appearance of the city from buildings that are not renewable.”

Updated: August 29, 2019 04:35 PM

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