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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Neighbourhood Watch: Mushrif is a small town with big designs

Landmarks such as the Al Muraikhi villas and the co-op are long-standing features of this neighbourhood

The Al Muraikhi house, a well known feature of Al Mushrif neighbourhood. Victor Besa / The National 
The Al Muraikhi house, a well known feature of Al Mushrif neighbourhood. Victor Besa / The National 

Walk through the streets of Al Mushrif today and you are hit with one thing: every house is designed differently.

From the blue-tiled roofs of tent inspired houses to majlis modern while majlises, Al Mushrif was an area where residents could get creative with their abodes.

The area may be a key part of Abu Dhabi island today but years ago it was considered a long journey away from the main city.

Because of the distance, the neighbourhood became somewhat insular and Emirati families grew close to one another.

Though it has grown to include more international residents and people have come and gone, Al Mushrif has maintained its community spirit.

Villas are lined with trees and shrubs and some families have delicately decorated their gardens. One house features a mini well, porcelain horse and colourful bird statues, framed by an Arabian sitting area, on its front porch.

A well-known feature of this neighbourhood are two twin villas with pyramid roofs decorated with green and blue tiles in geometric designs.

These houses belong to Emirati brothers Mohammed Al Muraikhi and Khalid Al Muraikhi, who built their homes in the 1980s, based on designs from English architect John Hughes.

Mohammed says he asked Mr Hughes to design the house so that its silhouette would resemble an Arabian tent but the interior would remain modern and sleek.

At the time, contractors struggled to build the steeply sloped roof but Mohammed was determined to have his vision realised.

“The difficulties forced him to stop working, request additional cost, and travel to India to bring in specialised labour to carry out the work,” says Mohammed.

Once complete, the house became the talk of the town with friendly gossips wondering what the inside of the house must look like.

“One of the neighbours’ comments was ‘how could one walk inside the rooms under this extreme curvature?’, but in reality the rooms were of regular height.”

Some years ago, Mohammed considered tearing the house now and replacing it with another design but could not bring himself to do it.

“The building had become a landmark of Abu Dhabi city.”

Even taxi drivers dubbed his home the ‘London house’.

The Al Mushrif Majlis, where men gather in the evenings and sometimes private functions are booked. Victor Besa / The National 
The Al Mushrif Majlis, where men gather in the evenings and sometimes private functions are booked. Victor Besa / The National 

Across the way from his house lies Majlis Al Mushrif — a spacious hall set up by the government for residents to gather and hold events.

Men living nearby gather there in the evening to socialise; other times, the majlis is booked for private celebrations or condolences.

Near to the majlis is a gym, and beside that is Al Mushrif Co-operative complex, which the neighbourhood has long centred around.

Over the years, the co-op has served as a hub for residents to do their grocery shopping, take their children to play, and run into friends and neighbours.

“The Co-op was one of the entertainment venues for us, we would have fun going there with my parents. Whenever we wanted to play we would go straight to the co-op,” says Heba Mohammed, an Emirati, 33, who has lived in the area her whole life.

“All the people of Al Mushrif used to meet there by coincidence. We would run into someone we know and exchange greetings.”

A girl accompanies her mother as she does her shopping at the co-op. Victor Besa / The National 
A girl accompanies her mother as she does her shopping at the co-op. Victor Besa / The National 

Many of the co-op’s loyal customers were left disappointed when it was closed for a few years to undergo renovation.

When it re-opened, some two years ago, it picked up where it left off and reclaimed its status in the eyes of the residents. Home to two coffee houses, a supermarket, a pharmacy, an Arabic food kiosk, and a number of retail shops and beauty centre, the three level complex has much to offer to the neighbourhood.

“Al Mushrif used to be very quiet and was considered like Khalifa City and Mohammed bin Zayed city today — far away from the city centre. It was quiet and cosy and all the families knew each other,” said Ms Mohammed.

“It used to upset me that Mushrif was considered far but now I see it as the best location in Abu Dhabi. It takes 20 minutes to get to the city centre, and 20 minutes to Khalifa City — so it is in the middle.”

Miss Mohammed said that, despite no longer being a child, she still visits Al Mushrif co-op building regularly.

“My friend opened a children’s play area, the Little Tree House, so I take my nephews and nieces there, and I sit with my friends at the cafe.”

Children play at Little Tree House in Al Mushrif's co-op. Victor Besa / The National 
Children play at Little Tree House in Al Mushrif's co-op. Victor Besa / The National 

Around 20 children gather at Little Tree House every evening while their mothers run errands at the supermarket or enjoy a coffee downstairs.

The play centre was established by two long-term residents of Al Mushrif — Noura Al Amimi and Nasma Al Fahim who were eager to find a place for their children to play with others.

“After I had my two sons, and my friend also had two children, we were trying to find an indoor playground to take them to,” says Ms Al Amimi.

“We decided to create this indoor playground for children and the co-operative complex was re-opening, so we thought ‘there is no other nearby and safe place to do it at’.”

Little Tree House opened two years ago and is now a regular attraction for a second generation of children growing up in Al Mushrif.

“Children between the ages of one and four, the pre-school age, they come almost daily,” says Ms Al Amimi.

The children go to play with one another while the mothers meet for coffee, and the wheel of friendship in Al Mushrif continues to turn.