x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

'Qasr Al Hosn should be a World Heritage site'

British architect Mark Kyffin says the Qasr Al Hosn fort's significance should be recognised globally.

The Qasr Al Hosn fort, Abu Dhabi's oldest stone building, was the permanent resident of Shakhbut Bin Sultan Al Nahyan for many years, is currently being restored under the leadership of Mark Kyffin who works for the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority. Razan Alzayani / The National
The Qasr Al Hosn fort, Abu Dhabi's oldest stone building, was the permanent resident of Shakhbut Bin Sultan Al Nahyan for many years, is currently being restored under the leadership of Mark Kyffin who works for the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority. Razan Alzayani / The National

ABU DHABI // For Mark Kyffin, Qasr Al Hosn is his third child and, just like any responsible parent, he makes sure Abu Dhabi’s oldest building is safe – day and night.

The architect carries a mobile phone that allows him to supervise the historic fort around the clock.

“We have installed a number of sensors on Qasr Al Hosn that enable us to monitor for adverse vibrations, changes in the water table and to assess if any of the existing historic cracks in the masonry walls change in character,” he said.

If these sensors are triggered then Mr Kyffin, who works for Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, gets a text message.

“That’s the level of care we are going to with this building because we know how much it means. It is a national treasure,” he said.

Only “very minor incidents” have set off the system so far, such as pigeons resting on a sensor.

Mr Kyffin’s work, which involves researching Emirati vernacular architecture, has focused on the restoration of the fort and his passion for the landmark is clear.

“It is a physical timeline of the development of Abu Dhabi, or the story of Abu Dhabi,” said the Briton. “To me, it is the most significant heritage building in the UAE.

“It physically demonstrates the development of Emirati architecture, or Emirati culture from the start of Abu Dhabi, in terms of the 1761 watchtower, right the way through to the urbanisation of a city from basically [the] finding of oil.”

Mr Kyffin believes the fort’s significance should be recognised on an international scale.

“I would like this building to be recognised as a World Heritage Site,” he said. “That what the building has done for Abu Dhabi and what Abu Dhabi has then done for the region and the world should be recognised.

“Basically, this building is the epicentre of all that development.”

Mr Kyffin says “all the layers of history” are embodied within the fort.

“In a culture where most of the heritage is intangible, such as storytelling, poetry, music and dance, paralleled with that intangible heritage we have a tangible record, which is the physical fabric of Qasr Al Hosn, which demonstrates an understanding of construction from coral stone to concrete.”

Going from a solitary structure in the middle of an arid desert, over time Qasr Al Hosn has become part of a defined city grid.

“It has grabbed my attention for over six years now and every day you find something new in it,” Mr Kyffin said. “It’s a huge story that just keeps adding new chapters every day.”

ecleland@thenational.ae