These five structures have stood the test of time

Okay, we’ve been trolling through the archives – to 2015– but we think these five architectural gems are still good to go. What others could we add to the list for 2020?

Capital Gate Building


At the time, this structure broke a Guinness record for the ‘World’s Furthest Leaning Manmade Tower’.

The tower leans a whopping 18 degrees westwards, with the tower’s floors stacked vertically up to the 12th storey and then  staggering over each other by up to 1, 400mm to the 35th floor, 160m above ground level.

This is made possible by the use of a super-strong exoskeleton called the diagrid that takes all the weight of the floors and removes the need for internal pillars or beams.

The distinctive stainless steel ‘splash’ that descends from the 19th floor and stretches over Adnec is designed to eliminate more than 30% of the sun’s heat before it reaches the Capital Gate building.

The architects are RMJM, a giant practice whose portfolio includes other Abu Dhabi structures,  such as the Sheikh Zayed Air Navigation Centre next to Etihad HQ, the rest of Adnec and the Aloft hotel, part of Marina Square on Reem, and the master planning for the Raha Beach development.

Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque


You can’t deny that this one is absolutely stunning – we can see the tops of it from our office window…yay!

Planned by HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan, though construction didn’t start until after his death, it took 11 years to build, opening in 2007.

It’s the largest mosque in the UAE by some distance and the third largest in the world, covering more than 30 acres of building, aside from the extensive landscaping and car parks.

It has been described as one of the most important architectural treasures of contemporary UAE society, which is surely unarguable.

The scale and the elegance of the design are matched by the attention to detail – just look at the gilded decoration on the pillars in the main courtyard, and check out the unique lighting system (designed by top lighting architects Speirs + Major) which projects on to the domes with greater or lesser brightness to reflect the phases of the moon.

Abu Dhabi Central Bus Station


Love it or hate  it, this brutalist structure is a landmark in the city.

Four concrete ‘arms’ sweep outward from the main building to provide shade for passengers boarding buses – but at the same time manages to be quite human in scale, and environmentally is about ‘passive’ design (which in this case means shade rather than air-conditioning).

Thankfully – we think – TCA Abu Dhabi says it intends to protect the structure, naming it among “the key threatened monuments now in Abu Dhabi”.

In the meantime, “its expansive futuristic interiors will fit well for a sci-fi film or period Middle Eastern dramas” says the Abu Dhabi Film Commission’s locations guide; and who could disagree with that?

Masjid Al-Aziz


The Grand Mosque gets all the attention – and of course it deserves the acclaim – but here’s a gem but on a smaller scale.

Al Reem Island finally acquired a mosque when this building was formally inaugurated at the start of Ramadan 2015.

It has three prayer rooms – one large, one smaller, one for women – and can accommodate up to 2,500 worshippers.

The  stylish modern design  yields clean lines  and sits well in the Marina Square development of which it is a part.

Unlike the neighbouring residential towers, though, Al Aziz mosque uses slopes and angles that catch the light; the minaret in particular is almost a cubist tower of patterned planes, with variations of light and shade that suggest different colours.

As evening descends, something almost magical happens: the exterior glows with calligraphy, the 99 names of God appear, being lit by LED lights from the inside – though in fact it’s just a clever reflection of external lighting.

The designer is APG, a practice  founded in Egypt in the late ’60s but has been active in the UAE since 1973 – including much of the Marina Square development alongside this mosque.

Al Bahr Towers


You know the buildings at the junction of Al Saada Street and the Eastern ring road: pineapples, corn on the cob, loofahs.

Aedas, the architects who got the job, were briefed to provide a pair of outstanding landmark buildings of the highest architectural quality reflecting the standing and prominence of the Abu Dhabi Investment Council, the owner and principal tenant (Al Hilal Bank has the other tower).

It’s the clever sunshine-sensitive update of  the traditional mashrabiya – lattice screen  – automatically opening and closing in response to the sun’s path.

Environmental sensitivity was a key feature of the brief, and the dynamic screen means a reduction in heat gain of at least 25% – but it’s not the only technically advanced aspect of the buildings.

“Our concept,” says Aedas’ joint MD Peter Oborn, “was generated from a mathematically pre-rationalised form which was in turn derived from Islamic principles.”


It looks good, it works well, and it’s helping to save the planet. A bit.


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