Abu Dhabi’s Oldest Commercial Building Awaits the Wrecking Ball

What is Abu Dhabi’s oldest commercial building? It’s a question that I was curious about, though never knew where or how to find the answer.

Turns out, it’s the Bin Aweidah Building, a humble but handsome three-story concrete-and-glass Modernist building on Hamdan Street, next to the Crowne Plaza, according to The National.

Dating to 1968, the building originally housed Westinghouse on the ground floor, and the rooftop penthouse for Saadiyat Island’s Arid and Semi-Arid Lands Research Station.

The  building could also reference Mies van der Rohe’s steel-and-glass masterpieces, and adds  geometric flourishes along the roof cornice, and foreshadows the glass-heavy architectural styles that would dominate Gulf architecture.

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The ground floor used to be a hive of activity — I counted signs for White-Westinghouse, Emirates Travel, and Arab Business Systems.

Nick Leech has a great article in The National about the building’s history:

As David Spearing remembers, the modest building took less than a year to complete, using architectural drawings flown in from England – there was no way of producing or reproducing architectural plans in Abu Dhabi at the time – and the services of the Dubai Contracting Company.

Now the Bin Aweidah Building presumably awaits demolition for a condo or office tower, and one of Abu Dhabi’s gems will be lost forever.

Abu Dhabi could still save it with a Landmarks Preservation Committee type organization to preserve Modern architectural gems, like Mina’s Bayt Al Jenaibi.

Post updated with more insights on the building.

 

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End Credits for Abu Dhabi’s El Dorado Cinema

End credits for Abu Dhabi’s El Dorado Cinema this week, a sad closing for the capital’s oldest indoor cinema and its wonderful neon signs.

While I wish I had been inside, I paid my respects this past week, and was saddened and alarmed to see workers already taking down the neon sign facing Electra Street.

el dorado closing

The El Dorado Cinema’s neon sign facing Electra Street being removed in November 2017.  / Steve Baron

Though the site dates to the 1960s, the current cinema was built in 1985. Founded by Jerusalem-born Jordanian Ferdinand Lama and the Beiruti Atef Karam, El Dorado originally screened English and Arabic films, and later switched to Bollywood, according to a fantastic article in The National.

What is to become of the cinema is up in the air. The most frequent re-use for cinemas in the United States are mega-churches, but converting into a house of worship is not feasible here in Abu Dhabi. It seems like a challenge to tear down the cinema, and as it’s wedged between two towers.

NYU Abu Dhabi’s Stunning Urbanist Saadiyat Island Campus

The National has wonderful pieces today on the new NYU Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island campusstunningly urbanist, and designed by New Yorks’ Rafael Viñoly Architects.

While I’ll miss the Down Town Campus, whose site on the Old Fish Market seemed more aligned to NYU New York’s goal of being “in and of the city”, the Saadiyat Island campus is open and quad-like to encourage cross-discipline interaction.

It’s also sized to scale up – totaling 4.7 million square feet (!), and hosting a 21st-century IT network infrastructure to support Connected Learning.

Earliest Sketch of Abu Dhabi Includes Watchtowers

Cool to see the earliest-known map of Abu Dhabi — discovered in London’s National Maritime Museum! The map, which dates from 1859 and was sketched by Lt. RW Wish in the East India Company’s Indian Navy, shows watchtowers, which I’ve heard were across Abu Dhabi Island and Saadiyat Island, rather than just at Al Maqtaa Fort.

How and when were those additional towers destroyed?

Sketch titled ‘Aboothubbi’ by R W Whish 145 years ago.

Sketch titled ‘Aboothubbi’ by R W Whish 145 years ago. Courtesy National Maritime Museum via The National

“We know that the mid-19th century was a very turbulent time for the Baniyas and this image shows that Abu Dhabi was larger and better protected than we may have considered. This sketch documents not just Abu Dhabi’s emergence as a pearling centre in the Gulf but as a player on the world stage.” -Eric Langham, Co-Founder, Barker Langham.

Urban Compass Predicts UAE’s Urban Trends for 2014

Re-launching Urban Fabric with a new annual feature called “Urban Compass.” Like a compass, these five  trends will guide the UAE’s urban development in 2014:

1. World Expo 2020 — Rising rents, metro expansion, “tourism dirham” hotel tax, Dubai World Central’s continued development, and maritime developments are all being driven by World Expo 2020.

A masterplan for the 438-hectare site is coming in Q3 2015. USD 24 billion in spending. 25 million visitors. 300,000 jobs. And it’s only six years away.

2. Rise of Smart CitiesDubai Smart City, announced by HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (UAE Vice President and Prime Minister, and Ruler of Dubai), will drive the city’s advancement into a global “Smart City” leader. Self-driving cars, advanced utilities monitoring, and integrated healthcare are all in the fast lane.

But it’s not all Jetsons-type fantasies. GCC cities are also ramping up Smart City initiatives to become more globally competitive. Don’t count out Abu Dhabi, Doha, or the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s six Economic Cities!

3. More Mass Transit — Extending Dubai Metro’s Red and Green lines and the tram is a modest plan for World Expo 2020, considering that metro daily ridership has tripled since 2010, now standing room only at 366,000. Abu Dhabi’s 131 km metro and tram lines and Etihad Rail’s commuter rail projects are fast-approaching.

Now is the time for Dubai to think big and develop a mass transit plan on par with New York’s never-finished “Second System“. If Sheikh Zayed Road is double-decked, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have trains or BRT on the lower deck?

Transit oriented development at Union Square.

Artistic impression of the new multi-facility Transit Oriented Development to be built at Union Square. / Courtesy RTA via Gulf News.

4. Transit-Oriented Development — Considering Abu Dhabi only has bus lines, the capital gets transit-oriented development: dense, walkable, mixed-use development on corners and mass transit lines. Dubai’s moving ahead with a massive development at Union Station. Ibn Batuta seems ripe for development.

5. Mobile Technology — Dubai’s RTA has a several mobile apps, the ability to pay metro fare via NFC-enabled smartphones, and recently launched Nol card bus fare payment to Abu Dhabi. In Abu Dhabi, NYU AD students have created a version of the Dérive app to become a flâneur in the capital. Expect more tech and transit integration. GPS-tracked buses should be next.

City to Watch: Sharjah. The Islamic Capital of Culture for 2014 has kicked off with the Sharjah Light Festival, and has a wide range of activities for the year.

Darkhorse City to Watch: Fujairah. This East Coast town is flush with oil money, and developing fast. In 10 years, it could be the next Abu Dhabi.

Behind-the-Scenes at Abu Dhabi’s Hyatt Capital Gate

How can Abu Dhabi’s stunning new ADNEC-funded Hyatt Capital Gate lean at 18 degrees — more than the Leaning Tower of Pisa? It’s not magic — it’s just amazing architecture and engineering.

We were treated to a special behind-the-scenes tour of the building thanks to the AIA’s Middle East chapter, and led by RMJM lead architect Jeff Schofield. (More multimedia coming in a few weeks.)

The most important aspect is the straight core, which allows for every floor and room to be slightly different as the building curves. It also helps for the back-end work of say, elevators to use in case of fire, which would’ve gone slack if the core had been diagonal.

Incredibly, there’s also a small infinity pool with breathtaking views of the island palaces, and even a helipad on the roof of the 35-story building. The sampling of the 5-star hotel’s 189 rooms are similar stunning. (There’s also office space.)

The roughly 30 attendees also got to see the “guts” of the building — the complex HVAC systems, the struts holding up the pool, and inside the clear glass “skin” of the building.

Afterwards we had lunch at the swank 18 Degrees restaurant, which had excellent chicken and fish, with great service.`If you’re staying in the city for an exhibition, and can afford it, the Capital Gate is surely one of the top hotels in the city. •

Abu Dhabi Won’t Have a Times Square

One Times Square

Abu Dhabi won’t have a building like One Times Square in New York, which is covered in billboards. Photo: stephenbaron via Flickr.

Buried in this Construction Week article on new signage regulations, is the revelation that Abu Dhabi won’t have a (non-mall) central shopping/entertainment district with neon billboards like New York’s Times Square, London’s Leicester Square or Tokyo’s Shibuya district.

“New signage design guidelines indicate that no sign or portion of a sign may cover an integral architectural element of a structure, obstructs views into and out of business premises, or advertise third-party products,” writes Gerhard Hope. “The intention here is plain, but again it raises the issue of regulation and enforcement.”

Though I like Abu Dhabi’s mishmash of signs — especially the neon ones along Hamdan and Electra Streets — the government should be commended for its continued push for standardisation, and keeping traffic and people moving.

The UPC also approved Broadway Malyan’s masterplan for a 55,000-person neighbourhood on Yas Island, which had won the “Best Masterplan/Urban Design Project” at the Abu Dhabi Cityscape Awards 2011.

In Dubai, the RTA has awarded the Sufouh Tram project maintenance contract to France’s Alstom Co and the Emirati-Belgian Cofely-Besix Co., and Emaar is set to add another 93,000 square meters to the Dubai Mall, reclaiming its spot as largest in the world.

Qatar is also looking at transportation projects, with construction on Doha’s metro beginning in 2013, with Qatar Railways signing a USD 535 million contract for the Lusail light rail line. Darwish’s Lagoona Mall, near Doha’s The Pearl, opened.

Farther in the region, it’s fascinating to read about the mixed bag of Soviet-era architecture of occupation in Afghanistan, from middle class housing blocks to schools, a bread factory and abandoned pool.

Abu Dhabi: Dubai’s Sheikh Zayed Park?, Urban Street Design Manual, Beit Beirut Videos

IN DUBAI…the city’s reinvention in the wake of the recession is a running theme on Urban Fabric, and Brownbook profiles the potential greening of Dubai’s massive 14-lane Sheikh Zayed Road. Design firm Portland producing ambitious plans to bury it (like Boston’s Big Dig) then elevate the streets and use parks to knit together the east and west sides (Brownbook Magazine).

English design firm Portland's ideas for "greening" Dubai's Sheikh Zayed Road -- by turning it into a park! / Image via Brownbook Magazine.

Abu Dhabi’s Urban Planning Commission released the first-ever? Urban Street Design Manual. Lots of good points — giving streets a 12 percent “road diet,” eliminating illegal parking, widening sidewalks and including tree shading. Their first prototype is the Corniche (not clear where, exactly). Have you noticed differences? (Gulf News Article and Video)

The Masdar Institute has a new video on the evolution of Abu Dhabi over the past 25 years, using aerial maps (UAE Interact).

Speaking of mapping, the city (curiously not the UPC) is using GIS technology to give developers and homeowners in-depth details on plots of land (Khaleej Times). But the UPC does have new sign regulations, plus more on gas ventilation and air conditioning units, to improve the safety and beautification of the city (AME Info).

ZonesCorp is working on a new Auto City in Mussafah, planned for completion in 2020 (Gulf News). Design firm Parsons won an award for its cross-cultural business relations in Abu Dhabi, they’ve done a lot of transit work like the Dubai Metro and Khalifa Bridge (Business Intelligence Middle East).

Abu Dhabi and Japan are forging an economic partnership (Emirates News Agency). NYU AD received a record-setting nearly 2,500 applicants for only 150 spots at the downtown Abu Dhabi campus (NYU AD: Salaam).

Elsewhere in the region…
Brownbook also has stories on Turkish firm Supercool using GIS mapping to improve Istanbul; Morocco’s Ecological Architecture and Systems of Tomorrow firm using sustainable architecture; Abu Dhabi’s organic farmers market; the gradual disappearance of Tehran, Iran’s historic neighborhood of Tajrish; and the growing Arab community of western Sydney, Australia.

At the Egyptian Coffee Shop, many of the customers are Egyptian; others are from Yemen, Algeria, Syria, and Morocco. And some are New Yorkers seeking an authentic hookah experience. / Image via NYT.

Lebanese newspaper Orient Le Jour has a great four-part video series from on the slow reconstruction of Beit Beirut, the beautiful and beleaguered Art Deco mansion that’s slated to become the city museum. (In English, subtitled in French.)
Part 1: A Unique Architecture
Part 2: The Happy Life
Part 3: In the Time of Snipers
Part 4: The Future of the “Yellow House”

Indian photojournalist Pablo Bartholomew revisits Mumbai of the 1970s-80s with his father’s archive mixed with his own photos in “Chronicles of a Past Life” (NYT India Ink). More detailed plans for Baku’s kilometer-high Azerbaijan Tower and related artificial islands (Atlantic Cities). Finally, take a trip to what may be the U.S.’ oldest hookah shop, the Egyptian Coffee Shop in Astoria, Queens in New York City (NYT).

Abu Dhabi: Metro and Light Rail by 2017, Tripoli Urban Planning, Baku’s Crystal Hall

After last week’s announcement of the raft of new infrastructure funding, there are a few more details on the transit systems.

Will Abu Dhabi's metro resemble European/North American ones or Dubai's monorail? / Image via AD UPC's Plan 2030.

Both the mostly-underground metro and light rail/tram are expected to be operational by 2016-2017. The metro would run 131 km, and there’s also curiously talk of a 31 km monorail. (Gulf News). Besides new highways to Dubai and Saudi Arabia, the design for the light rail line is supposed to be done this summer (The National).

The Urban Planning Council (UPC) is holding community charettes in the Eastern Region, including Al Ain (UPC), and is pushing the “Comprehensive Cooling Plan” to target inefficiency in buildings under the their Estimada’s program (The National).

Al Ain National Museum. / Image via ADACH.

The Al Ain National Museum, which opened in 1971, is scheduled to undergo a huge renovation (The National), while Scotland’s Energy Technology Partnership signed an agreement with Masdar City to collaborate on green energy projects (Huffington Post).

UAE University students in the Department of Geography and Urban Planning are going to use SuperGIS Desktop Lab Kit and GIS Learning CD (Directions Mag). The World Ports and Trade Summit returns to Abu Dhabi in April (Khaleej Times).

Elsewhere in the region…
Fascinating look at Tripoli’s urban planning in different eras — from the organic pre-colonial growth of the old town, to the Italian colonial-era of grand boulevards and neighborhood squares, to the Qaddafi-era bubbles of suburban life (Atlantic Cities).

Tour Beirut’s Little Armenia neighborhood (CNN). Should the private sector take over recycling and other city services in Amman, Jordan? (Tareeq)

Baku's Crystal Hall. / Image via World Architecture News.

Designs unveiled for Baku’s Crystal Hall, the venue for the upcoming Eurovision contest in only a few months! Apparently folds in to a larger waterfront redevelopment plan (World Architecture News). Istanbul, Turkey became one of Europe’s safest cities, primarily by lots of community policing (Atlantic Cities).

Abu Dhabi: Saadiyat Island Museums by 2017, Etihad Towers Wins Awards, Beirut’s Martyr’s Square

Big news — most of the Saadiyat Island museums are back on! After construction was put on hold for several years, there are now set dates: Jean Nouvel’s $500 million Louvre in 2015, Lord Norman Foster’s Zayed National Museum in 2016 and Frank Gehry’s $800 million Guggenheim in 2017. No word on NYU-AD’s new campus, Tadao Ano’s maritime museum or Zaha Hadid’s performing arts center (New York Times).

The Louvre Abu Dhabi, seen here in 2010. / Image via TDIC and NYT.

Meanwhile the emirate’s Executive Council approved funding for a ton of new projects, including Saadiyat Island, expanding the International Airport and Khalifa Port, and building industrial areas in the Western Region and an auto city in Abu Dhabi. Most of the spending is on domestic projects, like housing, hospitals, schools and roads — plus Abu Dhabi’s metro and tram system (The National).

We had reported that the city’s metro is supposed to open in 2016, but that seems ambitious, and an updated timeline is scheduled for this year. The first phase of Etihad Rail — to transport sulphur from Ruwais — is funded with a $1 billion loan (The National).

The 'At 300' observation deck being fitted-out at Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi. / Image via Construction Week.

The airport continues to expand — passengers up 14 percent to 12 million, cargo up 10 percent (The National) and Al Bateen Beach is scheduled to open in March (The National).

The $1 billion Etihad Towers in Jumeirah by DBI Design was named the World’s Leading New Hotel by the World Travel Awards, and will have an observation deck at 300 meters high (Construction Week: first and second articles).

To improve sustainability, Abu Dhabi should look into banning plastic bags like many global cities have done (Atlantic Cities). Plus lecture at the Sorbonne-AD lecture on Arabic’s contributions to the French language (Zawya).

Elsewhere in the region…

The Bourj, early 1900's. / Image via Global Urbanist.

Fascinating three-part series on Beirut’s reconstruction over the past 20 years. Intriguingly, Martyr’s Square’s current form — of an open, public space — is a maidan, a traditional feature of Arabian cities. While the reconstruction is admirable — the downtown looks like 1920’s Paris — it’s also become a polarizing space, for the urban elite (Global Urbanist: First, Second and Third). As Cairo’s Tahrir Square and Manama’s Pearl Roundabout showed, these public squares are often flashpoints for democratic protests (Design Observer).

Watch out Dubai — Avesta is looking to Baku, the capital of oil-rich Azerbaijan, in building a 1,050 supertower on a chain of artificial islands in the Caspian Sea
(Arabian Business). Madinah, Saudia Arabia is to be redeveloped by MMM with improving its green space (Arab News), Atkins finished Oman’s $1 billion Medical City master plan (Arabian Business) and in Kazakhstan, Almaty’s new metro looks beautiful (Atlantic Cities).

Finally, a fascinating photo series on American Muslims (NYT Lens Blog)