Landmark Lookout

Landmark Lookout

Capital Gate, Infinity Tower, King Abdullah Financial District, Kingdom Tower, Makkah Clock Tower, Trust Tower

MEA previews the high-profile schemes that are set to be completed this year

In terms of flagship projects, it could be said that 2011 was a quiet year, certainly in the UAE. The Emirates gained a number of low-key gems yet there was nothing on the par with Burj Khalifa, Dubai Metro or The Palm, to really capture the world’s imagination – either positively or negatively. However, it could be argued that 2012 will see a greater number of landmarks opening their doors.

The first of these is Abu Dhabi’s much-anticipated Capital Gate – the world’s most inclined structure – which is preparing for its grand opening.

Capital Gate has already picked up a brace of accolades at the Cityscape Awards for Architecture in Emerging Markets 2011. Designed by RMJM for ADNEC, the 160m mixed-use tower claimed first prize in the categories of ‘Commercial/Mixed use Future’ and the most prestigious prize, ‘Overall Project of the Year’.

From an engineering perspective, it rivals projects such as the Burj Khalifa and SOM’s twisted Infinity Tower in Dubai Marina. When viewed from the foot of the structure, peering up at the gob-smacking 18 degree lean, it’s a wonder how the building actually stands up.

It will house the five-star Hyatt Capital Gate hotel, as well as around 15,000m2 of office space. Client ADNEC is certain that the building is a bona fide classic. “Capital Gate is an icon for Abu Dhabi. The global acclaim the project continues to attract pays tribute to the team work and outstanding commitment of all those involved in making this visionary project a reality,” said HE Ali Saeed Bin Harmal Al Dhaheri, ADNEC’s managing director.

On the exterior, a sculptural stainless steel ‘splash’ flows up the tower.This provides solar shading to the most exposed façade and forms a new shaded canopy to the historic grandstand that is used for outdoor events. A free-form internal atrium with a dynamic glass roof brings natural light deep into the tower. External lighting is designed to minimise both light pollution and energy consumption.

This year, Abu Dhabi will deliver another landmark tower project, which, although not as technically challenging or as pioneering as Capital Gate, will receive worldwide attention simply due to its famous designer, ‘starchitect’ Norman Foster. The Pritzker Prize-winning architect is months away from completing the imposing Trust Tower in the Central Market scheme by Aldar, which is scheduled for a Q2 delivery date.

Standing at 278m it is one of the largest and tallest office towers in Abu Dhabi, with a third more space than MZ Architects’ landmark Aldar headquarters building.

It is part of three planned towers featuring smooth reflective façades intended to require little maintenance despite the dusty climate. While the towers are grouped together, they have different appearances and sizes according to their respective functions, whether office, residential or hotel.

The development was designed with layers of internal shading on the towers to minimise glare and utilise solar energy.

Trust Tower also boasts the latest in building technology, including an ‘intelligent’ façade that controls light levels into the building for cooling purposes. Three double-deck lifts provide high-speed access occupants to all levels of the building.

There is also flexibility in the ceiling height, adding to the design flexibility so tenants have the freedom to customise their office space. The building offers 59 levels and 72,000m2 of office space.

Rami Nasser, director of sales and commercial leasing at al Aldar, revealed the timeframe for the Central Market project, which already boasts the completed ‘Souk’ mall.

“The Trust Tower will be completed in Q2 2012 and the Emporium shopping mall in Q3 2012. The residential component, comprising 474 premium residential units, will be completed later that year,” said Nasser. “The entire project will be finished by 2014, including the four-star Marriot Courtyard Hotel and the five-star Marriot Renaissance hotel,” he added.

The emirate will also gain a huge commercial, yet sustainable, project in the heart of the city: Sowwah Square. The scheme, developed by Mubadala, is located on the previously undeveloped Sowwah Island, which was identified in Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 as the city’s new Central Business District, in addition to the adjacent edges of Mina Zayed and Reem Island.

Sowwah Square provides the new headquarters for the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange and comprises four office towers overlooking water. Designed by Goettsch Partners, it contains over 290,000m2 of office space and integrates two levels of retail and two parking structures.

According to the architects, the four-level stock exchange building projects an image of strength and solidity. Glass-enclosed, with a roof the size of a football field, the building rises 27 metres above a water feature on four massive granite piers. The piers house the stairs, mechanical risers and service elements.

Surrounding the stock exchange building are four tall office towers which range from 31 to 37 storeys in height. The first full office floor of each building starts 34 metres above the ground level.

With sustainability a main focus for the development, Sowwah Square is the first project in Abu Dhabi to be pre-certified LEED-CS Gold. Ventilated, double-skin facades provide insulation while solar shading reduces heat gain and light.

The roof of the exchange building contains 2,550m2 of photovoltaic panels to capture solar energy for use throughout the project. The design also incorporates condensation collection from cooling coils to supply the water feature as well as providing irrigation for the landscaping.

An stunning upcoming cultural project, that is set to give Sowwah Square a run for its money in the sustainability stakes, is the Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre, which is taking shape in the vast Al Ain Wildlife Park & Resort (AWPR).

Designed by Austrian practice Chalabi Architects and Partners (CAP) the project is the first building to achieve a Five Pearl rating for the design stage in Estidama.

“The centre is one of the pilot projects for Estidama and it’s one of the most sustainable projects in the whole country,” said Humaid Al-Hammadi, associate planner for the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council (UPC).

Set for an August or September 2012 delivery date, the building will contain a wealth of energy saving measures to cut consumption by 40%. The roof is covered in photovoltaics which will generate 236MWh a year and shave 17% off the total energy usage.

The building’s architecture is no less impressive, with a huge 29.4m cantilever over the entrance, luxurious marble cladding and a Frank Lloyd Wright-esque spiralling circulation route.

“I’m convinced that this project will be one of the UAE’s landmark buildings when completed,” said Bassam Al Otaibi, director project management at AWPR.

“Many people are waiting for this project to be finished. It’s the subject of national pride,” added the UPC’s Al-Hammadi.

Abu Dhabi’s flashier neighbour Dubai will not see as many high-profile launches this year, but one of the most anticipated deliveries, at least in the architectural world, is the twisted Infinity Tower in Dubai Marina. The structure is topped out and work is underway on the interiors. Designed by SOM and developed by Cayan, the project has experienced its fair share of problems, with an 18-month delay due to a flood on the site.

Nevertheless, its completion will add another engineering marvel to the UAE’s project portfolio. Each floor rotates 1.08 degrees around a cylinder core and the 73 floors will make a cumulative 90 degree turn. There are no pillars in the tower; instead it is supported via a complex column structure that works with the core to hold the building up.

It is also encouraging to see that developer Meraas will deliver a slick shopping complex called The Avenue, located near Al Wasl Road.

The scheme, designed by local practice Dewan, will be built in an impressively swift timeframe, with a scheduled completion date penciled in for the third quarter of the year.

Containing a mixture of retail brands, an anchor supermarket, restaurants and a healthcare clinic, The Avenue will cover a total built-up area of 12,800m2 on a plot of approximately 53,000m2.

It is part of the a three-phase project and will include outdoor seating with extensive landscaping, water features and green spaces.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is putting the finishing touches on a controversial mega-tall tower, the Abraj Al Bait in Makkah. Also known as the Makkah Clock Tower, the 601m-high structure looms over Masjid Al Haram, the holiest site in Islam.

The staggeringly-scaled building has claimed numerous world records including tallest hotel, tallest structure in Saudi Arabia, largest clock and largest floorspace at 1,500,000m2.

The building certainly caused a stir with readers of Middle East Architect. A comment on, for the story ‘Arabian Nightmare’, stated: “Would a monstrosity like the clock tower in Mecca be allowed in any European city? Absolutely not. Biggest is not best and in many cases is certainly not required.”

However, another reader’s post on the same article read: “Whilst I agree that the Holy City of Makkah should stand as an icon in its architectural design and heritage, I very much support the development of the grand clock of Makkah, to beacon the accurate time to the Muslim World.”

The title of tallest building in Saudi Arabia, indeed the entire world, will eventually go the 1km-high Kingdom Tower in Jeddah. According to architect Adrian Smith, construction is due to start this month.

Another high-profile scheme that is taking shape in the Kingdom is King Abdullah Financial District, outside Riyadh. Master-planned by Danish firm Henning Larsen, the district contains many buildings designed by New York-based firm FXFOWLE.

A spokesperson for the company revealed that the practice is hoping to complete several projects and parcels by the end of the year, including its gleaming marble mosque which won the Community Future Award at Cityscape Global in 2010.

It is also nearing completion on parcels 4.07 and 4.08, which contains two towers (88m and 133m-tall) connected by a retail podium across a shared landscaped plaza. However, the spokesperson added that the buildings, even if completed in 2012, will not be occupied until a later date due to the lack of surrounding infrastructure. He also revealed that excavation work is currently underway on the shimmering Museum of Built Environment, with construction to start in 2012.

Since Qatar was controversially chosen as the venue for the World Cup in 2022, the gas-rich state has been touted as one of the region’s hottest construction markets.

Yet according to a recent report by Citigroup, the country has almost $214bn worth of construction projects planned, marking a 19% drop on last year.

Qatar has also cancelled $7bn worth of projects in the last 12 months, raising the value of its cancelled and delayed projects by 4% to $156bn, according to the report.

Despite this, Qatar will see the completion of phase 1A of the US5.5bn Msheireb Downtown in Doha in 2012. The scheme at large will revive the old commercial heart of the city across a 31 hectare pedestrian-friendly site. UK-based architecture practice Allies & Morrison is a key player in the project.

Phase 1A contains the Diwan Amiri Quarter (Diwan Annex, Amiri Guard and National Archive), as well as heritage buildings and infrastructure components such as the district cooling plant and substations.

Phase 1B – which is due for a later delivery – comprises 15 buildings, including the country’s first Mandarin Oriental Hotel, two office buildings with 52 retail units and 12 residential buildings providing a total of 180 apartments. Completion on the entire Msheireb project is expected in 2016.

Although the number of GCC project deliveries will be markedly lower than recent times, in terms of landmark schemes, 2012 promises to be an exciting year.

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