Winter Escape Episode I: Abu Dhabi

Winter Escape Episode I: Abu Dhabi
Laurence DragomirJune 25, 2016

The first stop on my six week break happens to be Abu Dhabi. The temperature on the first day reached a maximum of 48 degrees which was not ideal for someone who prefers discovering cities on foot.

I also knew that I would be visiting during the holy month of Ramadan which made it difficult to remain hydrated when outdoors. These factors also contributed to fairly quiet streets and attractions, with tourists steering clear and locals who are observing Ramadan keeping indoors during their fasting periods.

Winter Escape Episode I: Abu Dhabi
A montage of my first morning in Abu Dhabi

During my first day I lasted a maximum of two hours outdoors and really only managed to walk a few blocks from my hotel to the WTC Mall complex designed by Foster + Partners. The podium which houses the mall features strong grids both externally (precast) and internally (timber) with skylights providing the interiors with natural light and acting as way finding elements through out the mall.

The project comprises three buildings: Burj Mohammed bin Rashid, The Trust Tower and The Hotel Tower.

Burj Mohammed bin Rashid is the tallest building in Abu Dhabi and also contains the most floors (92) of any building in the city since its completion in 2014. The residential building rises 382m tall and features an undulating extruded floor plate, providing a different elevation from wherever it is viewed.

The Trust Tower, rises 278 metres and has 60 floors of office space and opened in 2013. The tower houses leased properties, and the offices of the World Trade Centers Association. It is connected to a Marriott Renaissance Hotel via the large mall and souk, both operated by the World Trade Center.

The third tower in the complex, the Central Market Hotel Tower is also the shortest at 65 metres, housing 16 floors of hotel space under the Courtyard Marriott brand.

Following the WTC complex I ventured briefly down to the Etihad Towers complex. The 5 towers which make up the complex are located opposite the Emirates Palace hotel and feature offices, apartments and a hotel. The estimated cost for the construction was roughly 2.5 billion Dirhams. The towers vary in height from 55-storeys/218 metres to 74-storeys/305 metres.

Winter Escape Episode I: Abu Dhabi
Etihad Towers level 74

In November 2011, the Jumeirah at Etihad Towers Hotel was opened in Tower 1, while the adjacent Tower 2 has an observation deck on the 74th floor which is accessible from the hotel via a lower level linking podium which I visited on my second day. The complex is easily accessed by the Hop on Hop off tourist bus which operates daily.

Having visited the Burj Khalifa in Dubai six years ago the views were impressive but didn't have the same model city feel that Dubai had from 600m up in the air. What was quickly apparent was just how spread out Abu Dhabi was; this made it difficult to get around and see all the attractions in just two days.

The way in which new construction is springing up seems quite ad hoc in nature with Abu Dhabi not having a strong centre of critical mass.

I personally think the city would have benefitted from being far more concentrated than so spread out, particularly given the climate in the region.

Winter Escape Episode I: Abu Dhabi
Desert Safari

Nevertheless my two favourite highlights were the desert safari and the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque. The vastness of the desert and the feeling of isolation was something I hadn't experienced before. The Force Awakens filmed scenes for the planet Jakku there made it even more special for me.

The Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque was initiated by the late president of the UAE, H.H Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who wanted to establish a structure which unites the cultural diversity of the Islamic world, the historical and modern values of architecture and art. His final resting place is located on the grounds beside the same mosque.

The mosque was constructed from 1996 to 2007 at a cost of 2 billion Dirham and is the largest mosque in the UAE.

The mosque has been designed to accommodate 40,000 worshippers and the design can be best described as a fusion of Arab, Persian, Mughal and Moorish architecture.

Winter Escape Episode I: Abu Dhabi
Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque

All up I enjoyed my stay in Abu Dhabi but next time I mat well visit in November when temperatures hover around the mid 20's. Next up will be Edinburgh.

Laurence Dragomir

Laurence Dragomir is one of the co-founders of Urban Melbourne. Laurence has developed a wealth of knowledge and experience working in both the private and public sector specialising in architecture, urban design and planning. He also has a keen interest in the built environment, cities and Star Wars.

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