The new headquarters of the Abu Dhabi Investment Council (ADIC), consisting of twin towers is gaining media attention for being one of the most innovative buildings in the world.
It is not easy to stand out in Abu Dhabi?s skyline, with all the creative architecture finding its place among the what was once, quite a ?down to earth? skyline. The Al Bahr Towers, sore 145 metres above the junction of Al Saada and Al Salam Street and holds 25 stories.
Although the towers are expected to be completed by 2012, they have been featured on the Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat’s “Innovative 20” list of buildings that “challenge the typology of tall buildings in the 21st century”.
What makes these towers so special is their key structure. Falling in line with the UAE?s move to smarter energy consumption and greener cities, the buildings will be installed with a computer-controlled, robotic facade made up of more than 2,000 translucent, parasol-like units that will open and close as the sun moves over their surface that will serve as a protective sun-screen.
THE DYNAMIC MASHRABIYA
The engineering firm Arup and architects from the London studio of Aedas, the international practice responsible for Dubai’s metro stations and Abu Dhabi’s Manarat Al Saadiyat had put together the design for the towers. Architects of the building describe it as a “dynamic mashrabiya”, a 21st century reinterpretation of the carved and perforated screens that traditionally provided shade and privacy to Islamic houses throughout the Middle East. The design is based on Islamic geometry and heritage for its inspiration while retaining modernity.
“ADIC wanted a design that would reflect the cultural traditions and architectural heritage of the Middle East, while setting new environmental standards of design,” says Peter Oborn, the project director, and deputy chairman of Aedas. Along with the project’s lead designer, Abdulmajid Karanouh, Oborn resolved to create a building that was as environmentally friendly and energy efficient, learning from the mistakes in several of the buildings throughout the region.
A big challenge for the architects was to create a building that would have a sustainable construction to withstand the local climatic conditions. “If we were really genuine about creating an environmentally friendly building, we needed to find a way to protect the building from direct sunlight,” said Karanouh.
“Permanent shading would have compromised visibility and views from inside the building, while lighter shading would have compromised the energy performance of the building itself,” he added. Tinted and reflective glass are commonly used in the region, and what?s worse is that they also increase the need for environmentally costly artificial light.
The solution was the dynamic mashrabiya. It reduces the building’s overall energy consumption and carbon footprint by 20%. And in localised areas on the south side of the tower, which benefit most from the mashrabiya’s protective veil, savings are closer to 50%. The mashrabiya protect the east, south and west sides of the towers and the units open and close based on the sun?s path.
The system has 2,099 units constructed from 15 components that form a triangular, Teflon-coated, fibreglass mesh set in an aluminium and stainless steel frame. Some of the units measure 6 metres by 4 metres and weigh almost 600 kilograms and the struts that attach them to the fa?ade weight 240 kg each. It is also designed to withstand earthquakes and winds of more than 240 kilometres per hour.
At the top of each tower there will be a double-height space for receptions that features a southerly sloping roof. The roofs are equipped with photovoltaic systems that will generate around 5% of their total energy demand.
The workers of ADIC will also be able to enjoy the sky gardens that will be included in each tower as a space visual relief and amenity space while working to reduce solar heat gain.
TRIED AND TESTED
With its moving robotic components and complex, computer-controlled solar choreography the mashrabiya had to be structurally and mechanically robust enough to withstand the challenges of repeated daily use in Abu Dhabi’s challenging climate.
Intense tests took place to make sure the units were fit for the design and the purpose they were created. Tests took place at a laboratory in Switzerland, where the mashrabiya units were blasted with sand, dust, and salt water collected from Abu Dhabi and then baked at 60?C to simulate an Emirati summer. Each unit’s durability was then tested for 30,000 cycles which is equivalent to doing 75 years’ service on the building’s facade.
“I consider this building a first step. It is by no means the perfect solution or an ideal solution but it is at least the first step of genuinely trying to make a difference,” Karanouh declared.
Michael Stott, a senior associate planner with Abu Dhabi’s Urban Planning Council (UPC), believes that the move towards sustainable buildings, with a cultural and social dimension is important in the region. “This is all part of that wider model of sustainability. Individual buildings are great and can be a showpiece, but we are taking a wider approach,” he said. “The future success of Abu Dhabi won’t be based on architecture or the public realm in isolation, but on the coming together of the two. If we can put those two together through the development of our policies, we should all have a great place to live.”
UPC is responsible for overseeing new development as well as addressing the issue of retrofitting and revitalising existing communities. And in the Al Bahr towers being constructed for ADIC, the ultimate aim of the headquarters and UPC is to make life in Abu Dhabi healthier for residents and the environment.
The government of the UAE is pushing for sustainable and efficient developments mainly because of the high costs of subsidised water and energy. Therefore UPC is placing public awareness at the heart of its policy-making and guidance. As Jean Philippe Coulaud, the director of corporate communications for the UPC, explained: “Our key concern is with education. We can speak about policies, technologies, and high-tech devices that we are developing to be more sustainable, but if you don’t have all of the community supporting this approach, it won’t work.”
Sources: The National, inhabitat