UAE launches initiative to preserve the nation's modern architecture

The project will highlight the historical importance of buildings that have defined the country's development

Dubai World Trade Centre, pictured in 1999, is on the new Modern Architectural Heritage of the UAE initiative. AFP
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The UAE's Ministry of Culture and Youth has launched an initiative to recognise and preserve the country's modern architecture. Titled Modern Architectural Heritage of the UAE, the project will shine a spotlight on some of the most significant examples of post-1960s architecture across the country.

Salem Al Qassimi, Minister of Culture and Youth, said the Modern Architectural Heritage of the UAE initiative would explore “various facets of urban heritage and its centrality to the UAE's national identity”.

“From the notable landmarks to the daily communal spaces that emerged from the 1960s onwards, a significant portion of our history is intertwined, continually fuelling innovative thinking and inspiring unconventional ideas in the present day,” he said.

The project aims to bring together various stakeholder groups to encourage research, documentation, conservation and preservation efforts. Coinciding with the Year of Sustainability, it pays particular attention to the ways in which these buildings can be sustainably adapted to meet contemporary environmental and social needs.

“We are rallying community members, encouraging them to foster a deep sense of pride in our nation's unique architectural identity and actively participate in preservation endeavours,” Al Qassimi said.

The ministry released a video on its Instagram account listing several of the sites, including Abu Dhabi's Bus Terminal and National Theatre; Dubai's Deira Clocktower and Dubai World Trade Centre; Sharjah's Al-Qasimiyah school and the Flying Saucer; Fujairah's Trade Centre and International Airport; Ajman's Independent Studios and Clock Square; Ras Al Khaimah's Khalifa Bin Zayed Stadium and Saqr Hospital; and Umm Al Quwain's Al Arabi Cultural Sports Club.

The project's long-term aim is to enhance the UAE's position on the global architectural map and encourage a richer cultural and design-focused tourist experience.

Modern architecture

From buildings and landmarks to interior spaces and neighbourhoods, the UAE’s modern architectural aesthetics and movements can be divided into two periods.

The first began in the 1960s, when a period of growth in the UAE led to economic development in the nation’s built environment. Large-scale urban planning and infrastructure projects were the first steps to welcoming a sense of modernity and city living to the country.

As part of the second period, post-1990s urbanism was transformed by a change in the scale of structures and the use of advanced and innovative construction techniques – with a shift towards glass and aluminium cladding as materials.

These eras helped to define the language and direction of the urban landscape in the region and are a reflection of the nation’s cultural heritage and the development of its architectural identity.

The announcement follows a separate but related project, launched by the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi. The authority said it had compiled a list of 64 buildings and heritage sites in the capital in need of protection under its Modern Heritage Conservation Initiative – and that it would prioritise their rehabilitation and maintenance.

Al Qassimi said the new project “comes at a time when we have just completed a significant milestone as a nation and are setting the tone for the next 50 years towards the centennial”.

He added that it was the culmination of efforts by the Ministry of Culture and Youth and local governments to preserve the country’s built environment, which he said illustrates “innovative thinking and creativity at its best and defines our national ethos”.

Updated: August 03, 2023, 9:00 AM