Abu Dhabi’s ever-changing skyline: a look at the capital’s iconic buildings

In The National’s lifetime, the capital has undergone vast changes, from its shores to the city centre. Perhaps most symbolic of this transformation is the capital’s ever-rising skyline.

Abu Dhabi skyline, shot from the Eastern Mangroves showing Reem Island. Ravindranath K / The National
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Buildings are a city’s boldest statement and Abu Dhabi is certainly finding its voice with eye-catching, breathtaking constructions. Towering ambition hints at the grand designs yet to come.

Barely registering on the current panorama of the city skyline is the 185-metre tall Abu Dhabi Investment Authority tower on the Corniche. Yet when it was completed in 2006, this was the tallest building in town.

Such is the pace of change that today’s tallest building is the Burj Mohammed bin Rashid. Completed in November, it stands at 382 metres – more than twice the height of the Adia tower. Soon it will be joined by the 342-metre Adnoc Headquarters, set for completion in a matter of months.

Since the launch of The National in April 2008, Abu Dhabi has been transformed, not just on the ground, but above it. Almost all the major landmarks on the horizon, from the Nation Towers to the leaning Capital Gate, would not have been visible seven years ago. Developments such as Al Reem and Al Maryah islands and the explosion of high-rise construction at the western end of the Corniche have transformed the appearance of Abu Dhabi.

Burj Mohammed bin Rashid

Burj Mohammed bin Rashid, part of Aldar’s World Trade Centre Abu Dhabi project, was originally named the Domain, but was renamed on its inauguration in honour of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai.

Also known as the World Trade Centre Residences, the building rises above the new World Trade Centre mall. Just a week after the building’s inauguration, Aldar announced it had leased half of its 474 units.

The Central Market, the site of the 60,000-square-metre World Trade Centre Mall and the new 250-unit souq, was built on the site of Abu Dhabi’s old souq, which burnt down in 2003.

Al Bahr Towers

The twin 145-metre tall headquarters of Abu Dhabi Investment Council are not just among the most distinctive buildings in Abu Dhabi but in the world. Their external surface is covered with 2,000 “umbrellas”, which open and shut depending on the direction of the Sun and are said to reduce the amount of heat resulting from sunlight by half. This unique energy conservation system led to Al Bahr Towers becoming one of the first in the Arabian Gulf to receive the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Silver rating. It was also included as one of the 20 buildings that “challenge the typology of tall buildings in the 21st century” by Urban Habitat and the US-based Council on Tall Buildings.

Landmark Tower

Completed in 2013, the Landmark towers over the Corniche at 324 metres. Almost half of its 72 storeys are commercial space, while the rest is composed of three and four-bedroom apartments.

The design, by Pelli Clarke Pelli architects, incorporates dodecagons – a nod to traditional Islamic geometry. It also has an internal atrium, based on traditional Arabian Gulf courtyards, with an external glass canopy intended to provide shade.

Sky Tower

This is part of the Shams Abu Dhabi community, in the heart of the Reem island investment zone. The initial Reem Island master plan, produced by the island’s first master developers, Sorouh Real Estate, Tamouh Investments and Reem Investments, proposed that the 650-hectare island would house 200,000 people and provide four hospitals, seven schools, 10 mosques and two police stations.

The Sun and Sky towers, together add 1,147 apartments and 74,332 square metres of office space to the market.

Sky Tower, the island’s tallest, stands at 310 metres. Although it has two additional floors, it is 14 metres shorter than the Landmark. The building, finished in 2010, also has 474 residential units and 75,300 square metres of commercial office space.

Etihad Towers 1, 2 and 3

Etihad Towers dominate the list of tallest buildings in Abu Dhabi, with Tower 2 the fourth tallest, Tower 1 the fifth and Tower 3 the seventh. The Dh2.5 billion project, which began construction in 2006, was completed in 2011.

The Towers came third in the 2012 Emporis Skyscraper Awards, which recognised skyscrapers completed the year before, for their “soft curving contours” and “harmonious” design.

Tower 2 rises to 305 metres, Tower 1 reaches almost 278 metres and Tower 3 stands at more than 260 metres. Overlooking Emirates Palace, in the Western Al Ras Al Akhdar district, the skyscrapers have won many other awards.

The project is divided between three residential towers, with 885 apartments and penthouses, a five-star Jumeirah hotel and a commercial tower, with 45,000 square metres of leasable space.

Nation Towers Residential

Standing at 268 metres, this behemoth is one of two towers – sitting alongside the 233.2-metre St Regis Abu Dhabi hotel. The skyscrapers, designed by architects WZMH, incorporate shapes of waves and sand, reflecting their seaside setting.

The buildings, completed in 2012 and 2013, are connected by a sky bridge at 202 metres. Nation Towers Residential offers two-storey loft apartments – and serviced apartments – while the St Regis also dedicates space to offices and fine dining.

Residents and guests can access the Corniche beach directly – through a tunnel.

The Gate Towers

Like Sky Tower, this triumvirate of three 230-metre skyscrapers form part of the Al Shams development, capped by a slightly off-centre horizontal bridge of penthouses. The eye-catching trio, completed in 2013, form an essential part of the Reem island skyline off the eastern coast of the city, while also providing more than 3,500 apartments.

Reem Island’s influx of apartments has made it one of the most sought-after locations for property in Abu Dhabi. In the third quarter of last year, Reem island rents rose 6 per cent.