Aldar's desert disc is simply unique

Modern icons: Aldar headquarters, shaped lke a giant coin, was a challenge for its designers.
The slim, circular building on a concrete plinth is the result of slightly less than three years of work and has more than 3,000 panes of glass.
The slim, circular building on a concrete plinth is the result of slightly less than three years of work and has more than 3,000 panes of glass.

ABU DHABI // "Simple" is not the word that jumps to one's mind when driving into Abu Dhabi and seeing the gigantic disc standing on its side in the desert.

But that is the word Randall Heinrich, the senior project manager at Aldar, uses to describe the property developer's new headquarters at Al Raha Beach.

"People see the shape from the outside and you get people commenting that it's an inefficient building, but it's not," Mr Heinrich says.

"It's great. It's a very simple building. It has two poles coming up the middle of the building and the structure built around it.

"Yes, you've got larger floors in the centre but all the floors are very open, beautiful spaces. Everyone expected it to be a wonderful building but it's also practical."

The slim, circular building on a concrete plinth is the result of slightly less than three years of work and has more than 3,000 panes of glass.

Apart from the empty moat, the vision of Aldar's offices is complete.

Twenty-three storeys tall with three underground parking levels, the building is one of a kind, says Tony Abi Gebrayel, the area manager of the designer, MZ Architects.

The structure is something architects had never realised before; the type of idea normally left on sketches and in pipe dreams. "It was a challenge for us but I think we were able to accomplish it," Mr Gebrayel says.

The building, which was awarded "best futuristic design" at the 2008 Building Exchange conference, provides a contrast to its surroundings.

On a stretch of desert peppered with incomplete structures, housing complexes and a lone shopping mall, it seems slightly out of place.

But not to the men behind it.

"Basically, this is the centre of the Al Raha Beach development," Mr Gebrayel says. "This," he says, pointing out the window of the top floor, "was supposed to be all developed.

"This is becoming the new capital of Abu Dhabi and this is the new seafront, and that's important to know. This was supposed to be the new skyline of Abu Dhabi and this is why this sits in the centre here."

There were other, bigger projects due for completion but most are on hold because of the global financial crisis, he says.

Nevertheless, MZ Architects and Aldar are confident of the setting.

"Being here is the right location once everything is developed," Mr Gebrayel says. "I think once this is done you will know why we chose this destination."

The story is familiar to Mr Heinrich, who worked for eight years on the Canary Wharf development in derelict former docklands in the east end of London.

"We spent a long time convincing tenants to go to Canary Wharf," he says. Initially opposed by neighbouring communities, it is now a thriving business and commercial centre.

As far as the Aldar building is concerned, there will be little opposition from the employees of companies that take up tenancy.

Several cafes occupy floor space and there are plans to build full restaurants. Should staff overindulge, there is a mixed and an all-female gym. The mixed gym has been so popular it may be expanded.

There is also a prayer room with a pristine bathroom for ablutions.

One area will be turned into a creche, Mr Heinrich says. The rest will be divided into smaller shops.

The building's glossy facade hides a surprisingly spacious and bright interior with the mainly white walls bathed in natural light, thanks to the work of men who hang precariously over the sides of the coin-shaped building every two months or so.

"When the cleaning equipment is not in use you can just see it on the top and it runs around the building on a track," Mr Heinrich says. The cleaners' work is appreciated. "It doesn't matter where you stand," he says. "When you turn around you can see out and see the nice views."

Mr Gebrayel points to a curved canopy over the main entrance, acting as shade. Designed in the shape of a leaf, it was the last part of the puzzle.

"We wanted something totally independent of the building. It is iconic by itself," Mr Gebrayel says.

zalhassani@thenational.ae

Published: August 25, 2011 04:00 AM

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