Architect behind new World Trade Centre to design Innovation City in Abu Dhabi

Daniel Libeskind, master planner for the development that replaces the towers destroyed in 9/11, is building a 'cultural landmark' in the capital for the HCT.

The American architect Daniel Libeskind, 64, will design the HCT Innovation City in Abu Dhabi. He is known for structures that 'defy gravity' and are 'dramatic, daring, provocative'. An editor with an architecture journal calls him 'one of the most famous architects in the world'. Andrew Henderson / The National
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ABU DHABI // What Hollywood is to movie stars, Abu Dhabi has become to "starchitects". Daniel Libeskind, famous for winning the competition in 2003 to be the master architect behind the new World Trade Center in New York, has confirmed that he will design the capital's Higher Colleges of Technology Innovation City.

His is the latest name to sign on for a high-profile project in the emirate, joining the likes of Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid and Norman Foster, all winners of the Pritzker Prize, the highest honour in architecture. Innovation City will be an academic and research facility built to house some 5,000 students and absorb the Abu Dhabi Men's College, the HCT's Central Services division and the Centre for Excellence for Applied Research and Training.

In addition to the new World Trade Center, Mr Libeskind's portfolio includes the Jewish Museum Berlin, which opened in 2001, and the "Crystal" expansion at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. The HCT Innovation City project, he said, will establish the facility as a hub for stimulating advancements in the arts and sciences in the UAE. The architecture will incorporate elements of Emirati culture.

"Its form, inspired by the flight of the falcon, symbolises the original spirit of the country and will become a cultural landmark in Abu Dhabi," Mr Libeskind said in a statement. "Sustainability is at the heart of the form, substance and function of the entire project." Dr Tayeb Kamali, the vice chancellor of the HCT, said that from the air, the building would evoke the image of a falcon with its wings spread.

He said: "It's a powerful message because the falcon is a powerful bird and a symbol of the country, so we're delighted that Daniel selected this concept." Dr Kamali expects the project to be completed by late 2012 or early 2013 at Muroor Road and Al Saada Street, the location of the existing HCT building. Roughly 110,000 square metres of land are set aside for construction. "The reason we called Daniel Libeskind is because of his reputation," Dr Kamali said yesterday. "Everything we do in HCT is connected to the most advanced technologies today, so we wanted to make sure we have the best in the world of architecture and engineering technology."

Mr Libeskind, 64, has been known to be very specific about his plans, admitting last month to the Royal Geographical Society that he often advises on the smallest details of a project, going as far as "choosing the seats for the toilets". The HCT was also attracted to Mr Libeskind for his experience with educational institutions, Mr Kamali said. He designed parts of the graduate student centre at the London Metropolitan University and has held chair positions at the University of Toronto, Yale University, the University of Pennsylvania, and lectured at the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Germany.

"We know that Daniel understands educational elements, which is also something that makes him unique," Dr Kamali said. It was too early to reveal the projected costs of the contract, but Dr Kamali said conceptual mock-ups would be revealed soon. Rory Olcayto, the deputy editor of Architects' Journal in the UK, said the news of Mr Libeskind's involvement with Abu Dhabi was exciting. "He's certainly one of the most famous architects in the world," Mr Olcayto said.

Mr Olcayto said that many observers have read political messages in Mr Libeskind's work. Because the designs are complex, he said, they are able to embody complex political ideas. Mr Libeskind's Imperial War Museum North in Manchester "is a shattered globe to symbolise the nature of war", for example. "The Jewish Museum in Berlin had this fractured, geometrically scattered composition, which seemed to represent the tragedy of the Holocaust quite well," Mr Olcayto said.

One of Mr Libeskind's latest commissions, to design a cultural museum in Iraqi Kurdistan, also shows a willingness to engage himself as "a geopolitical architect, giving voice to a disenfranchised culture", Mr Olcayto said. Earlier, Mr Libeskind urged colleagues not to build for "undemocratic" China in the lead-up to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Politics aside, Mr Libeskind is most celebrated for his unusual architectural eye, with a style emerging out of a concept called "de-constructivism".

Mr Olcayto said: "It's a style of architecture that sort of defies gravity and is very angular and is the complete opposite of traditional orthological architecture." "It plays with geometry to create a kind of spectacle, and it's dramatic, daring, provocative architecture - quite different from his contemporaries."