City planner behind Abu Dhabi's layout dies aged 98

Abdulrahman Makhlouf was brought in by Sheikh Zayed to create a modern capital for the nation

Obituary: The architect who helped shape Abu Dhabi

An urban planner who sketched out much of downtown Abu Dhabi for Sheikh Zayed in the early days of the union has died aged 98.

Dr Abdulrahman Makhlouf planned the capital's grid system while sitting on the floor with the country's Founding Father at Qasr Al Bahr, the Sea Palace.

The result was a modern city built in a Manhattan-style grid with a striking Corniche and dotted with modernist-era marvels.

On Tuesday, his family confirmed that he had died. The National was able to visit his studio office several months ago to document his designs.

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Sheikh Zayed said to me ... 'we want a capital city for Abu Dhabi, and we need to get there as quickly as possible'
Dr Abdulrahman Makhlouf, 2013 interview

Dr Makhlouf, an Egyptian with an architecture degree from Cairo University and a doctorate from Germany, first arrived in Abu Dhabi in October 1968.

He came to work for Sheikh Zayed after completing projects in Saudi Arabia, and answered a cable and offer of work from a UN technical office official who was supporting the emirate.

He fell in love with the city and never left.

“I said yes. I had already worked on cities in Saudi Arabia, like Makkah, Madinah and Jeddah. So I was familiar with the Gulf,” he told The National in 2013. “My father’s name was also famous in the Islamic world, Sheikh Hassanian Mohammed Makhlouf, Mufti of Egypt. So my name sounded familiar.”

“His Highness was away in Geneva when I arrived. By the time he arrived, I had already done a survey of the area and done rough sketches of how the city should be developed. I headed to the airport when I heard he was arriving and I was perhaps the only Arab man standing in a tailored suit there. So when Sheikh Zayed noticed me and shook my hand and greeted me, he asked one of his advisers, ‘Who is this man?’ ”

Dr Makhlouf said Sheikh Zayed was told he was “the expert city planner, the one the United Nations mentioned”.

“I am always in an elegant suit. It is not dignified to be seen in public without a tie.”

Dr Makhlouf came to replace Katsuhiko Takahashi, from Japan, who was Sheikh Zayed’s first city planner and whose plan Dr Makhlouf supported.

“I thought it was clever. It had the straight roads that we still see today.”

The end result was a linear plan for the island, with Airport Road as the main spine, which is largely unchanged today.

In the upper part of the island towards the Corniche, which is wider, the pattern is a grid.

In our 2013 interview, Dr Makhlouf recalled asking the late president why he preferred straight lines and quickly realised he was a man who was going places in a hurry.

“Sheikh Zayed said to me, ‘I know where I am, and I know where I want to go, so why not use a straight line between the two points?

"We want a capital city for Abu Dhabi, and we need to get there as quickly as possible’.”

Updated: December 14th 2021, 1:19 PM