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01.27.2011
Ehrlich Architects Pulls a Desert Upset
LA firm wins commission for UAE Parliament, beating internationally renowned firms
A soaring dome reminiscent of a five-petaled desert flower covers parliament chambers.
Courtesy Ehrlich Architects

Ehrlich Architects, a 32-person firm based in Culver City, has won the competition to design a new parliament complex for the United Arab Emirates in Abu Dhabi, beating out major international firms Foster & Partners, Zaha Hadid Architects, and Massimiliano Fuksas Architects. It’s the most remarkable upset victory for a Los Angeles architect since then-upstart Frank Gehry in 1987 triumphed over three Pritzker Prize laureates in the contest for the Walt Disney Concert Hall. At a time when California offices are especially hard-hit, this victory of David over Goliath is a morale booster for every struggling firm.

UAE Parliament by Ehrlich Architects   UAE Parliament by Ehrlich Architects   UAE Parliament by Ehrlich Architects
Left to right: Main hall under a soaring dome, a view of the parliament building from the waterfront, and an aerial view showing the building's inspiration as a circle within a square. [Click to enlarge.]
 

Steven Ehrlich has been familiarizing himself with the region, and the traditions of Islamic architecture, since living in Morocco forty years ago. His most recently-completed project in the UAE, the Helal House, includes a huge crescent-shaped roof and exterior patterned cast aluminum screens. For the parliament Ehrlich, his associate Patricia Rhee, and other members of his office have created what Ehrlich describes as “a harmonious balance of Islamic heritage and global modern aspirations.”

The plan is simple: a circle within a square. A soaring dome, inspired by a five-petaled desert flower, will shelter the assembly building and dominate the waterfront site. Deep concrete ribs will provide a self-supporting structure, exposed to the open hall’s interior.  The 1.3 million square foot complex will be embraced by offices rising from a podium. These structures will be terraced, to suggest wind-sculpted sand dunes. Perforated screens will provide cooling shade, complementing more high-tech sustainable elements like a rooftop solar thermal system.

UAE Parliament by Ehrlich Architects

Inside parliament's main hall.
 

The building will be located on the Corniche, Abu Dhabi’s large coastal boulevard, facing the Arabian Gulf. Its dome will be visible for miles across the water and will glow dramatically at night.  The completion date has not been determined, and the project’s budget is confidential. The local architect will be Abu Dhabi-based Godwin Austen Johnson.

Michael Webb