Abu Dhabi’s dizzying building boom slowed down somewhat after the 2008 financial collapse dried up the liquidity that inspires big projects. The damage appears not to have been permanent, however, as the UAE capital will forge ahead with a 24-story speculative office tower—part of a new central business district on Al Maryah Island.
Al Hilal Bank is the first private development on the island, which is the subject of a masterplan designed to accommodate a citywide population of 3 million by 2030. The city proper is currently home to just over 600,000 people. But Abu Dhabi’s modern history is already a story of explosive growth.
“When we first visited,” said Steven Nilles, the Goettsch partner in charge of the firm’s recently opened Abu Dhabi office, “the site was a strip of sand with a desert fox and some barbed wire.” Now it’s a canvas for ambitious urban planning. The 2030 plan includes light rail and a subway system for the new district, which Nilles called “a critical link” between the city’s three main islands.
The building, which will be Al Hilal’s flagship, features three cubical masses slightly shifted as they are stacked, allowing for column-free spaces inside. A transparent three-story lobby will look out to the north, engaging the area’s urban character with the help of pedestrian arcades to the east and west. All ongoing projects on the island have parking below grade, where underground service corridors reserve podium-level development for pedestrians.
“We’re creating a whole new urban fabric for Abu Dhabi’s central business district,” Nilles said. Goettsch expects to complete the development in late 2013, at which point the clean slate of Al Maryah Island will provide some perspective on the city’s 2030 aspirations.