Architectural Abu Dhabi

When you think of the United Arab Emirates you generally tend to think of the glitz & glamour of Dubai & there is no greater symbol of this than the Burj Khalifa – currently the tallest building in the world, towering 828m over the desert landscape below…

…Despite this I want to explore the architectural wonders of the capital city Abu Dhabi. I think my interest in architecture stems from being driven through London as a child & marveling at the scale and scope of the man-made structures surrounding me – fast forward thirty years and here we are in the Middle East exploring Abu Dhabi! Each time that I visit the capital I am astounded by the architecture on display, and have devised a driving tour that takes in all of these amazing buildings in one simple route.


Aldar HQ (GPS: 24.441079, 54.575755) – the Aldar Building is an unmistakable feature on the Abu Dhabi skyline, a disc (or coin) shaped structure of glass and steel that seemingly rises out of the waters of Al Raha Beach. Dubbed the world first circular skyscraper, the buildings shape comes from  the use of structural diagrid, or a diagonal grid of steel, it was completed in 2010 and currently houses a number of company headquarters including that of Aldar. Though you can’t enter the building itself, you are able to drive right up and park outside without too much trouble, so this is where we will start our driving tour.

The Circular Skyscraper of Aldar HQ


Yas Viceroy (GPS: 24.467200, 54.603765) If you head down then Abu Dhabi/Shahama  road & then head to Yas Island via the Yas Tunnel you will arrive at the Yas Viceroy within about ten minutes. Another iconic image of the emirates, the Yas Viceroy is the worlds only hotel to span a formula one race track.

The Hotel, designed by Hani Rashid & Lise Anne Couture, consists of two twelve story hotel towers, one set within the race circuit and another placed in the Marina itself, linked together by a monocoque-steel and glass bridge and Grid Shell structure that both cross above and over the Yas Marina Circuit F1 race track. The grid-like shell is illuminated with LED lights at night which rotate through a range of colours.

You can drive right up to the hotel (there is a car park), there you can get out and wonder around the inside of the hotels and the grounds. For the Formula One fanatics, this is a must as you can actually get quite close to the track. The best view of the hotel is actually achieved from Yas Marina as you can see the full scope of the structure from across the small waterway.

Viceroy 03


Ferrari World (GPS: 24.483078, 54.604596) If you continue along Yas Lesiure Drive from the Viceroy you will arrive at Ferrari World within a few minutes, This unmistakable structure with its visually stunning red canopy and huge Ferrari logo is visible from miles away. (measuring 65m long it is the biggest Ferrari logo ever created)!

Due to the shape of the island and the position of Ferrari World in close proximity to the airport, the building was conceived as a very simple ‘ground hugging’ form, peeling up from the landscape in flowing lines like a red sand dune. The visually distinctive form and shape of the 48m high roof is punctuated by a vast glazed crystal-like funnel measuring 100m in diameter at the top, pulling down to just 17m diameter at its base  The central funnel roof is supported on 12 primary columns which form a 12-point Arabic star pattern.

Ferrari World Abu Dhabi is the largest indoor and the only Ferrari branded theme park in the world, with 20 Ferrari inspired attractions – so why not pop in and ride Formula Rosa – the worlds fastest roller coaster reaching speeds of up to  240km.

Ferrari World


World Trade Centre (GPS: 24.487174, 54.356582) heading out on the Sheikh Khalifa Highway you will pass over Saddiyat Island (the future cultural hub, which we will discuss in detail at the end of this post) & Mina Port, before reaching the Corniche of Abu Dhabi Island.  Driving up the corniche you will be flanked by the beach and Lulu island on your right, and a number of skyscrapers on your left. Abu Dhabi World Trade Centre is the newest addition to the Abu Dhabi skyline. The tower is officially known as  Burj Mohammed Bin Rashid and is the tallest tower in the Abu Dhabi cityscape – housing 92 floors at the elevation of 381m. It is worth a visit to the Arabian inspired souq at the WTC Mall as a place to break the journey and explore, before continuing on the driving tour.



Emirates Place & Jumeirah Etihad Towers (GPS: 24.458934, 54.319223) As you reach the end of the corniche you will be at one of the cities most famous landmarks – the Emirates Palace. Another of Abu Dhabi’s architectural wonders, and another luxury hotel! Built as a landmark showcasing Arabian culture, Emirates Palace, has created a niche in luxury hospitality,. situated on 1.3 km of private beach and surrounded by 85 hectares of gardens and lawns, with 114 domes that are 80 meters high, Emirates Palace comprises 394 rooms and suites carefully designed and furnished to offer guests superior comfort and luxury. Much like the Viceroy you can drive up into the hotel, park and take a wonder – though there are restrictions on how far you can venture within the hotel grounds. It is worth a visit just to see the gold leaf reception area, or the ATMs from which you can withdraw gold! If you do intend to visit it is worth calling ahead, as occasionally the hotel is closed to tourists.

Emirates Palace 01

As you exit the Emirates Palace you will see five skyscrapers directly in front of you, this collection of buildings in known as Jumeriah Etihad Towers – a residential and hotel complex, famous for featuring in the film Furious 7, for which a number of action scenes were filmed. The towers range in size the smallest stands at 218m (tower 5) and the tallest is 305m (tower 2).



Al Bahr Towers (GPS 24.455155, 54.401875) Zig-zagging across Abu Dhabi Island it is wirth a detour to visit Al Bahr Towers. An award-winning development consisting of two 29-storey, 145m–high towers. Located at the intersection of Al Saada and Al Salam Street, one tower houses the new headquarters of the Abu Dhabi Investment Council (ADIC) and the other serves as the head office of Al Hilal Bank,

The distinguishing feature of the iconic towers is their protective skin of 2,000 umbrella-like glass elements that automatically open and close depending on the intensity of sunlight. Inspired by the ‘mashrabiya‘, geometrically-designed wooden lattice screens that have been used to fill windows of traditional Arabic architecture since the 14th century, the ‘intelligent’ façade of the Al Bahr Towers is dynamically controlled by a building management system.

Al Bahr


Hyatt Capital Gate (GPS: 24.418426, 54.433822) Heading back towards the mainland you will pass the Hyatt Capital Gate (yes you guessed it… another hotel). In June 2010, Guinness World Records certified Capital Gate as the “World’s furthest leaning man-made tower.” The new record shows that the Capital Gate tower has been built to lean 18° westwards. The gravitational pressure caused by the incline is countered by a technique called pre-cambered core, using a core of concrete reinforced with steel. Like the other hotels you can go inside, but you won’t make it any further than the 18th floor reception without a reservation – though it is worth the trip just for the view alone.



Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque (GPS: 24.409092, 54.475908) The final stop of our driving tour is probably the most famous landmark in Abu Dhabi – the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque. The mosque was constructed from 1996 to the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates. The building complex measures approximately 290 m (960 ft) by 420 m (1,380 ft), covering an area of more than 12 hectares (30 acres). The  Mosque’s design and construction “unites the world”, using artisans and materials from many countries including Italy, Germany, Morocco, Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia, Iran, China, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Greece and United Arab Emirates. More than 3,000 workers and 38 renowned contracting companies took part in the construction of the mosque.

The mosque is large enough to accommodate over 40,000 worshipers. The main prayer hall can accommodate over 7,000 worshipers. The mosque is free to visit and tourists are welcome to visit and take photos, please dress respectfully though. Upon entering the mosque you will notice two distinct features:. First the carpet in the main prayer hall is considered to be the world’s largest carpet measuring 5,627 square meters, and was made by around 1,200 – 1,300 carpet knotters. Secondly the seven imported chandeliers which incorporate millions of Swarovski crystals. The largest chandelier is the second largest known chandelier inside a mosque, the third largest in the world and has a 10 m (33 ft) diameter and a 15 m (49 ft) height.

SZM 01

The driving tour can be completed during the day or at night, both will provide you with beautiful views of the architecture, and this tour is recommended as a nice cheap thing to do with children, as they get to experience another side of the city of Abu Dhabi. Please feel free to post comments if you take the tour and let me know how it went. You can also let me know if there are any architectural sights I have missed.

Looking to the future, there are some more architectural highlights on the way, predominantly on Saddiyat Island  These include:

– Zayed National Museum, the centrepiece of the Saadiyat Island Cultural District, showcasing the history, culture and more recently the social and economic transformation of the Emirates. The building is being designed by Foster & Partners. It is set to be first museum to be finished on Saadiyat Island for 2016.

– Louvre Abu Dhabi, the museum will be designed as a “seemingly floating dome structure”; its web-patterned dome allowing the sun to filter through. The overall effect is meant to represent “rays of sunlight passing through date palm fronds in an oasis.The permanent collection will occupy 6,000 square metres (65,000 sq ft), and the temporary exhibitions will take place over 2,000 square metres (22,000 sq ft)

– Guggenhaim Abu Dhabi,  the museum’s design is by architect Frank Gehry. Surrounded on three sides by the Persian Gulf, the site also acts as a man made breakwater that protects the island’s northern beachesThe museum is planned, at 320,000 square feet (30,000 m2), to be the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation‘s largest facility.




P.S. Thanks to Wikipedia for some of the facts regarding some of these buildings 🙂

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