Authors: Mohamed El-Amrousi, John Biln
The advent of mega projects and international museums to Abu Dhabi such as Masdar City, the Guggenheim Museum by Frank Gehry and the ‘Desert Louvre’ by the French architect Jean Nouvel to al-Sa’adiyat Island represents a shift in Abu Dhabi’s urban policies towards creating cultural icons, and monuments marking a path for cultural tourism. Each star architect brings his/her signature/brand to the site as part of Abu Dhabi’s new infrastructure in a rapidly developing region. These new icons of Abu Dhabi vary in their architectural manifestations from revival of classical Muslim motifs, to introduction of new forms associated with icons of tradition. For example the “Desert Louvre” designed by Jean Nouvel did not mimic the Parisian Palace, rather it explored new traditions that merge different styles from the region, hinging on new availed technology. The large netted dome of the Louvre covers a generic vernacular expression of a traditional Arab city, in contrast Abu Dhabi’s towering skyscrapers announce the emergence of Abu Dhabi as competitor on the global market of modern cities. These new monuments that reshape the skyline of a once desert city, construct a new heritage, and signify wealth, in an Arab City. This paper explores contemporary expressions of tradition and modernity in Abu Dhabi, in its attempt to rapidly acclaim status as a new cultural centre in the Gulf.
Keywords: Abu Dhabi, rapidly developing regions, modern Arab cities, tradition and modernity