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Volume 23, Number 1January/February 1972

In This Issue

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Building On Tradition—3

Written by Friedrich Ragette
Photographed by Burnett H. Moody

In the first part of this series (May-June, 1971) Professor Ragette chose the Dhahran Air Terminal and the College of Petroleum and Minerals, both in eastern Saudi Arabia, to exemplify how elements which had contributed to traditional Arab or Islamic architectural expression might just as logically be applied to modern buildings. The four main elements—climate, local materials and building techniques, living habits, and traditional forms—were also among the influences behind three modern buildings in Lebanon described in the second part of the series (July-August, 1971): the House of Lebanese Crafts, the Administrative Center for South Lebanon and the American Life Insurance Building.

But perhaps the most extensive and dramatic blending of modern and traditional in the Arab world has taken place in several of the small states of the Gulf region, notably Kuwait, Bahrain, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, whose cities have undergone dynamic, almost boom-town expansions during
the past decade, and examples of whose architecture the editors present in this concluding article.

1. The New Mosque-Abu Dhabi

The New Mosque is "modern" only in the sense that this recently constructed building, the largest mosque in Abu Dhabi, exemplifies the timelessness of certain Arab and Islamic architectural forms. Although classic, the repeated arches, the dome, and the long horizontal profile with two minarets as striking verticle accent marks are elements which do not seem out of place in a modern context. The extensive and well-planned floodlighting further helps to bridge the gap between traditional and modern.

2. Abu Dhabi International Airport.

The angular treatment of arches and protruding pointed vaults in reinforced concrete lends an exotic, yet starkly modern appearance to Abu Dhabi's air terminal building. The consultants and architects, Canadian Consulting Company, included a clock tower in a reflecting pool as well as a motel wing in their designs. The contractors, Skanska-Kettaneh, completed the $8,000,000 structure in April 1970.

Friedrich Ragette, Assistant Professor of Architecture at the American University of Beirut, is this year in Vienna. This article concludes his three-part series on modern architecture.

Kuwait Chamber of Commerce and Industry

This muscular structure was designed by Dar al-Handasah of Beirut as the result of an international competition. Three floors enclosed by arabesque façade units are sandwiched between heavy concrete slabs at top and bottom. This strongly defined volume projects over a recessed ground floor and is supported by an articulated system of beams and columns. The building contains offices and a 1000-seat auditorium.

Gulf Bank-Kuwait

Designed in 1963 by Tony Irving and Gordon Jones of the Design Construction Group, this neat two-story structure actually represents three separate buildings wrapped into one. It is remarkable that in this case the municipality of Kuwait insisted that the owners of the units adjoining the bank adopt the identical architectural treatment. The ground floor of the building is recessed, creating an external colonnade. The upper floor is fully shielded by precast concrete panels attached to projecting concrete brackets. The combined shapes of the units suggest crenellations on the top and stalactite decoration at the bottom; the hexagonal pattern of panels and voids is reminiscent of geometric Arab designs. The metallic sunscreens add a touch of seclusion. All these elements combine to give a strong local expression although the building is unmistakingly a modern one.

Secretariat Building of the Government of Bahrain

This building was designed and built by the Wimpey-Group of England. The richly appointed interior is developed around a full height hall with three floors on one side and four floors staggered at the other. It contains ministries and government departments as well as a historical museum. To the outside the building is completely screened by a concrete claustra arranged in a zig-zag pattern between fair-faced concrete columns painted gray. Though larger, this building bears a striking resemblance to the FNCB building in Dubai. As is the practice in many parts of Bahrain, the Secretariat is built on land reclaimed from the sea.

First National City Bank—Dubai

Tony Irving and Gordon Jones were commissioned by First National City Bank of New York in 1964 to design a building for the picturesque waterfront of old Dubai, "The Creek."

The bank, completed in 1967, reflects the vertical columns, divided bays and strong entablatures of the traditional wind towers of Dubai which still rise above many of the old houses around the site. The building is of concrete (some precast), with exposed surfaces left unplastered. Patterned screens on all elevations provide sun shading, as well as acting as security barriers. The angled arms at the top hold gold-anodized aluminium cylinders, which contain floodlights for security and decorative lighting. Because ground water was found very near the surface, the building is raised on a platform to strengthen the foundations. The platform also provides space for planting.

The interior of the bank is finished in bright colors and the public lobby features a mural formed from perforated, decorative white cement panels similar to those used as ventilation openings in traditional Dubai houses.

Dubai International Airport

Although Dubai has a population of something less than 100,000, state planners saw sound economic sense in building a grand and prestigious international airport. Architects Page and Broughton were asked to design a terminal aimed less at serving projected air-transport needs than at persuading international airlines to use the field as a major transit traffic center. The result, in any case, was a structure that provided ahead-of-its-time passenger facilities for today's jumbo jets, including restaurants and kitchens to serve 400, a free-zone shopping area, and even sleeping accommodations for stranded travelers. Plans also called for more than ample ground service and fueling facilities for the aircraft themselves.

To achieve an arabesque quality, the architects created a visually open and vaulted structure rather than relying on purely decorative motifs. The roof is composed of 56 lightweight, insulated "umbrella" units (each approximately 40 feet square) made of glass-reinforced plastic framed by steel, and supported on reinforced concrete columns. The umbrella units are similar to those of the Dhahran Air Terminal, completed just ten years earlier. The dome over the VIP lounge is also of reinforced plastic. A 110-foot concrete control tower compliments the curve of the vaulting and also punctuates the long horizontal line of the roof.

Automobile traffic approaches the second level of the three-level terminal on an elevated roadway and passengers reach the aircraft by means of spiral ramps at the end of three shaded fingers.

Costain Civil Engineering, Ltd., of London was awarded the $10 million construction contract and the building was completed early in 1971.

This article appeared on pages 7-13 of the January/February 1972 print edition of Saudi Aramco World.


Check the Public Affairs Digital Image Archive for January/February 1972 images.