The location, the port district of Mina Zayed, has a symbolic value and proves an ability to look for the country’s roots even into events which are quite recent: the most “ancient port district” of the city was in fact born in 1968, for becoming very soon the major hub for the commercial development of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.
The design was commissioned to Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), the award winning architectural firm that stands out for highly symbolic and conceptual projects such as the Danish pavilion at the Shanghai Expo 2010, the residential project Mountain Dwellings in Ørestad, and the Danish Maritime Museum, or the latest 57th Street Tetrahedron in New York, to name just a few. No budgetary reasons can explain the decision to reuse two existing warehouses, instead of designing new buildings; it does the desire to build a pregnant narrative.
A port’s warehouse offers in fact an opportunity to introduce the language of industrial modernism and to outline, through its rehabilitation, an advanced stage of Emirati’s history, projecting itself into post-modern time; the creation of courtyards aims to re-interpret the relationship between inside and outside which is typical of traditional Arab architecture, where shaded and ventilated outdoor areas help to regulate the microclimate; the application of a micro-perforated outer skin to the existing shells, by controlling the amount and quality of light penetrating the interior, engenders an atmosphere made of privacy and sense of measure that Islamic geometry has contributed to sublimate.
The combination of these choices, that only at first glance may appear assumptive, delivers a hybrid concept of heritage and a new interpretation of time laps: the perception of the past which unveils in the facades of the buildings along the fabrics of ancient streets, condenses in Mina Zayed in the instant of its use, when all the meanings recompose with the evocative power of an art installation.