SCHOTT solutions no. 1/2012 > Architecture

Ornamental windows made of colored glass from SCHOTT that are up to 13.80 meters high and 2.80 meters wide create a very special lighting mood that is characteristic of Arabian markets inside the Central Market in Abu Dhabi. Photo: SCHOTT/I. Naqi

A Modern Enactment of the Arabian Nights


Abu Dhabi’s new district “Central Market” combines contemporary design with traditional Arabian architecture. The souk, a shopping paradise that looks like the Oriental markets and features splendid ornamental windows made of colored glass, is one of the main elements.


Judith Schwarz

Abu Dhabi had a booming economy in the 19th century, long before the Arab Emirates had started producing oil. Trading with pearls was the driving force inside this port city. This main sector of the economy made Abu Dhabi the most powerful Emirate in the Persian Gulf at the turn-of-the-century. World War I and the global economic crisis followed, however, and the demand for pearls dropped sharply. This revenue stream dried up permanently when Japan started farming pearls in 1930 – a severe blow for Abu Dhabi.

Not until the end of the 1950s did it begin to become clear what the new pearls of the Persian Gulf would be. Abu Dhabi continued to develop at an extremely fast pace after the city started exporting oil for the first time ever at the beginning of the 1960s. In 1971, Great Britain withdrew from the region after acting as a protective power. The first President of the newly founded Arab Emirates, Zayid bin Sultan Al Nahyan, chose Abu Dhabi to be the capital city. He subsequently arranged for the city to be expanded according to a chessboard master plan and placed a lot of importance on adding flowerbeds and palm groves. In 2001, the population of the core city of Abu Dhabi alone had grown to 530,000. It exceeded 800,000 in 2010. In the meantime, this growth is still continuing on artificial islands and the coastal regions or can be seen in ever higher skyscrapers. The tourism authority uses the claim “a pulsating cosmopolitan lifestyle” to attract visitors and the construction projects are becoming ever more extravagant. Today, the Central Market awakens one of Abu Dhabi’s historical sites to new life. The modern souk – the term used to describe business quarters in Oriental cities – is an important part of the new 500,000 square meter quarters in the heart of the city that now has a population of around 900,000.

Surfaces made of wood, flowing water and vibrant colors. Interesting places, backstreets and courtyards that play with sunlight and shade: the Central Market literally invites people to take a walk through luxurious stores and markets that sell food and handicraft items. Aldar Properties, a real estate development, management and investment company, hired Foster + Partners to build this shopping center between 2006 and 2011. The architects let themselves be inspired by the traditional architecture of the Gulf States rather than just building another shopping mall like the ones you can find anywhere in the world.
Skyscrapers. Photo: Getty Images
Large ornamental windows that feature colored glass in intense blue and yellow shades and mark the entrances to the souk create a special lighting mood inside the building. The incident sunlight produces colorful patterns on the floors and walls. In other words, the windows contribute to the type of color and lighting atmosphere that is so typical of Arabian markets with their colorful fabrics and incident light that falls on their ­narrow backstreets.

The up to 13.80 meter high and 2.80 meter wide sections of the façade are made of colored glasses from SCHOTT in various blue and yellow shades. These are body-tinted glasses with a smooth fire-polished surface that SCHOTT markets in a variety of different color shades. It can be processed into laminated safety glass and insulating glass just like conventional glass and therefore be combined with a variety of additional functions, if necessary. In this particular case, it was combined with sun ­protection glass on the outside to form insulating glass.
Souk: The modern age and tradition both reign in Abu Dhabi. The Central Market with its mix of Arabian architecture and futuristic design could well become a new symbol of the port city. Photo: SCHOTT/I. Naqi

Design and protection from the sun


The glass is mounted in steel frames in the shape of stars and polygons in the Arabian style. Meeting the architects’ design expec­tations was but one of the objectives. Abu Dhabi’s climatic conditions also had to be taken into consideration in selecting the type of glass panes to be used. For instance, the sun protection glass on the outside helps save energy in controlling the climate of the interior of the building complex – fully in line with the philosophy of sustainable archi­tecture. Natural ventilation and shade provide energy-efficient cooling insofar as outside temperatures permit. During the hottest months of the year, many open areas can be sealed off and be cooled by adding roofing and portable walls. Natural illumination and the use of suitable materials also contribute to the sustainable design of the shopping center complex.

In a second construction phase, yet another building complex with a similar design is already under construction at the Central Market. As in the souk, colored glasses from SCHOTT are to be used in the ornamentally designed façade elements,  this time in green and yellow shades, however.
This new district of Abu Dhabi offers visitors a fascinating mix of luxurious stores, boutiques, leisure activities, cinemas, restaurants and cafés, but also parking for more than 5,000 vehicles. There is also a traditionally designed mosque that can accommodate up to 1,500 people. Three skyscrapers designed by the architectural firm Foster + Partners tower over this scenery: a 52-storey, five-star luxury hotel, a 58-storey office complex and an 88-floor apartment building.

The Central Market project is not the only gigantic construction project that has brought attention to Abu Dhabi in recent years. Frank Gehry presented plans for a Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and Jean Nouvel for even a Louvre Abu Dhabi – to mention only the largest museums planned. Since the economic crisis, however, both neighboring Dubai and Abu Dhabi have had to shift down a gear when it comes to realizing their ambitious construction projects. This means it will still take a while before these spectacular museums can be built. The Central Market with its three shining towers and combination of traditional Arabian architecture and skillful futuristic design could soon become a new landmark for the city and serve as a symbol for Abu Dhabi just as the Champs Elysées stands for Paris and 5th Avenue for New York. <|