Qasr al Hosn in Abu Dhabi

2015- | Abu Dhabi, UAE

Client: Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi
Function: Revitalisation of a cultural heritage site
140.000 m2 masterplan, landscape design
22.500 m2 new building
Function: Revitalisation of a cultural heritage site
Status: Under construction
Architect: CEBRA
Landscape architect: CEBRA and SLA
Restoration architect: Elgaard Architecture
Engineer: GHD

Providing restoration consultancy, Elgaard Architecture is working closely together with CEBRA, who was commissioned to reinstate the Qasr al Hosn Fort as Abu Dhabi’s cultural heart. The fort is located on a 400 x 400 m site and is the city’s oldest building. Qasr al Hosn began life in the 18th century as a coral and sea stone watchtower built by the Bani Yas tribes in Abu Dhabi. Its role was to command coastal trade routes and to protect the settlement that had grown up around the water sources they discovered on the island.

One of the most ingenious aspects of the structure is its traditional ‘Barjeel’ ventilation system – effectively an early form of air conditioning. Recessed arches built into the exterior walls would direct the prevailing sea breezes into the interior rooms via a network of narrow airways.

Qasr al Hosn has been the seat of power in the Emirate for centuries and literally constitutes the birthplace of the city of Abu Dhabi. In collaboration with the client, DCT Abu Dhabi (Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi), the project task is to reinstate The Fort in a coastal landscape while also celebrating modernisation and urbanisation within a city in rapid growth. Our project provides a culturally appropriate setting by means of a new public park around the building and through the modernisation of the adjacent Cultural Foundation Building (CFB). The site becomes a place for the celebration of Emirati heritage and identity.

The Qasr Al Hosn master plan marks a significant phase of the Fort’s conservation and the site’s development. The implementation of the next phase will see the careful renovation and redevelopment of Qasr Al Hosn, the National Consultative Council building and the Cultural Foundation Building as the cultural heart of Abu Dhabi. The core tenet of the Qasr Al Hosn master plan is to preserve its rich historic value and transform the fort and surrounding areas into a tourism and cultural destination in the heart of the capital. The Qasr Al Hosn site is emblematic of the pride and cultural heritage of the UAE and sheds light on the rich fabric of its history, people and traditions.

The master plan is notionally divided diagonally into two areas with distinctive identities. On one side is a modern heritage area around the CFB with a more man-made, geometrical expression of hard surfaces for a series of activities. On the other side, the traditional heritage area around the fort aims at re-establishing the original setting of a solitary building on a sand plane. Two different geometries accentuate this duality – an urban/cultural city grid structure versus a more organic and natural mud crack coastal desert landscape.

The park starts out as a flat surface to the south and rises to the north where it forms a series of buildings for different cultural activities, which are subtly integrated into the park’s surface blending into the landscape.

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