The new Zayed University campus in Abu Dhabi is a huge architectural complex offering academic standards of excellence. The architecture is a statement of national identity and the United Arab Emirates’ awareness of its pivotal geopolitical role in a crucial area on the world scene. Not only a landmark underpinning a strategic vision of the territory, it expresses the country’s confidence that modernity and the country’s heritage can sit side by side. A huge project, it will accommodate at least 6 000 students studying at the highest academic levels. The campus is sited close to major routes: the highway linking the city of Abu Dhabi to the airport, and the road leading to a future new city south of the site. Yet the progressive architectural programme is much more than a strategic “gateway” on the approach to the capital; it is also an entity unto itself. The layout is the classic symmetrical grid, along which the circulation routes align. All constructions on the site converge on the north-south axis. Faculty buildings, parking areas and internal pedestrian walkways are ranged in orderly fashion on either side of this central route. Appropriately too, the Central Campus building with inner garden court is also on this central axis. As well as catering to specific student needs like administration, reception, library and classrooms, the complex also includes a Convention Centre for cultural and other public events with multi-purpose rooms and a 1 000-seat auditorium. The architecture elegantly resolves the tasks of providing a seat of learning of excellence in accordance with the strict gender segregation in force in the United Arab Emirates. Faculty buildings have been doubled, female students occupying the west side and male students the east block. Gender segregation extends also to the walkways, with separate entrances and corridors for men and women. Any environments used by both sexes, such as the library and administrative offices, will be used on a time-share basis to ensure compliance with the law. A snaking middle wall separates the central court, expanding and narrowing the spaces on either side according to function and use. The hierarchical progression of buildings along the north-south axis gives a unified appearance to the whole campus. The glazed elevations of the shield-shaped Convention Centre to the north lean outwards, supported by imposing steel columns. The huge luminous atrium from which the various circulation routes depart has travertine flooring and walls clad in gleaming, perforated and screen-printed metal panels. The theatre hall has raked stalls and galleries; on the first floor, the main multi-purpose room can be partitioned off as required, while the second and third levels are occupied by smaller meeting rooms. The oval-shaped library is located at the southern most tip of the central axis. Three storeys high with some half a million volumes, it is flanked by the canteens on each side, again segregated by sex and with separate entrances. The central court is a place for quiet reflection. This garden setting is a blend of modernity and tradition. A porticoed colonnade running around the perimeter connects with the adjacent buildings. In the women’s sector, a refreshing veil of water runs into a small reflective pool and down a little cascade to circle round an amphitheatre. Flowers and modern “awnings” made this an eminently suitable place for conversation and meditation. The key architectural feature and most striking engineering feat is the enormous “roof” covering the whole area. As well as the unifying element of the whole project, the covering offers solutions to static construction issues and problems of corrosion resistance of materials in a salt-laden atmosphere, subject to huge temperature differences and high winds that blow from different directions depending on the season. A masterful piece of engineering, this curving metal strip flows effortlessly over the buildings before sweeping down to the ground and rising again like a billowing robe. The aluminium clad steel beam structure gives the impression of being ineffably lightweight. 8 000 tonnes of steel clad with 25 000 aluminium panels take on the appearance of a calligraphic flourish or a veil caught and momentarily frozen in the wind.