We directed a landmark project for the UAE: the design and construction of the prestigious new Anwar Gargash Diplomatic Academy. Established in Abu Dhabi, right at the heart of the city’s diplomatic district, this facility was conceived to support the country’s Foreign Affairs Ministry through the education of young diplomats and government leaders. The Academy now serves as the nation’s key institution for developing the UAE’s future representatives. As a facility meant to cultivate the representation of the UAE’s national interests, it was important that the design be rooted in Arab tradition and culture. This led to the creation of an introverted building, with a play of outer opacity and internal transparency serving as a major motif. At the same time, nurturing the relationships necessary for diplomacy requires an openess to the world. This characteristic has been expressed through the large, welcoming glazed portals on either side of the cubic form, as well as the proliferation of communal and collaborative spaces, and the site’s borderless integration into its surroundings. The building’s envelope has been designed to combat the harsh elements of the regional climate, while also representing the nation’s strength. Robust, solid shaping defines the silhouette. Simplicity of form can be seen in the cubic mass housing both classrooms and offices for staff and faculty. Three portions of the mass extend outward, continuing the solidarity of the building’s shape. Concerns of sustainability are addressed via the double skin façade. A high-performance glazing system acts as a first defense against solar heat gain, doubled by an outer skin of perforated aluminum screens. These panels diffuse sunlight throughout the interior, without obstructing views. Each side of the building is encapsulated by different panel fold patterns, creating a unique rhythm of shadow and light that evolves throughout the day. Installations such as this and a rooftop garden have helped the building achieve a 2 Pearl Estidama sustainability rating. The site neighbors numerous embassies that are all fenced completely. Aiming to create a more welcoming and connected landmark, the Academy’s site forgoes a boundary wall entirely, instead using native landscaping to delineate property borders. This effort has made the immediate area feel far more approachable. To foster intellectual work and a high level of concentration, the interior’s design needed to embody complete serenity. Bold minimalism and an abundance of natural light offer clarity for the mind, drawing upon soothing linear patterns and materials that maximize the amount of entering light. Entry finds a central atrium that is expanisve and well-lit, connecting every level. Wood-clad staircases wrap around the perimeter, encouraging movement. The main staircase widens near the student lounge to accommodate a student assembly. In the main auditorium, lighting, color, and texture all draw the eye toward the speaker’s stage. Students are given ample options for study spaces at all levels of privacy. Each of these areas offers complete flexibility via modification. Through these thoughtful layouts and specifications, the Academy’s interior caters to occupant comfort and optimizes potential for both teaching and learning.
SHAPE Architecture Practice and Research is a UAE-based architecture firm founded by Abdulla in 2006. The firm is dedicated to set an example of excellence in design in the Middle East. SHAPE’s interest lies in the incorporation of digital design and production technologies in the design process. The firm believes in the importance of research in the enhancement of design and its processes.
Abdulla Al-Shamsi studied architecture at Columbia University, New York (Master of Science in Advance Architectural Design MSAAD), under Bernard Tschumi. He also studied at the American University of Sharjah where he received his Bachelor of Architecture – Magna Cum Laude (B.Arch).
The firm is currently working on a number of projects including residential buildings and a large scale industrial urban development.
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