Dabbagh Architects - Al Ain Museum, an architecture that captures the spirit of place
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Al Ain Museum, an architecture that captures the spirit of place

Dabbagh Architects

Culture  /  Future
Dabbagh Architects

The archaeological discoveries found on the Al Ain Museum site present a unique opportunity to communicate the history of human settlement in Al Ain and the region over the last 2000 years. These remnants reveal the rich heritage of this region. Each of these layers of history have their distinct significance and relevance to the site and to the people of Al Ain. They are as follows: the Archaeology, the Al Ain Oasis, the Sultan Fort, and the Existing Museum. By responding to the existing elements on site, there is an opportunity for the architecture to create a dialogue between the new and the old. By honoring the site’s memory, the architecture captures the spirit of place by creating meaning and adding a new chapter for the Al Ain Museum to be narrated to the generations to come.

The project is located in Al Ain, adjacent to a natural Oasis in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Known as the Al Ain Oasis, it dates back 7000 years, and is within a UNESCO World Heritage Buffer zone. The Oasis is a testament to the ingenuity of its people to source and manage water for millennia. The site contains two historically significant structures adjacent to the Oasis: the mud-brick building of Sultan Fort (1910), and the Al Ain Museum, the first museum in the UAE (1971). In 2019, new evidence has uncovered an elaborate network of aflaj* (800AD), a series of wells (Early Islamic Period) and a tomb (200BC) on the site. The project showcases these layers of history and narrates their story within a new museum component that ties the various elements of the site together.

The restoration of the historically significant Existing Al Ain Museum and Sultan Fort form a major component of the project. The reinstatement of the original fabric of these elements on site not only provides a sustainable approach in terms of Heritage Conservation, but also reiterates the importance of the once vibrant socio-cultural fabric, and revives the connection of the project to the people and place. In addition, the New Museum component has obtained an Estidama Pearl II Green Building rating in Abu Dhabi, UAE, a rating similar to LEED Certification. The Pearl Building Rating System encourages water, energy and waste minimization, local material use and aims to improve supply chains for sustainable and recycled materials and products.

The design approach highlights the project’s context, and displays the main existing elements on the site. The form is driven by these main parameters identified below, as well as how the visitors are invited to experience the site: Archaeological remnants of historical Agricultural and Funerary landscapes have been found on the site, dating back over 2000 years, and demonstrating the ingenuity of the people of Al Ain to access and manage water, as well as humans’ funerary rituals, which honor death. Al Ain Oasis is a testament to the resourcefulness of the people of Al Ain to source and manage water over millennia. This scarce commodity provided, and continues to provide, livelihood for the city of Al Ain. Built in 1910, the mud- brick Sultan Fort is one of the most important historic buildings. The remnants of Harat Al Hosn (Fort neighborhood) tell the story of the community that had sprung around the Sultan Fort in the 1960’s. The Existing Museum is a modern heritage reference to the visionary act by the Late Founder of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan, to preserve and showcase the history of Al Ain, and is the first museum in the UAE. By responding to the existing elements on site, the architecture creates a dialogue between the new and the old. It focuses on the visitor experience, connecting the indoors to the outdoors, viewing elements from various routes and vantage points, while reviving the once sacred vestiges in a contemporary context.

The city of Al Ain was chosen to build the Al Ain Museum due to the diverse archaeological sites it houses. At no known site is there such a rich palimpsest of archaeological remains dating back 5000 years. The museum undertakes to protect, preserve, and display these remains within the site itself. In so doing, these discoveries will augment the Museum's narrative, while providing in­situ evidence of Al Ain's remarkable history, and showcase Abu Dhabi's rich cultural heritage.


 Al Ain, Abu Dhabi
 United Arab Emirates
 7000 mq
 Sumaya Dabbagh, Hala Nahas, Hana Younes, William Java
 Dabbagh Architects
 Buro Happold, Nulty, Limah, SeARCCH, Matthewssouthwest, Waho, CCG
 Dabbagh Architects


Dabbagh Architects is a leading architectural design practice, recognized regionally for its contemporary and innovative design. The practice addresses themes of identity and belonging, forging a new emerging approach to Architectural design in the region.

The practice was established in 2008 by Sumaya Dabbagh, a Saudi Architect, an innovator who has challenged stereotypes with a mission to bridge cultural and gender divides.

The practice is deeply rooted in the Middle East region, and is known for its contextual and culturally relevant architecture. Since its inception, Dabbagh Architects have completed a number of significant projects such as the multi Award Winning Mleiha Archaeological Centre and most recently The Gargash Mosque in the UAE.

Dabbagh Architects is one of the first practices in the Gulf region to be registered as an RIBA Chartered Practice. Their talented, passionate and diverse team is a testament to Dabbagh’s progressive leadership.

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