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The ’wrong’ politics of Starchitecture in Abu Dhabi

United Arab Emirates Architecture News - Dec 19, 2016 - 11:07   11001 views

The ’wrong’ politics of Starchitecture in Abu Dhabi

This is an excerpt from the book, Starchitecture. Scenes, Actors, and Spectacles in Contemporary Cities by Davide Ponzini and Michele Nastasi, published by The Monacelli Press, 2016. 


The managing agency (Tourism Development and Investment Company) directly commissioned Frank Gehry for the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Museum, Jean Nouvel for an Abu Dhabi branch of the Louvre, Zaha Hadid for a performing arts center, and Tadao Ando for a maritime museum. Norman Foster was selected for the Sheikh Zayed National Museum in a competition with twelve other firms. For the pavilions along the canal, SOM, Greg Lynn, Hani Rashid of Asymptote, Pei-Zhu, Charles Correa, Shigeru Ban, Khalid Al Najar, and, once again, Frank Gehry were selected. One can see how names were used mainly for suggesting that this cultural district was going to be the largest and most branded in the world, despite the fact that the decision makers did not know whether they were all going to be realized or not.

he Saadiyat Island megaproject attempts to appreciate the value of the desert area in an unprecedented and, at the same time, very traditional way. The creation of such a vast cultural oasis through one single master plan in an expanses of isolated desert has not been attempted anywhere else. However, the planning, financing, and value-capture processes are mainly grounded in the real-estate, retail, and tourism activities in the schematic Saadiyat Island master plan composed of stand-alone development units—which limits the opportunities for a richer interpretation of public places by actual users, once and if completed. If eventual adjustments to the plan do not occur in the implementation phase, a potential resulting mix of disconnected coastline development, a smattering of cultural facilities, and the improbable canal pavilions may induce the alienating effect of a high-culture theme park in a Western-style luxury suburbia......Continue Reading

Top image © Michele Nastasi

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