Onto the final half of the delegation trip and the amazing architecture of Abu Dhabi, Masdar City and Al Ain! Another good mix of some more historic sites along with the locations we’d expect from these areas, particularly Abu Dhabi. Settle in, you’re in for another long post 🙂
After our last day in Dubai, we arrived pretty late in Abu Dhabi, where we’d spend the rest of our trip. After a good night of sleep, I woke up to this beautiful site outside my hotel room. Excuse the poor phone quality, but not a bad view to wake up to.
I headed to breakfast and made my first shots of the day from the patio/pool deck you see in the above shot. It turned out to be a great vantage point for some Urban Quilt images of the downtown area. There are many in my first post from the trip, but here’s an idea of what I was seeing and a good representation of the space in terms of color, texture, pattern and culture.
Then we were off for a walking tour with Sultan Al Ramahi (@vectorsandstuff on Instagram). Fascinating to hear him speak about his city and share the history and personal stories.
Interestingly, through the 1970s-1990s the government imposed a height restriction on buildings as well as the requirement to incorporate aspects of Islamic culture into the design. Resulting in massive blocks of buildings all at the same height. Part of the urban planning at the time involved creating these superblocks, which involves these street-facing high rises while the interior of the blocks consists of what people need for everyday life; shops, schools, mosques, medical centers, etc. In essence, mini-villages where the people live.
The majority of my photographing in this area was to create those Urban Quilt images.
Here are some detail shots of everyone’s favorite building during the walking tour, Al Ibrahimi Building, which is a residential building. Color and B&W because I can’t decide which I prefer and they communicate different things.
One of the stops along the walk was the Vegetable Market at Madinat Zayed. Again failing to get the wide shot, here’s a detail the entrance.
Haitham catching us snacking on dates from the market. Delicious!
Next, we made a brief stop by the Abu Dhabi Main Bus Terminal. Mid-century modern in design style but built in 1983. Most of the city is quite new despite the architectural style feeling a decade or two older than it actually is. A little context with the first phone shot.
And a couple details.
After another great lunch, this time Iranian food, which included saffron ice cream…yum! Here’s just a small portion of what we had.
Onto Qasr Al Hosn, it’s the city’s oldest building and first permanent structure. Formerly the home of the ruling family, among other things, it was transformed into a museum in 2018. We arrived later in the afternoon and were treated to a private tour of the Inner Fort and various parts of the museum. Yet another beautifully designed and restored location.
The late afternoon light offered some fantastic, dramatic shadows.
Haitham, catching us enjoying the traditional coffee ceremony and a group shot outside the museum.
Just next door is the Qasr Al Hosn Mosque by Cebra Architecture. A very modern mosque that contradicts, yet complements its very historic neighbor. Its very angular shape seems to grow out of the desert landscape. The light was pretty much gone by the time we walked over there so I didn’t shoot it very wide with anything but my phone, which you see in this first shot. Would absolutely love to get back here to shoot this in better light.
We lucked out with getting to explore inside for a bit thanks to the formidable, Dana Al Marashi, Head of Cultural Diplomacy for the UAE Embassy. So glad we did, because it’s breathtaking.
I believe this was the end of our day. It’s all such a blur at this point, lol. But in the best way possible.
Onto our second day in Abu Dhabi and what was filled with SO many great locations and experiences. Starting with the Louvre Abu Dhabi, which I’ve been wanting to see since it opened in 2017.
Located on Saadiyat Island (the island of happiness), which is a Cultural District just outside the historic Abu Dhabi city center. The island will be home to a number of museums, including Zayed National Museum by Norman Foster and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi by Frank Gehry and of course, the Louvre designed by French architect, Jean Nouvel.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi is part of a partnership between the museum and the French government for the next 30 years. It has rights to the Louvre name for that time after which it will have to be renegotiated. There are pieces of art on loan from various French museums, including the Louvre, the Centre Pompidou, the Musée d’Orsay and Palace of Versailles until they’re able to build up their own collection.
It’s the first universal museum in the Arab world, bringing together both ancient and contemporary work from around the world. What I found fascinating and different than any other museum I’ve visited is that in each gallery you see art and artifacts from various parts of the world created during the same era. Such a great way to experience the world’s history and culture and compare and contrast the differences from many regions during the same time period.
From a design perspective, Nouvel used materials the artifacts were made of in the building materials of the galleries…the floor, walls, etc. The thought and detail put into this space is truly incredible.
Get ready for many, many photos (and still not even close to all of them). First, a couple wider shots for context. You see it’s open to the sea and in the second shot, there is a lifeguard on duty. Pretty sure the only museum in the world with a lifeguard on staff! I sure woudn’t have minded that post during my lifeguarding days!
The dome is made up of eight distinct layers, four external and four internal. And, to me, resembles lace. It filters light and provides shading from the hot desert heat, thus reducing energy costs. His design and the dabbled light it creates was inspired by the date palms of the Al Ain Oasis, which we’ll get to later in this post. As a side note, we were the first group ever allowed to tour inside the dome, walking the path between the inner and outer layers. I have to say…pretty cool! We weren’t allowed to photograph there so you’ll just have to take my word for it 😉
I found it difficult to create abstract photos here. This is as close as I got.
A few of my fellow delegates exploring this incredible space. Meeting everyone that was a part of this trip was one of the best aspects of this week. Most of us were photographers but there were architects, writers and museum curators as well. Interesting to see and hear varied perspectives on these locations and get to know them personally. We had a great time together and I’m happy we’ve all continued to keep in touch so far. Hopefully we’ll all get to meet up in person again soon!
Some shots of us touring via Haitham.
And the whole group 🙂
After lunch we were off to Masdar City. The only carbon-neutral city in the world, and designed by Foster + Partners. The city relies on solar energy and other renewable energy sources. The energy conservation also comes into play through the building’s design and the layout of the space. The streets or walkways are narrow so they stay shaded most of the time. Also, all the buildings have something incorporated in their facade that provides shading to keep the interiors of the buildings cooler.
The area is not fully complete but it’s home to businesses, Siemens being the largest, a university, shops, residences. Full completion date is expected by 2030.
Onto the next mesmerizing location, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. I was truly awestruck here. Constructed between 1996 and 2007, it’s relatively new, which I was surprised by. It’s the country’s largest mosque and can hold up to 41,000 people. It also has the world’s largest chandelier, which has a spiral staircase in its interior so staff can clean it. The world’s largest handmade carpet is also here, which took 2 years to make and was shipped in sections then hand sewn on location!
Sheikh Zayed wanted this mosque to be universal and a place where Islam and other world cultures could come together. The design takes elements from many centers of Islam; Turkey, Morocco, Pakistan, and Egypt, among others.
We’ll start the photo tour with a look up at the dome at the entrance.
The many ways to frame various parts of the mosque.
Love all the domes and the soft afternoon light on them.
Beautiful at twilight as well.
The arches are great too 🙂
Afternoon or evening.
For a bit more context.
On our way to the interiors, I had to get a couple shots of the beautiful domes and chandeliers.
Now for that room with the world’s largest carpet and chandelier. Photos just don’t do this justice in showcasing its sheer size, but I’ll try with a shot of us in awe just after we entered the room.
Some details of the chandelier.
By the time we were back outside, it was pretty dark, so these aren’t shot at the ideal time but pretty, nevertheless.
Haitham with the group shot again 🙂
That wrapped up our second day in Abu Dhabi!
Our final day of touring started at the war memorial, Wahat Al Karama. In English, this translates to ‘Oasis of Dignity’. The memorial commemorates Emiratis who are killed in the line of duty. We passed the Memorial Plaza, which is an amphitheater with a shallow pool of water that reflects both the Memorial and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
The memorial is made up of 31 massive tablets leaning against one another. It’s meant to symbolize unity, solidarity and mutual support of the country, citizens and service members.
Beyond the memorial is the Pavilion of Honour, which has the names of the UAE’s heroes engraved on the panels.
Onto Al Ain for the rest of the day. A couple drive-by shots out of the bus on our way. These cute camels and the desert dunes, which I’d love to explore on the next visit!
Our first stop was the Al Ain Oasis, it’s mainly a date palm plantation but also has individual plots that are privately owned. It’s 3,000 acres and has over 147,000 date palms!
Next, Qasr Al Muwaiji, which was originally a fort and family home for the country’s ruling family. Today, it’s a museum.
Our final stop of the day was a bit of a last-minute add, but a great example of Modernist architecture, the United Arab Emirates University.
Whew! What a packed week of incredible experiences. I feel truly honored to have been a part of this delegation and owe a huge thanks to the UAE Embassy, Dana and Haitham, and Meridian International Center, Terry and Lindsay, for organizing all of this and bringing us all together. Loved getting to know each and every one my fellow delegates and loved sharing this once in a lifetime experience with them! And I owe Darren Bradley a huge thank you for recommending me for this trip. Be sure to go check out his blog for his take on the experience!
Thanks for sharing in this with me and as with the last post, this is just a small selection of images from the trip, check these links if you want to see more: Abu Dhabi, Masdar City, Al Ain.