Aldar Headquarters (Office Headquarters) by Marwan Zgheib
2012 - 2013, Platinum A' Architecture, Building and Urban Design Award Winner
When challenged to create an iconic structure on Al Raha beach, MZ Architects decided to create a simple building that would possess the calm, ideal beauty of classical architecture while also having considerable expressive power, a building that would compete with the iconic architecture of the UAE and create a sense of place and identity for the area. Inspired by the clam shell which has deep meaning for Abu Dhabi with its seafaring heritage, as well as the symbolism of the geometric round shape, the architects imagined two giant circular curved walls of glass mirroring an open clam shell. An extremely pure geometrical but daring design was born: a round skyscraper with a curved glass skin.
The Aldar Headquarters designed by MZ Architects has a distinctive and innovative design: a semispherical building comprising two circular convex shaped facades linked by a narrow band of indented glazing. This iconic fully glazed structure is completely circular in elevation and curved in all other directions. The circular skyscraper flaunts its form across the open waters and land, like a pearl resting on the sand shores. The architecture is understood from a distance and is equally impressive from both close range and afar. Its timeless geometry, symbol of perfection and infinity, holds a rich presence and brings with it new challenges of stability and structure. Developing the concept, the ideas of simplicity, purity and learning from nature, were coupled with the reliance on one of the oldest rules of architecture: that of proportion. In fact to help MZ Architects bring their concept to life, the issue of stability proved to be a crucial one for the circular building. The architects took the challenge and elevated it by looking back at the idea of the cosmic body of the man in the circle and by inscribing the pentagram into the circular façade, they were able to locate the two points of stability; the two points where the building will meet the earth. The complexities of simplicity indeed proved to be many, and the design of the HQ could only be a holistic one, merging architecture and structure. It became an object of both fields, showcasing the expansion and blurring of their respective limits in order to form a combined product. Like many of nature’s creations, the building comes together by allowing each one of its elements to play a crucial role in its being and construction. Unlike the conventional four sided buildings, the project challenges the approach to construction by questioning the typical roof structure. This three faceted building relies on its zipper-like element, a continuous glass and structural band that stitches the two main facets together, creating a slim continuous surface that is both vertical and horizontal, side and face, window and roof.
Design Challenges
To bring the massive circular concept to life, the issues of visual stability, harmony and dynamism proved to be crucial. The real challenge of the façade was to find the two points where the building should pose on the ground – and for that, the development of the volume began by using one of the oldest rules in architecture: the rule of proportion based on the Golden Section. The golden section is not merely an aesthetic proportion important to artists, but an omnipresent cosmic principle that induces structural differentiation. Indeed, this ratio appears in the works of nature (such as the human body, the bodies of animals, plants and crystals) and is naturally preferred by the human mind and eye. The proportions of the Greek temple reflect the pleasing aesthetic ratio of the golden section. When applying the golden section ratio to the circular façade of the building, the circle was divided into a pentagram, on which the Human Body is juxtaposed with head and four limbs at the five points of the pentagram. Accordingly, the architects were able to locate the two points of stability of the circular facade; the two points of the circle where the building will meet the earth thus creating the perfect balance. These guidelines created the initial massing and dynamic shape of the building.
Production Technology
Just like a seashell, HQ’s morphology merged the idea of shape, sculpture and pattern into one unified and expressive whole. The curved glass skin became one of its most complex components to be executed in record time. The HQ structure having a 25m cantilevered design in every longitudinal direction, concrete couldn’t be considered as construction material. A concrete structure would have required unwanted internal supports and entailed time-consuming and costly on-site construction work. Therefore, the team developed a complex external diamond-shaped steel structure, called a diagrid, which achieved the striking shape of the building. The first of its kind in the UAE, the diagrid allowed the creation of structural efficiency and stability appropriate to the circular building. The system not only helped minimize the impact of the steel frame on the façade but also served as an architectural element that blurred all sense of scale and inflated the structure, moving away from the typical horizontal stratification of the facades. This diagrid system eliminates the need for internal columns to support the building which would compromise the aesthetic appeal as well as the views from within. This improved the building's efficiency, providing layout flexibility for tenants. The main facades were defined using a toroidal geometry cut by a cylinder to create the perfect circle in elevation. By using this form, each horizontal section through the façade is described by a circle of varying radii at different heights all with their centres along the same vertical axis.
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