Located at Qasr Al Hosn - the founding block of the city of Abu Dhabi - stands the Cultural Foundation which has housed the UAE’s first dedicated Cultural Centre and served as a National Library, a performance auditorium and exhibition centre.
Designed in the 1970s by Walter Gropius’ firm The Architects Collaborative, the Cultural Foundation was built to address Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan al Nahyan’s desire to foster and nurture cultural consciousness for all citizens of the new nation of the UAE. This building represented a fundamentally new outlook on the role of culture and the need for such an institution was groundbreaking for the UAE.
The building’s political and symbolic significance lies in the modern philosophy that governed the institution within to showcase and facilitate access to heritage and art by celebrating local culture and highlighting its influence and exchanges internationally, beyond the face value of reconstructed heritage symbols. The Cultural Foundation was recognised regionally and internationally as an important cultural hub for the region. The Cultural Foundation is one of the most successful examples in Abu Dhabi of the clever and thoughtful combination of Modern and Islamic architecture both in terms of fundamental design principles and aesthetic details. The introverted character of the building incorporates elements of local architecture directly and pays homage to the architecture of Qasr Al Hosn through the use of the pure and exposed exterior concrete, the low scale, the longitudinal lines, and the architectural details.
The clever integration of the three programmatic elements: the Learning (library), the Performing Arts (Auditorium) and the Visual Arts (Exhibition Hall and meeting rooms) into a public open space for people (the Exhibition Space) emphasises how the design embodies Modern and Islamic architectural concepts to focus on function and geometry rather than symmetry of design.
This is highlighted through the internal grid layout of the building, the linkages between geometric patterns, and the repetition of elements which all emphasise the Modern concept of ‘universal space’ whereby shapes and spaces evolve organically and fluidly into each other through the porous connectivity of light and shade, open transitions, visibility, and accessibility. The architecture of the building contributed to social and cultural significance of the building as a haven for inspiration, a garden to cultivate intellectual growth, and an inviting space for artistic expression and cross-cultural exchange, accessible to all ages, genders and race. Over time, the building became a spatial and emotional anchor for the city of Abu Dhabi.
While Qasr Al Hosn no longer functioned as the seat of power, it formed the memory of the city with the archives it held. The Cultural Foundation functioned as the cultural heart of the capital. Together, with Qasr Al Hosn Fort, the National Consultative Council Chambers, the Grand Mosque, the former Central Post Office, and the main artery of Abu Dhabi of Airport Road, the building has become a vital component of the Capital City’s Central Business District and the cityscape.
Because of its historical, social, architectural, symbolic and urban significance, the Cultural Foundation inscribes itself as one of the major achievements of the emerging nation of the UAE, as an important component of Abu Dhabi’s living memory, and as a fundamental stepping stone for the ongoing efforts for Abu Dhabi’s cultural growth.