Abu Dhabi’s Central Market is one of the oldest sites in the city. Inspired by the traditional architecture of the Gulf this scheme aims to reinvent the market place, giving the city a new civic heart. By offering an alternative to the globalised one-size-fits-all shopping mall it offers a distinctive modern interpretation of the regional vernacular. As a shopping experience it combines luxury goods boutiques with food markets and craft-based trades. Like the traditional souk, these different experiences are brought together in an interior architecture of dappled sunlight, bright colours and fountains, with a changing rhythm of squares, courtyards and alley ways.

For up to six months of the year the climate here is very pleasant – comfortable enough to stroll and sit outside. That has inspired a sequence of public routes and squares in which the barriers between inside and outside are dissolved. Open at night as well as during the day, these new spaces provide an important central venue in the city during festivals and celebrations and are cooled naturally when conditions allow. For the remainder of the year, the spaces can be enclosed by roof panels that slide into place to enable the internal environment to be controlled more closely. The perforations in the roof and interior panels – a pattern developed with a scholar of Islamic arts – continue outside, wrapping the podium building in a textured facade. The design of the panels is based on octagonal forms, which reference both traditional zellij tilework and more recent research into mathematical geometry. Continuing the greenery of Abu Dhabi, the site is generously landscaped, the roofs of the podium buildings forming a series of terraced gardens.

Rising above this dense, close-grained ‘mat’ are two towers, of different heights and massing, containing offices, apartments and a combination of a hotel and serviced apartments. Their façades are smooth, reflective surfaces that need little maintenance in this dusty desert environment, with layers of internal shading that control glare and solar gain.

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