Opposite Abu Dhabi’s historic Qasr Al Hosn Fort sits the Cultural Foundation, a listed, fair-faced, concrete cultural centre of Bauhaus origins, completed in 1981. While the nearby fort represents the historic memory and origins of the city, the Cultural Foundation is the cultural heart of Abu Dhabi as the region’s first institution dedicated to the arts and literature. Thus, the building holds a prominent position as an architectural landmark representing the city’s modern heritage.
From the outset, this cultural insitution was to breathe new life into the nation’s artistic gifts, spurring intellectual growth. Radiating outwards from Abu Dhabi to the whole country and to the rest of the world, this cultural renaissance would help usher in an era of modernity. To this end, an international competition was launched in 1973 to find an architectural design to match Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan’s desire for a haven from which art and cultural initiatives would begin to flourish – a national landmark that, while staying true to Arab-Islamic style, would exude the aspirations for modernity and progress.
The winning design came from The Architects’ Collaborative (TAC), originally founded by Walter Gropius (the world famous architect of Bauhaus fame). The design proposed a three-winged building around a central courtyard. The original detailed designs for the building project were submitted by an international team, and were further perfected by a young Iraqi architect, Hisham Al Ashkouri, who was invited by Louis McMillen, one of TAC’s principals, to lead the project. A product of Baghdad University, Al Ashkouri had been taught by a number of leading architects including Mohamed Makiya, Hisham Munir – and had been influenced by legendary architects such as Louis Kahn, Marcel Breuer, Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius. Al Ashkouri was instrumental in the successful completion of the design by 1975.
At the time of its opening in 1981, the Cultural Foundation provided the first National Library, along with a performance auditorium and an exhibition centre. The formal establishment of the Cultural Foundation saw the launch of a series of ground-breaking programmes celebrating local and regional culture, showcasing a variety of art forms and encouraging cross-cultural exchanges on many new fronts.
From that time on, the Cultural Foundation has gained regional and international acclaim as a world-acclaimed venue for culture and the arts. The building itself has gained prominence as a modern heritage landmark, registered as one of Abu Dhabi’s cherished cultural heritage resources.
From its inception to the time of its renovation and beyond, the Cultural Foundation has remained true to the original aspirations of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, fulfilling one of his ambitious and far-reaching visions for the United Arab Emirates and its people – bestowing the timeless, inestimable endowment of cultural heritage and art.
The comprehensive refurbishment is a pioneering project for the conservation of the Emirate’s modernist architectural heritage from the 1970s and 1980s, ensuring a tangible connection to the origins of the relatively young metropolis while celebrating modernisation and urbanisation within a city in rapid growth.