Art Attack

Nadim Khattar from Austin Smith:Lord talks to Devina Divecha about arts and culture projects in Abu Dhabi

Sitting at his desk, adorned with a few files packed with information, Nadim Khattar looks up with an air of confidence and, without prompting, starts talking.

“We’re involved with the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council, and we’re working on creative industries and venues for arts and culture,” he says.

As well as being the design director of Middle East projects for Austin-Smith:Lord in London, Khattar is also heading up the Abu Dhabi office of the 62-year-old architectural firm.

A new International Arts & Culture sector led by Khattar has been created in Abu Dhabi to cover galleries, museums, libraries, theatres and buildings for cultural businesses.

The firm is now working with the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH) to restore the Qasr Al Hosn fort in the Cultural Quarter of Abu Dhabi and create an arts and culture centre for the public.

“In the 1990s and 2000s, most of our completed projects were in northwest UK. What I bring to this project in Abu Dhabi is the translation of that experience to the Middle East context,” says Khattar.

He says that, over the course of four years, the 16-person Abu Dhabi team and 60-person London team has amassed a compendium of all the intricate details about the Qasr Al Hosn fort in Abu Dhabi, and essentially treated the project like a forensic study.

“The negative effect that oil urbanisation had on the heritage of the UAE is a really weighty conservation topic that we have to deal with, because it brings up the issue of the vernacular. Quite a lot of heritage of the UAE was thoroughly changed in the 1980s in a hurry,” adds Khattar.

Khattar pauses and, with a sense of determination, adds: “What’s important is that we have to reinstate Qasr Al Hosn. Not refurbish, but reinstate it to the importance that it has seen in the city and that’s no mean task.”

Most of the project is confidential, but Khattar says a cultural facility is being developed in the grounds of the old cultural quarter. He advocates the importance of thorough and rigorous research in completing this project, scheduled for late 2014/early 2015.

Khattar gestures to indicate the models surrounding him in the airy office and passionately stresses the importance of model-making.

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