Crown Jewel

Devina Divecha visits Sowwah Square, the heart of Abu Dhabi’s new commercial business district, designed by Goettsch Partners for Mubadala.

A dusty morning does nothing to dampen the commanding nature of Sowwah Square, the quadruple-tower centrepiece of Abu Dhabi’s new commercial business district and headquarters for the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange.

Steven Nilles, partner, and Matthew Berglund, associate, of project architect Goettsch Partners sit in the ethereal atrium of Tower One, with Nilles sipping on a hot coffee as he dives into the particulars of the scheme in the UAE capital.

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With headquarters in Chicago, a branch office in Shanghai and now another in Sowwah Square, Goettsch Partners won the project in an international design competition in 2007, for client Mubadala Real Estate and Infrastructure (MREI).

“There was a requirement to deliver an iconic stock exchange building but also to surround that with very efficient and Class A international standard office buildings,” says Nilles. The scheme contains over 290,000m2 of office space and also incorporates two levels of retail and two parking structures to the north and south of the square.

He comments on how the firm kept in mind the stock exchange, in terms of its programmatic requirement needed to be a four-storey building.

“We decided to really create something very special at the plaza level,” adds Nilles. To do this, Nilles and his team looked at opportunities for core supportive buildings, a concept which has been emphasised in architecture over the last many years.

He explains: “Everybody seems to be fascinated and focused on the tower at the top; we are also fascinated and focused on the base of the building. It’s the spaces in between the spaces that I think are very special on this project.”

Abdulla Al Shamsi, vice president, Mubadala Real Estate and Infrastructure (MREI), explains the background to the project. “The vision for Sowwah Square, and the greater Al Maryah Island, was to create a model urban district designed with functionality, sustainability and quality as its guiding principles, and project a powerful image of Abu Dhabi as a premier contemporary Arab city,” he remarked.

“Architecturally we wanted to create a mixed-use destination that was inviting, easily accessible, and encouraged the flow of integration between the commercial, financial, retail and leisure facilities. The latest master plan is paired with architectural design controls, which are intended to ensure the quality of design and construction for all of the islands buildings.

“These controls are establishing an architectural identity that is based on performance-driven criteria. For instance, the screens and shading devices – mandated as part of a building’s adherence to Estidama principles – profoundly shape the look and feel of the project. Goettsch Partners worked within these parameters to bring the vision to life through innovative design and  seamless architectural applications.”

A landscaped plaza connects the four buildings, ranging from 31-37 storeys in height, and the exchange. Glass-enclosed, with a roof the size of a football field, the stock exchange building rises 27m above a water feature on four massive granite piers. The piers house the stairs, mechanical risers and service elements.

All the columns have been transferred to open up the entrances and the lobby, and also to elevate the exchange building on four legs. Nilles reflects that in projects Goettsch Partners designed recently, all focused in different ways on creating an urban environment, with no transition between the interior and exterior space.

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