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Site visit: Al Manara, Dubai

by Oliver Ephgrave on Feb 25, 2012

Oliver Ephgrave visits Al Manara in Dubai, the first copper-clad installation in the UAE

Even if you pass the building every day, you might not have noticed it. Located opposite Times Square mall on Sheikh Zayed Road, TNQ’s Al Manara complex is not your typical Dubai commercial development. Modest in scale, with only two main floors, the building is set back from the highway and devoid of showy pyrotechnics to deliberately grab the eye.

However, its charms are revealed up close. While the overall shape is simple, blocky and functional, the façade is decidedly artistic. Horizontal strips of copper mesh hover in front of green-tinted glass, with diagonal beams adding an offbeat rhythm.

Standing outside his creation, architect Tarek N. Qaddumi, principal at TNQ, reveals it is the first copper-cladding installation in the UAE.

“The outer skin started as louvres — shade that you can see through. We wanted to do something different, but back it up to convince the client. When we were researching materials, we looked at engineered wood, but Dubai has this unusual combination of salinity and humidity.

“Then copper came up. It is such a beautiful material. It is metallic, but in 20 years it will turn green. We did not treat it to stop the copper from colouring — we wanted it to change with time. This will give it a lovely vintage feel,” remarked Qaddumi.

The ground level is occupied by boutique deli-restaurant, Jones the Grocer, while the first floor is the regional headquarters for construction company Brookfield Multiplex.

Qaddumi explains the background to the project: “Brookfield Multiplex approached land-owner Emivest in the light of the recession. There were no plans for the site, so Brookfield Multiplex offered to find a tenant for the ground floor and occupy the first floor, as well as construct the building. It was a no brainer, so both signed up. We were recommended to Brookfield Multiplex by another client.”

Qaddumi continues: “The building is ‘no frills’, but it is the right context in a time of recession. It is not about acrobatics. You could say it is a box, but it is nice and transparent, with high-performance glass. The copper shading is only on the south and east sides.

We did not wrap the whole building, because the north side does not get direct sunlight. It is site-specific. We were able to push the first floor towards the street. This allows the architecture to have depth, so it is not a flat building. Thanks to the shading and high-performance glass, electrical consumption is low, and the building is very efficient.”

Qaddumi notes the proximity to the busy Sheikh Zayed Road was initially perceived as a hindrance, but later embraced.

“We paid particular attention to the proportions of the space and the connection with the surroundings. Initially we were worried that it was close to the highway, but that is part of Dubai. It is as close to a Paris feel as you can get — you can see the cars and the buses, and you have close contact with the street.”