Rendering of Al Hosn site, Abu Dhabi. Courtesy of Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi.
Rendering of Al Hosn site, Abu Dhabi. Courtesy of Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi.

Al Hosn cultural site in Abu Dhabi to reopen in December following decades of renovations

The historic Al Hosn site in Abu Dhabi will be reopened on 7 December 2018, following extensive renovations, and an aim to re-establish itself as the cultural heart of the UAE's capital city. 

The announcement was made by the Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi, that conerves and promotes the heritage and culture of Abu Dhabi. 

Aerial view of Qasr Al Hosn in the 1960s.  BP plc, Courtesy of National Archives.

As the city's "original urban block", the Al Hosn site will comprise four interrlated components including the historic Qasr Al Hosn Fort, the Cultural Foundation, the National Consultative Council Building, amd the House of Artisans. 

Qasr Al Hosn North Façade, 1960s. Prof. John Wilkinson. Courtesy of Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi.

Multidisciplinary architecture office CEBRA had been commissioned to create a masterplan that redevelops the site into a cultural  hub. 

The Qasr Al Hosn Fort is the oldest and most significant heritage site in Abu Dhabi, encompassing two buildings: the inner fort and the outer palace. 

Rendering of Al Hosn site, Abu Dhabi. Courtesy of Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi. 

The name 'Hosn' refers to the inner fort, built around 1795 and incorporating the city’s first permanent structure; a coral and sea stone watchtower built to protect the settlement established on the island in the 1760s, while 'Qasr' refers to the outer palace built around the inner fort by Sheikh Shakhbut bin Sultan Al Nahyan in the 1940s, housing the ruling family.

In 2014, the Qasr Al Hosn Fort was under threat from its previous restoration completed over 30 years ago which included a white façade made from cement and gypsum that trapped moisture and began corroding the original coral walls of the structure.

Over time, with the rule of Sheikh Shakhbut bin Sultan Al Nahyan, and the economical shift from pearling to oil, Qasr Al Hosn gradually changed both in structure and function, transforming from the seat of political power, home of the ruling family, the consultative council, as well as the national archives, to the cultural heart of the city.

Public programming in the Qasr Al Hosn Fort area will include archaeological and architectural tours, as well as a number of other activities. 

Al Hosn site's masterplan by CEBRA is divided diagonally into two parts, with each hosting a distinctive identity that marks its traditional heritage, but also celebrates the city’s modernisation and urban development.

One side of the development focuses on the “modern heritage area” around the Cultural Foundation buiding, featuring “a more man-made, geometrical expression of hard surfaces for a series of activities”.

The other side of the development focuses on the traditional heritage of the site surrounding the fort with an aim to re-establish the original setting of “a solitary building on a sand plane”.

The site also includes the reopening of the Cultural Foundation building following an extensive refurbishment, including the "introduction of the first Children's Library of its kind", a open air gallery for visual arts, indoor and outdoor exhibition spaces, a 900-seat theatre and outdoor amphitheatre, learing and workshop facilities, as well as F&B areas.

The late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan attending the first session of the NCC. Courtesy of Al Ittihad Newspaper. 

Founded by the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan in 1981, the Cultural Foundation was the region’s first dedicated multipurpose non-profit cultural centre, conceived as a public institution with a mandate to foster all forms of intellectual and creative activity.

The Cultural Foundation will re-open in phases. 7 December will see the opening of the  Visual Arts Centre, which will feature exhibition halls and art studios. The two remaining components – a theatre and the Children’s Library – will open in 2019.

The final building to reopen is the House of Artisans, which will serve as a focal point for the promotion and preservation of UAE's heritage and crafts such as the Al Sadu weaving technique which is now on UNESCO's list of Cultural Elements for Urgent Safeguarding, as well as other traditional crafts such as palm braiding and embroidery. 

"With the Al Hosn site, we look to foster a sense of community and make a home for Emirati culture. It is a place to both reflect on our past and embrace the present, as we look to shape Abu Dhabi’s future," said HE Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, chairman, DCT Abu Dhabi. 

"We wish to create once again a true home for creativity and learning, dialogue and debate, a space which celebrates not just our past but our contemporary Emirati culture as well.  Al Hosn will stand as a proud representation of the identity of Abu Dhabi with an innovative offering of cultural and inspirational experiences," added HE Saif Saeed Ghobash, undersecretary, DCT Abu Dhabi.