Client, architect and contractor discuss Al Bahr Towers

Traditional architecture inspired the revolutionary designs in Abu Dhabi which ensure a total reduction in energy usage of 50%

The Al Bahr Towers in Abu Dhabi is the first large scale commercial project in the world to feature a dynamic, intelligent, façade that cools or insulates the building in direct response to the movement of the sun. It results in a 50% reducation in energy use.

The eastern sides of the 25-storey twin towers are shielded in the morning by the outer screen which responds westwards as the day progresses – an effect compared to 2,000 unbrellas opening and closing in response to the sun’s rays.

The design team said the responsive facade was influenced by the mashraybia, a lattice screen found in older Islamic architecture which kept out direct sunlight, as well as the look and texture of a palm tree trunk.

Designers Aedas said the approach avoided the use of dark tinted glass which restricts incoming light at all times, rather than just during periods of problematic direct sunlight. The idea of amoving facacde was first attempted at the Instuit du Monde Arabe in Paris, but the towers represent its first successful use on a commercial scale.

Abu Dhabi Investment Council established a competition to design the towers and its brief was for “an environmentally-friendly and sustainable solution to a large scale commercial project”. The council emphasised that the major challenge would be the harsh climate of the region.

The client has now taken possession of one of the towers for its headquarters which now houses around 1,000 employees.

The twin office towers stand at over 145m and have 29 floors. Each builidng is able to accommodate between up to 1,100 employees. A total ground floor area of over 32,000 square metres accommodate commercial office, facilities for a full-service restaurant, café, a fully configured auditorium and a multi-use conference space. The council said the buildings were intended to act as landmarks to the gateway of the city.

The design team from Aedas idetified the major issue was managing solar gain, which is why the responsive façade was developed.

The architects said they explored the traditional method of cooling buildings through screening and shading, before applying 21st century technology to provide a solution.

Michael Fowler, Aedas managing director, Middle East said: “We have received a lot of positive feedback about this project. It is rare to work so closely with a client who really pushes the idea of suatainability for a project. We are delighted that this project has become a landmark for Abu Dhabi. It feels great to contribute to that.

“Obviously the façade is the unique feature, but the important thing is that this project combines the very best of art and technology.”

He added the technology is vital for sustainability but the exterior with its palm-like design evokes the region.

Al-Futtaim Carillion said it constructed the 145m tall towers with maximum regard to sustainability, ensuring that some of the energy needed to power the facades come from photovoltaic panels on the building itself.

This results in a 50% reduction in energy consumption, according to the most recent figures. The technology was named among Time Magazine’s “inventions of the year”.

Stuart Mee is responsible for the implementation of Carillion’s environmental strategy which is focussed upon ensuring low carbon economies, protecting the environment, improving the prospects of people and driving demand for incresaed sustainability.

He said: “The issue of sustainability has been on the increase in the Middle East in recent years. As a company we are driving standards forward. and it is very important to keep ahead of the game.”

One tower houses the emirate’s Investment Council offices while the other is home to Al Hilal Bank.

The design was voted Commercial Project of the Year and Overall Project of the Year at the 2013 Middle East Architect Awards.

The judges emphasised the sustainable technology and called the project “a mesmerising engineering feat and a testimony to the dedication needed to build something truly unique”.

Bryan Hamilton, Aedas director, said: “The desire to find solutions that bring about a holistic approach to the cultural and environmental context of new buildings is at the core of Aedas’ thinking on how to balance an increasingly globalised way of life with a sense of regional and local identity.

“This project represents the perfect marriage between technology and design. Not only do the buildings look good, but they are entirely fit for purpose and sympathetic to their environment.”