Oliver Ephgrave visits Woods Bagot’s International Tower, a newly completed commercial building in Abu Dhabi’s Capital Centre.
With its rectilinear plan and absence of curves, twists and roof-top ornaments, International Tower seems like a rather ordinary commercial tower from a distance. Yet when the measured vertical rhythms on the facades come into view, it’s apparent that the building was carefully conceived and delivered.
Developed by Sino Gulf and designed by Woods Bagot, the building is the first office complex to be launched in ADNEC’s huge Capital Centre which adjoins the exhibition centre. The ‘international’ moniker was chosen for a very good reason, according to SinoGulf’s fund manager, David Cockerton.
Standing in the airy triple-height lobby, Cockerton remarks: “Most people that come here haven’t seen anything quite like this in Abu Dhabi. A lot of the global occupiers arrive and say ‘this is exactly what I see around the world’. That was precisely what we were aiming for in terms of the concept.
“What we wanted was a very sensible, regular, flexible Grade-A commercial building that global occupiers can recognise. It doesn’t have lots of architectural attributes like curves and little corners that you can’t use.”
He continues: “I’d call it a smart and sensible building. A global occupier can come in without any real issues. There aren’t lots of columns, so they can roll out the normal fit-out that they have all around the world. That’s pretty powerful.”
Woods Bagot principal Karim Benkirane, who was also present on the tour, adds: “I think the name International Tower has a fantastic synergy with the design brief. The way they procured the design team was in an international competition. They were trying to replicate an international brand and standard here.”
When it comes to the lobby space, Benkirane remarks: “We created a ceremonial entrance which needs to align with the businesses that are going to be here. The finishes needed to align with that design aspiration.”
According to Benkirane, the finishes include black glass, timber veneer, a ceiling which utilises the same language as the external fins, as well as stainless steel mullions and limestone flooring. “It’s fairly magnificent,” adds Cockerton.
Benkirane continues: “Taking on the international standards also meant that the building has to be commercially viable. Net to gross was incredibly important to the client. This was helped by placing the core on the eastern side of the building, which allows a continuous floor plate.
“Another benefit was that the side core eliminates the eastern aspect of the building, which is one of the harsher solar orientations, to help reduce energy consumption.
“The western aspect on the building has got the large vertical fins which tries to limit some of that solar gain. The sun is very low on the west so the vertical fins help to cut out the light. Horizontal fins would only work on southern facades.”
He points out that the fins have become the most recognisable aspect of the tower, with the distinctive ripple forming the logo for the marketing collateral. “It’s fantastic that the branding of the building has taken on that idea,” adds Benkirane.
“From a different aspect they look like they are changing. They’re inspired by the shifting sands as the wind blows through the desert. They were originally glass but they became more solid which is a little stronger and more powerful.
“They are powder-coated aluminium, same as the mullions. At the deepest point the fins are 1.2m. The edge of the curtain wall takes on the same profile of the fins. Also, there are lights in between the fins, so the facade looks spectacular at night.”
Yet the external artistry is not confined to one facade. The north side features a curtain wall which “cracks” to create a canopy. “It protects the entrance but it’s giving you a clear identifier as to where the entrance is,” adds Benkirane.
He continues: “The rhythms on the north facade are similar to the fins. It’s trying to replicate what’s going on in the western facade but not in such a strong way, because it doesn’t have direct sunlight. It’s also there to break up the expansive facade but also give it some verticality.”
Cockerton expects between 3,000 and 4,000 people to be working in the building when it is fully occupied. He adds that there is a 500m2 area allocated for F&B or retail operators. “In spite of the F&B areas in ADNEC, I think it’s important we have it here within the building.
It needs breakout space for meeting visitors and guests without necessarily taking them into the office space. It also helps to put the building on the map by getting the right operator in there.”
Another unusual quality of the building is the lift strategy, according to Benkirane. “One thing that is unique to the region in a building of this size is that there is a low rise and high rise lifting strategy with destination lifts. This limits the waiting times, which takes you back to international standards such as British Council for Offices (BCO).”
The building contains 12 lifts in two banks of six, with one half serving levels three to 15 and the other servicing 16 to 26. The high rise lifts travel at a rate of six metres per second. Benkirane describes the clean-lined lift lobby areas as “inoffensive” as they need to appeal to a wide global audience.
Walking into an open plan shell and core space, one of the immediate qualities is the amount of natural light. “There is no artificial light, there is no glare and the depth of light is fantastic. It’s a very comfortable environment,” remarks Cockerton.
Benkirane adds: “The depth of the floor plate has been correctly engineered in terms of optimum daylighting for the building. It’s not too deep and not too shallow to get too much light or have dark areas. The approach is unique in this region – it’s not about shape or texture, it’s about intelligence in commercial office building.”
The next noticeable factor is the impressive view over Abu Dhabi and the gracious space between developments in Capital Centre. “You notice from the view that the towers are not squashed up close like in other places.
People expect the towers to be close together but there is a lot of space,” remarks Cockerton.
“This is the first complete building in the masterplan. We now have the Premier Inn next door that has been handed over. The overall masterplan has 23 towers in total and a number of hotels.”
Commenting on the dimensions of the space, Cockerton adds: “When you add in a raised access floor and suspended ceiling, the floor to ceiling height is 2.7m. This is an international standard and not available in all buildings in Abu Dhabi.”
At the time of the visit, 242 workers were on site, primarily to complete a fully-fitted show floor on level 18 in time for Cityscape Abu Dhabi. Benkirane points out that the upper floors (16-26) have an extra 50m2 due to the absence of the low-rise lift shaft.
The fourth floor was also a hive of activity with fit-outs on partitioned offices. Cockerton adds that this floor contains the prayer rooms as well as wide corridors that are “perhaps a little too generous”.
He continues: “The upper levels are primarily built for global occupiers who require spaces up to 1,750m2. Other floors, such as this one, are sub-divided between tenants with units as small as 100m2.
We also have a choice between shell and core and fully-fitted. We’re the only office building in Abu Dhabi with this amount of choice.”
Another key considerable for many global occupiers is sustainability, and Cockerton states that the building ticks all the green boxes.
“Our LEED certification for Shell and Core is in the final stage. They have confirmed we are in the Silver category and it should be Gold. This is important to us. I think LEED Gold sends out a very powerful message. LEED Platinum is a little too far.”
He adds: “Global occupiers are perhaps not focusing on it as much as pre-2008, but it is starting to come back. It’s still a check list item and it gives organisations with CSR procedures a lot of comfort. It’s not just a case of ticking the boxes – it also results in reduced running costs.”
Green measures include a grey water recovery system, low-flow nozzles on all taps, the provision of bike racks plus showers on each level, tinted windows to reduce solar gain and the procurement of locally-sourced and natural materials.
For Cockerton, the green credentials are yet another example of how the tower lives up to its name.
“It is built to international standards, with global expertise in what occupiers want.
“We are bringing something that we know works internationally and translating it into the local market. The crucial thing is we have made it locally relevant.”