Armed Forces Officers’ Club and
Roger Taillibert (Paris, 1997)
HH Shaykh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan identified
the need for such a complex in order to provide
comfortable, and what became outstanding, facilities for
members of the armed forces. Subsequently, a competition
was held under the auspices of HH Crown Prince of Abu
Dhabi Shaykh Khalifah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan (Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces), and supervised by HH Lieutenant Colonel Staff Pilot Shaykh Mu˙ammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
Roger Taillibert’s project was selected and the design process was completed during the course of 1985–6. Construction of the main Club building commenced in 1987. Ten years later the Club and accommodation buildings complex were complete.
A project summary was submitted to the Aga Khan Award for Islamic Architecture 1995 cycle.
Covering 75 hectares of reclaimed land, the site occupies the south-east corner of Abu Dhabi Island.
It is located 12 kilometres from the city centre and 15 kilometres from Abu Dhabi’s international airport. The Arabian Gulf creates favourable south and south-east borders for the site, while to the north the main causeway links to al Mußaffa˙ Bridge, running east of the island joining the main route south towards al ‘Ayn
Apart from being an appropriately secluded location that belonged to the Ministry of Defence, the choice of site was also determined by its proximity to the army’s general headquarters.
Seldom does a site for a project prove so perfectly abstract and flat, unhindered visually or physically by
any urban development. Bordered on the north and west by the quiet vastness of the desert, it also has
the shore of the Gulf winding round its southern and eastern perimeters.
Despite the impressively high-tech appearance of the structure, the master plan and design scheme entertained the form, and function, encountered in the architectural environment of the Arab desert and towns.
This attempt remains within the confines of modern architectural expression, and unfortunately the sophisticated concepts or nuances inherent within the historic urban or temporary settlements have not been addressed.
The relationship between the exterior and interior and the quality of movement within the enclosure of the
building’s spaces has been compared by the architects to the movement of the Bedouin crossing the sands to the oasis. It became one of the guiding design concepts that the master plan and floor layout should resemble a tent in structure.
The architect highlights the ‘poetics’ inherent in Islam, the Arabs and the desert.29 The dramatic landscape
and cultural history have tempted every orientalist to flirt with the power and fascination of the terrain, nature
and people of Arabia. But here it is strong light that is celebrated instead; the same light that Arabs have
intentionally obscured and skilfully diffused in the planning of city streets and interiors of buildings. The
ideas of landscape and architecture are organically merged where they have traditionally been separated,
and the walls provide an enclosure to a refined constructed exterior, in contrast to the Islamic concept of
architecture which separates the space of the designed interior from the exterior. Despite the romantic
orientalist rhetoric, the use of geodesic and lightweight structures is part of a lineage of modernist Western
tensile-structure design, as advocated by Buckminster Fuller and Frei Otto, Skidmore, Owen and Merrill
(SOM) and more recently the works of Hopkins, Piano and FTL.
Considering the circumstances, it is beyond dispute that the site is a dream to any architect. Ultimately, however, the challenge was in designing and constructing a state-of-the-art building that lay upon the sands as opposed to producing a structure that could challenge the sands.
The main Club building is roofed with three widespan, prestressed-concrete shells, resting on an external
abutment, covering a total area of 23,500 square metres, without any intermediate support. Each of the two
triangular lateral shells covers an area of 9,000 square metres, with a span of 150 metres. The thickness of the shell membrane is between 20 and 35 centimetres, increasing to a metre at the abutments. The weight of
the shells is approximately 9,000 tonnes.
The central shell, which covers an area of 5,500 square metres, has a trapezoidal shape.
The technical challenge faced by the architects was to create, in their own words, a ‘modern tent’ of some
25,000 square metres – without any visible support – thus creating a contemporary monument.
The extensive project suggested an all-encompassing, trifold-vault design. Inspired by the concept of the tent as a lightweight structure of the desert, the architect intended the design to form a link between centuries of
traditional life in the vast desert of the Arabian peninsula and the expectations of modern urban society. The
experience of wide-span structural techniques (similar to those used by the architect in designing the Olympic
Three shells make up the roof, two triangular and one elliptical, with a total span of 265 metres. The structure is made of steel, concrete and glass. A double causeway, separated by flower beds and
fountains on either side of it, leads to the main Club house building which comprises one axial and two lateral
wide-span, prestressed-concrete shells.
The accommodation under the shells is organized on five levels: the basement contains technical and service spaces which include sub-stations, air treatment plant rooms and kitchens; level one, the ground floor,
provides sports facilities and gardens; level two, the first floor, is for administration and management, business and cultural activities, and includes a restaurant and leisure facilities; level three is for VIPs; and on level four is the circulation gallery.
wrapping around the garden space of the inner plaza.
It is connected by an inner walkway on each of its four levels. The two passages follow the garden space of the inner plaza, thus avoiding the necessity for anyone to go outside in the heat, while ensuring the privacy of the two wings.
Separate entrances link the main club building and facilities through vaulted galleries, like pedestrian streets, to the two curvilinear buildings each accommodating 350 units of varying types