Government Office, Abu Dhabi, UAE

Polish-born, Abu Dhabi-based designer Agata Kurzela  has completed an impressive refurbishment of a 1908 heritage building in Abu Dhabi’s historic Khor Al Maqta district.

In the last 20 or so years, the Emirate has transformed into a Middle Eastern hub for contemporary design and culture.

The reconfiguration of this government office into a 2,500 square-metre (26,910 sq.ft) multi-functional space continues this tradition by pushing toward contemporary design but without tarnishing the historical relevance of the building.

This is very much in keeping with the multiple award-winning Kurzela’s ethos of focusing on intelligent and creative use of space, and by highlighting the tactility of materials. She combines the latest technology and sensibilities with ancient methods and style.

In the government office project, Kurzela first peeled back several layers of old materials, partitions and dividers to uncover the original structure of the building. To create the decidedly new iteration, she used every part of the existing building and increased its functionality by adding mezzanines and functional platforms that connect via staircases, and by creating separate pods and enclosed rooms with curved walls, all free-standing within the larger spaces.

The various functions of the new configuration include private offices, flexible workspace areas, exhibition space, separate prayer rooms for women and men, plus stunningly cool bathrooms. Indeed, we love the futuristic bathrooms with their monolithic backsplashes sporting astonishing, locally made mirrors of translucent, opaque and reflective surfaces.

In all, Kurzela aimed to create a complex that is forward-looking yet rooted in Emirati heritage. She used traditional materials such as rough plaster and woven palm mats known as khoos safeefah, and then juxtaposed those with sleek patinated-steel walls and suspended steel chain curtains that form the men’s prayer room.

The desert-inspired sand-hued colour palette calms the space while also evoking the ancient history of the area. Kurzela used local creatives, craftspeople and artisans where-ever possible, further emphasizing the creativity and modernity of the thinking behind the renovation, but doing it in a tradition-respecting manner.

To leave the original ceiling intact, Kurzela had all of the air conditioning ducts inside free-standing columns that appear futuristic and ominous while doing the job perfectly.

Agata Kurzela studied architecture and master planning at the Technical University Gdansk in Poland. Since then, she worked on projects in Paris, London, Saudi Arabia and Oman as senior architect and designer with several well-known studios, including Zaha Hadid.

Now permanently in the Middle East, she launched her own studio in 2020 becoming the go-to architect and designer for prominent and forward-looking projects, including hotels, residential villas and offices. She has also been involved in a massive urban development project and designed the Royal Lounge at Formula One in Abu Dhabi.

The Khor Al Maqta district of Abu Dhabi is known for its great views of the Grand Canal (khor) and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, and for its luxury hotels, restaurants and the Souk Qaryat Al Beri shopping complex that part of the Shangri-la hotel compound. Tuija Seipell

Images by Sebastian Böttcher

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