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The Top Ten 21st Century Buildings in the Arab World

posted on: Jun 27, 2020

The Top Ten 21st Century Buildings in the Arab World
The Bahrain World Trade Center is an architectural marvel of the Arab World

By: Noah Robertson/Arab America Contributing Writer

Year after year, architects design more modern and mind-blowing buildings in the Arab World. Among them are modern museums, research centers, hotels, restaurants, offices, apartments, and even water towers. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), there are many complex and unique modern buildings. This list aims to cover multiple Arab countries’ architectural feats.

1. World Trade Center, Manama, Bahrain | Architect: Atkins

The Top Ten 21st Century Buildings in the Arab World
The World Trade Center at sunset (photo by Ivan Pendjakov)

The World Trade Center in Bahrain is an awe-inspiring project that began in 2006 and was completed in 2008. It consists of two 50 story sail-shaped towers inspired by Arabian wind towers. Between the two towers are three wind turbines 29 meters in diameter; these turbines provide 11 to 15 percent of the building’s electrical needs. The entire building is designed to be environmentally friendly by reducing solar gain and air temperature, reducing cooling costs, and other eco-friendly features. A three-story podium contains a mall, restaurants, hotel space, parking, and a spa that supports the towers. This modern building set a benchmark for environmental technology development and is beautiful to look at.

2. Burj Khalifa, Abu Dhabi, UAE | Architect: Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill

The Top Ten 21st Century Buildings in the Arab World
The Burj Khalifa and its stunning fountains (image from Guinness World Records)

The Burj Khalifa is one of the most well-known buildings in the world because not only is it the tallest building in the world, but it is the tallest free-standing structure as well. Construction began in 2004 and finished in 2010 at a height of 828 meters and 162 stories. The structure has a central core to support its massive height and multiple expansions of floors as it rises. When viewing from below or above, the building looks like a typical Islamic onion dome. Within the building are a hotel (floors 1-8, 38, and 39), residences (9-16), ultra-luxury residences (45-108), and corporate suites for the remaining floors. There are also many balconies and outdoor viewing points, and beautiful fountains and green spaces that surround it. While many might rank this as the #1 modern building in the Arab World, I believe the World Trade Center has a more unique design.

3. Kingdom Centre (Center Point), Riyadh, Saudi Arabia | Architect: Ellerbe Becket

The Top Ten 21st Century Buildings in the Arab World
Kingdom Centre with the arch lit up at night

The Kingdom Centre is a beautiful skyscraper in Riyadh with a tall base structure and a downward pointing triangular hole at the top, which is why the building has been called “the necklace of the city.” This opening is often illuminated at night, and the view from the sky bridge crossing the opening is breathtaking. Completed in 2002, this building sits at 300 meters tall and houses offices, a 5-star hotel, luxury residences, restaurants, and a mall. It is an impressive sight mainly held together by concrete and steel, but has a beautiful glass exterior that shimmers during the day and reflects the city lights at night.

4. Capital Gate Building, Abu Dhabi, UAE | Architect: RMJM Dubai

The Top Ten 21st Century Buildings in the Arab World
The Capital Gate has an impressive lean of 14 degrees

The Capital Gate Building is not only gorgeous, but also an impressive architectural achievement. At 160 meters tall with 35 stories, it also leans 18 degrees to the west, which is 4 times the angle of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. To support this lean, the building has a central core slanting in the opposite direction and straightening as it grows. It also widens as spirals up and outward. There are 490 piles, each drilled 100 feet underground, to ensure it does not fall as people visit the stunning interior of the building. Set along the water, it is an impressive and beautiful sight.

5. King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Centre, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia | Architect: Zaha Hadid

The Top Ten 21st Century Buildings in the Arab World
The research center lit up at night makes it look like a futuristic spaceship

This research center, studying the future transition to more sustainable power in one of the world’s top oil-rich countries, has a fascinating and sustainable design. The honeycomb form of this building is not only meant to help keep it cool, but also allows for future expansion of the facilities. There are also massive solar panels to help power the building, and potable water which is captured and reused. From a bird’s-eye view, the center resembles a futuristic spaceship in the middle of the desert. Within the protective outer shell, there are courtyards cooled by wind capturing tunnels, and an abundance of natural light.

6. The National Museum of Qatar, Doha, Qatar | Architect: Jean Nouvel

The Top Ten 21st Century Buildings in the Arab World
The unique design of the National Museum makes it stand out

The National Museum of Qatar is a fascinating structure made up of 539 patterned discs colliding at interesting angles. According to the architect, it was designed from the image of “a desert rose that forms when sand adheres to the crystals created by the slow evaporation of salt basins.” Not only is the outside fascinating, but because the inside walls are curved, there is no art actually on the walls. Instead, it is all projected. With the design idea beginning in 2003 and completion in 2019 this project is one of Qatar’s most recent mega-projects and is an interesting and unique design along the water.

7. The Louvre, Abu Dhabi, UAE | Architect: Jean Nouvel

The Top Ten 21st Century Buildings in the Arab World
The Louvre can be accessed by water as well as a bridge from land

Another fantastic modern building from Abu Dhabi, the Louvre, is not owned by the French museum. For 1.15 billion dollars, they purchased the name rights for 30 years, and the right to borrow artwork for 10. An amazing structure described as a “museum city in the sea” consists of 55 buildings and 23 galleries, many of them covered by an intricate metal done. The museum has been under construction since 2006 and was recently completed in 2017. The gigantic dome creates a rain of light into the buildings below and glitter of stars at night. It is built from eight different layers of metal to provide protection and create unique effects with light. Uniquely built, surrounded by and accessible by water, it is undoubtedly an impressive museum.

8. Bibliotheca Alexandria, Alexandria, Egypt | Architect: Snøhetta

The Top Ten 21st Century Buildings in the Arab World
The Bibliotheca Alexandria is situated right along the water

The Bibliotheca Alexandria is a fascinating modern library built near the site of the ancient Library of Alexandria in Egypt. It is a massive cylinder emerging from the ground at a shallow angle, only about 130 feet from the Mediterranean Sea with 11 stories. The structure also descends 12 meters into the ground. Completed in 2002, it can house four million books normally or eight million compactly. It is designed to allow sunlight to stream in at angles non-harmful to the books, and has a massive reading room stepped over seven terraces. Its disc-shaped roof is a unique shape, and on an outside wall, there are characters from every known alphabet in the world.

9. Amman Rotana Hotel, Amman, Jordan | Architect: Architecture-Studio

The Top Ten 21st Century Buildings in the Arab World
The Amman Rotana Hotel at night

Sitting as the highest building in the Kingdom of Jordan, the Amman Rotana Hotel is an impressive specimen in the city with a sleek design and panoramic views from the entire city to the mountains. At 188 meters tall, it was completed in 2017 and is a striking landmark, which looks both slenderly curved or hollowed-out depending on perspective. Situated in the upscale Boulevard commercial district, it contains many restaurants, top of the line facilities, and a view like no other in Jordan. It is a major modernistic step for the Kingdom.

10. Sama Beirut, Beirut, Lebanon | Architect: Erga Architects

The Top Ten 21st Century Buildings in the Arab World
The Sama Beirut glistening in the daylight

The tallest building in Lebanon, Sama Beirut is a beautiful shining skyscraper completed in 2016 after its announcement in 2009. It is 50 stories high at the heart of Beirut with retail stores, offices, and apartments inside. At 195 meters tall, one can see from Mount Lebanon to the Port of Beirut. Covered with glass, it is a shining gem in the city, and its layered design makes it stand out from a typical skyscraper. It adds to the large growth of modern buildings in Beirut in recent years as they modernize the city’s architecture.

Special 20th Century Mentions

11. Burj Al-Arab, Dubai, UAE | Architect: Tom Wright

The Top Ten 21st Century Buildings in the Arab World
The Burj Al-Arab at sunset

The Burj Al-Arab is a famous building in the UAE. It was built a mere 28 years after the UAE was founded in 1999, and now, it is an iconic image of Dubai. It was not included in the list above, as it is not a 21st-century building, but it is impressive nonetheless. A manmade island was built in three years just to house the hotel which, itself, only took two years to construct. While the building is very impressive, only 39 percent of it is actually used, as the remainder is necessary to support its shape. It’s considered a one in a lifetime experience to stay in the Burj Al-Arab, which is why even at $2,000 a night, rooms are competitive to reserve.

12. Kuwait Towers, Kuwait City, Kuwait | Architect: Sune Lindström and Malene Björn

The Top Ten 21st Century Buildings in the Arab World
A closeup view of the Kuwait Towers

Opened on February 29th, 1977, the Kuwait Towers were awe-inspiring buildings for their time. The primary design goal was to create a beautiful set of three water towers as they overlook Kuwait Bay and the Arabian Gulf. They form part of a 31 tower network, but these are unique because while one holds only water, the other one provides illumination. The largest tower has 4,500 cubic meters of water on the bottom, and is a restaurant and a banquet hall with an interior garden on top. For the ’70s, the construction was incredibly advanced.




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