UAE projects on World Architecture Festival awards shortlist

The World Architecture Festival has announced the shortlist for its 2021 awards, celebrating buildings and landscapes completed across the world between 2019 and 2021 (a pandemic influenced time range that also reflects WAFX’s postponement from January this year to December).

The theme for the 2021 festival is Resetting the City: Greening, Health and Urbanism. The 200-strong shortlist was selected from more than 700 entries, and we count a total of 29 UAE-based projects across many categories.

Some projects get more than one nomination – Forster+Partners’ forthcoming National Zayed Museum (top) has four in total, CEBRA’s impressive work on the Cultural Foundation site in Abu Dhabi gets a couple, and in the same location Arup also has two for its Qasr al Hosn contracts. (The Zayed National Museum was also one of 12 projects this year to receive a WAFX Award for Cultural Identity, given to projects that highlight key future architectural challenges.)

More than half of the shortlisted UAE entries are ‘future projects’, meaning they have yet to be built. This group includes some of the most impressive work, in fact. We were particularly struck by Ardh Architects’ proposals for Jumeirah Archaeology Square (an imaginative way to preserve and present the ruins of nine Abbasid caliphate buildings discovered near the Creek back in 1969).

Ardh is proposing to frame the 9-11th century buildings of Jumeriah Archeological Square in their own mini lakes

There’s another clever Ardh project in this category, a nursery school in Al Wasl that provides children with an opportunity to connect with architecture and urban furniture in a playful way.

Great ideas, great shapes: the Al Wasl Nursery School by Ardh Architects

A future project that really chimes with the WAFX theme is the MC2 Masdar City extension by Woods Bagot. Due in 2023, it’s a mix of public spaces and sustainable commercial buildings that clearly draws from the experience of the original Masdar campus.

More Masdar: the MC2 development by Woods Bagot

And then there’s the competition-winning Flamingo Visitor Center designed for Abu Dhabi’s Al Wathba Wetland Reserve by 70F architecture, featuring cementless concrete slabs floating on bamboo columns. We’re not sure about the overall look of the thing, but it’s all there in terms of functionality and sustainability.

70F’s visitor centre for flamingo-watching at Al Wathba

Among the categories for stuff that has actually been built, there are some predictable goodies – Grimshaw’s Terra Sustainability Pavilion for Expo 2020, the House of Wisdom in Sharjah by Foster+Partners, U+A’s elegant single-storey 3D-printed house for Emaar in Dubai.

Long and low: 3D-printed house by U+A

Two other projects impressed us. SLA’s 27,500m2 Al Fay Park on Abu Dhabi’s Reem Island is the first urban park in UAE focusing on biodiversity, social activities and microclimate optimisation, designed aesthetically and climatically to be “the coolest place in town”. The high density of trees combined with 2,000 selected species of plants and modern irrigation systems to ensure] that it uses 40 percent less water than traditional parks.

The coolest place on Reem: Al Fay Park, designed by SLA

Our other favourite is the visitor centre for the Buhais Geology Park, 48km southeast of Sharjah city at the foot of Jebel Buhais. The park is in a region of exceptional prehistoric and geological significance; Hopkins Architects designed a series of five interconnected pods of varying sizes for exhibition areas and a theatre as well as the café and gift shop. The look of the steel-clad pods was inspired by fossilised sea urchins on the site. Their local impact is minimised by the use of prefab concrete structures that touch the ground lightly on reinforced concrete foundation discs.

Inspired by fossilised sea urchins: Hopkins’ visitor centre for Buhais

There are also a couple of UAE nominations for WAFX’s companion INSIDE competition for interiors, which runs alongside the architecture awards – the Opus building by Zaha Haddid Architects that houses the ME Dubai hotel; and the Presentedby store within The Dubai Mall’s Level Shoes.

The ME Dubai at the Opus – the world’s only hotel to have had both exterior and interiors designed by Zaha Hadid

It must have been tricky for the designers External Reference to come up with an identity for such a store-within-a-store, given that Level already claims to be the world’s largest luxury shoe shop; in practice it does pretty well, with an immersive experience fuelled by projections on screens and on the floor. The 3D-printed lattice walls use an advanced polymer-integrating compound that can mineralise primary greenhouse gases (CO2 and NOx) and reduce volatile organic compounds (VOCs) so that the space actually reduces the amount of contamination in the air.

Experiential retail design by External Reference for Levels’s PresentedBy store-within-a-store

The final judgement from the shortlist will be made at the World Architecture Festival, to be held in Lisbon at the start of December.

The UAE representatives on the shortlist:

WAFX: Completed Buildings

  • 3D Printed House U+A
  • Buhais Geology Museum Hopkins Architects
  • Cultural Foundation Building and Children’s Library CEBRA Abu Dhabi
  • House of Wisdom Foster + Partners
  • Qasr Al Hosn: Historic Fort & National Council Chamber Arup
  • Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City Stantec Architecture
  • Terra – The Sustainability Pavilion, Dubai Expo 2020 Grimshaw

WAFX: Landscape

  • Al Hosn Masterplan CEBRA Abu Dhabi
  • Masdar City Central Park, Phase 1 AECOM

WAFX: Future Projects

  • Infrastructure: Zayed National Museum Foster + Partners
  • Masterplanning: Dubai Harbour AECOM
  • Masterplanning: Zayed National Museum Foster + Partners
  • Culture: Zayed National Museum Foster + Partners
  • Culture: BAPS Hindu Mandir RSP
  • Culture: Jumeirah Archaeology Square Ardh Architects
  • Culture: BANGKOTA (Philippines Pavilion for Expo 2020 Dubai) BUDJI+ROYAL Architecture+Design
  • Education: Al Wasl Nursery Ardh Architects
  • Education: Culture on a Canvas Dorsch Gruppe
  • Office: MC2 Woods Bagot
  • Office: Qanawat HQ Verform

WAFX: Future Projects competition entries

  • Aplomb – Reviving from Desert Dorsch Gruppe
  • Flamingo Visitor Centre 70F architecture
  • The Iconic Mosque Studio Bassal
  • Zayed National Museum Foster + Partners


  • Opus Zaha Hadid Architects
  • Presentedby External Reference

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