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UAE to Build a Monument to Democracy, Despite Lack of Democracy

Ehrlich Architects try to balance tradition and modernism in a new parliament building in the UAE — to disastrous effect.

A Los Angeles architecture firm has won a competition to design a parliamentary complex in the United Arab Emirates and, entirely befitting a nation of sketchy democracy, the building’s chock-full of holes.

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Ehrlich Architects beat out heavyweights Foster + Partners, Massimiliano Fuksas Architects, and Zaha Hadid Architects for a shot at throwing up the headquarters of the Federal National Council, the monarchical UAE’s semi-elected legislature. The nation held its first (very limited) parliamentary vote in 2006 and has publicized plans to further expand its roster of “elected” officials. The proposed building, a marble dome-like structure on the shores of Abu Dhabi, is supposed to embody these modern aspirations at the same time that it honors UAE tradition. As design principal Steven Ehrlich tells it, “The architecture for the FNC’s new home will communicate its increasingly vital role in the lives of all United Arab Emirates citizens.”

That the dome also happens to be covered in a punctured canopy doesn’t send the most reassuring message. Its purpose is, of course, utilitarian. It throws shade over the grounds below in a part of the world where the mercury regularly rises over 105 degrees Fahrenheit. (It’s also designed to cast dappled light in Islamic patterns.) Still, you have to wonder if old Foster or Fuksas or Hadid came up with something a bit more metaphorically, erm, solid.

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In choosing this design, the UAE doesn’t seem too concerned with conveying its democratic ambitions anyway. The renderings make the complex look like a fortress. Worse still, the building faces the Arabian Gulf — literally turning its back on the people. In a country where less than 1 percent of the population is allowed to vote for officials who don’t hold any real legislative power, Ehrlich’s concept might be the best monument to democracy money can buy.

[Visit ArchDaily.com for more images and info]E

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About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D

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