Architecture of Abu Dhabi and Dubai

One of the things I was most excited about when planning our trip to Abu Dhabi and Dubai was the chance to see, in person, some incredible architecture that I’d only previously heard about in books or on the web. Because the area is so new, and so rapidly developing, there is a tremendous amount of innovative, almost futuristic looking design on their skylines. Some of the skyscrapers will make you feel like you’re living in a science fiction movie. By contrast, there’s also an effort to create full-experience environments in some other cases. Those buildings seem to emphasize opulence, sometimes boast a specific theme, and have a bit of the feeling of Las Vegas or Disneyland. Going from one to the other can seem a little disjointed at times, but it’s all an important part of the look of the cities.

In Abu Dhabi, there was a recurring style element of buildings that almost looked like sliced sausages, with the roof sitting at an extreme angle. We saw this all over the city.

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Of course there’s the surreal environment I talked about last week created at the Grand Mosque. This design was the result of a combined effort by architects and designers from Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

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We also stopped by Ferrari World to take a look at that architectural feat. It’s an indoor theme park (so imagine a structure big enough to house Disneyland), home of the fastest rollercoaster in the world. Designed by Benoy Architects, the scope of the structure is hard to describe. There’s no easy way from the ground to get a good view of the entire building, but from the pictures I’ve seen of it from above, it doesn’t look real! The design of the building and it’s entryway were quite modern and futuristic feeling. And very smartly, the architects included a light funnel to bring daylight into the center of the structure.

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In the more residential parts of Abu Dhabi, we came across a different kind of design style altogether. These buildings were much more modest, and seemed to embrace the desert and Middle Eastern cultures and traditions much more than the competitive skyscraper designs.

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I loved these bridges, which combined so many different shapes; they were geometric but also somehow organic at the same time. They were always a really interesting view on the water.

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Next to a museum we spent some time in, we also stopped to take a look at the UAE Pavilion. Designed by Foster and Partners for the 2010 Shanghai World’s Fair, the entire structure was reassembled in Abu Dhabi and is now used as an international art museum. Unfortunately it was closed the day we went, so I didn’t get to see the inside. (Side note: Right nearby they are working on building a Louvre and a Guggenheim museums, which promise to be spectacular!)

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Our friends who live in Abu Dhabi have an apartment high up in one of this cluster of buildings. They are new skyscrapers, built within the past couple of years, and definitely seem to fit with the efforts to build now with future design in mind.

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But then they have a view of Emirates Palace, which is just about as opposite as you can get. Emirates palace has a bit of the pretend-world feeling that Las Vegas tends to have.

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Dubai sometimes took that Vegas-like pretend world to another level. We took a stroll through Atlantis, a huge, over the top, themed resort that made me feel like I could be in the king’s castle in The Little Mermaid. No corner was left untouched by the ocean theme. They even had a very impressive aquarium.

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The Dubai Mall also had an amazing aquarium, sharks and all. And outside of the mall was a dancing water fountain, designed by the same people that designed the water fountain at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.

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Dubai’s reputation in architecture is a bit more well-known, largely because of two buildings. One is the Burj Al Arab, designed by architect Tom Wright. Built to look like a sail, it is currently the fourth tallest building in the world. It’s a high end luxury hotel and sits on a manmade island, connected to the mainland by one bridge.

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And the other is, of course, the Burj Khalifa, by architect Adrian Smith. The Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world. It’s hard to mentally process just how incredibly enormous this building is. It only starts to become clear when you realize just how much taller it is than any other building that surrounds it. It is so tall in comparison that it gives the impression of being the only building in the sky. To put the sheer height of this incredible structure into perspective, there is a new project I heard about recently in Los Angeles to build the city’s tallest building, which will sit 78 stories high. The Burj Khalifa has 163 floors, and you would be able to see the curvature of the earth from the top. Aside from the extreme height of it, it is a beautiful building. It really seems like this perfect precious gem among all that surrounds it. This was my favorite building we saw, and having drinks on the 124th floor was one of my favorite moments of the trip. Only since I’ve been home have I begun to realize how rare of an opportunity that was.

Dubai106 Dubai125 Dubai141 Dubai152 Dubai165What do you think of the architecture in the UAE? Do you like the style?

Dining and Design in the UAE

For our entire vacation in the Middle East, it struck me how well we were eating. We never had bad food, not even once. It also struck me that the service at restaurants in the UAE was always top notch. Really impeccable. We certainly felt spoiled! Here is a highlight of our favorite dining experiences from the UAE.

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One night, the friends we were visiting took us to their all time favorite restaurant in Abu Dhabi, called 18 Degrees (named because if the building it resides in, which is built at an 18 degree angle). It was an opportunity to meet their friends (mostly expats from the US and the UK) and for them to share with us one of their favorite places.

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The interior embraces the building’s lean, and seems to use the steel reinforcement as an important element of the decor, rather than trying to disguise it.

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The kitchen is open to the dining room, and we were lucky enough to be sitting right next to the kitchen so we were able to watch the magicians at work.

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When we got to our table, the restaurant manager had left this note for each of us, addressed to each individual person. This was not prearranged by our friends, just something that they did to make us feel welcome and well taken care of.

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All of the food was incredible. They had started us off with a variety of appetizers, already divided into a sample plate of sorts for each of us, to ensure we could all try each one. Then our main courses arrived. I ordered their duck leg (which was our friend’s favorite dish there… which such a shining recommendation, I couldn’t resist) and it did not disappoint! Definitely the best duck I have ever had. And we even had a chance to tell the Michelin rated chef as much. He came out to our table a couple times to see how we were doing and to chat with us a bit.

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They treated us all to complimentary champagne, and then of course we drank lots of wonderful wine. And after our meals were done their cheese specialist came downstairs with these unexpected and quite decadent variety of cheeses, some as old as 15 years and all unpasteurized. The staff described each cheese in detail, just as they had done with each appetizer, meal, dessert, and cocktail (each by their own specialist). If you know me well, you know I love cheese… a lot! So I was in heaven!

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AbuDhabi610Just the next night, to cap off a day in Dubai, we had reservations for another incredible place. Rather than pay an entry fee to ride an elevator to the observation deck of the Burj Khalifa, we opted to have a luxurious evening of cocktails at the bar and lounge on the 124th floor, called Atmosphere.

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Yes, the cocktails were unique and delicious. And yes, the service was once again amazing. But I was in interior design heaven, surrounded by what looked to be glossy bent mahogany, like something you might see on a very expensive yacht. The warmth of the wood exaggerated the warmth of the sunset coming in through the windows.

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And yes, we were 124 stories up for sunset. This photo will not do the view justice… it’s hard to describe just how far you are able to see while looking out a window at that height. It doesn’t seem real!

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On our final night in Abu Dhabi, before the four of us jumped on a plane to Istanbul, we took my hubby to Emirates Palace for dinner at Hakkasan, an awesome Asian fusion restaurant (which I understand has locations in several cities around the world).

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I loved the decor! Once again, we felt surrounded by beautiful wood, but this time in a form much more open.

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There were a couple different seating set-ups, but all were both modern and comfortable with great use of materials like wood and leather.

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Outside, there was what seemed like a bridge or boardwalk leading to beautiful, almost tropical looking, outdoor lounge areas.AbuDhabi706 AbuDhabi708

Once again, the food was to die for. It started with some delicious, tender, perfectly flavored dim sum.

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Then we shared a few main courses, family style if you will. My favorite one was the sea bass cooked in wine (I’m sure the menu described it much more eloquently!) But the lotus root dish was pretty amazing too, I’d never had anything quite like it before.

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And when they learned that it was his birthday, they brought this dessert out so we could sing to him embarrassingly. Because what would a birthday be without that.

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One thing I feel certain about is that Abu Dhabi and Dubai are doing it right when it comes to hospitality and dining. No expense seems spared in the design, and the service could make any average joe feel like a millionaire!

What do you think? Do you like the design of these restaurants? Does the food look intriguing?

This Week I Loved…

Making our favorite almond cake…

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1020100_10100514182386415_1848088860_oFinding this little guy in the lavender on our front patio.

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A heart shaped breakfast.

1019626_10100517491030865_1134018466_oOur new Turkish rug.

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Finding this picture among our vacation photos.

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And remember Mr. Rogers…

http://www.buzzfeed.com/ryanhatesthis/heartwarming-and-beautiful-facts-about-mr-rogers-that-wil

Top Vacation Photos: UAE

We’re home! Back from an unforgettable adventure with great friends in some incredible locations. As I recover from some wicked jet lag and take care of some of those regular life things that I allowed myself to completely forget about for the past two weeks, I thought I’d at least share some of my favorite photos from our trip. Today, I’ll start with a few favorites from Abu Dhabi and Dubai. (Photos of Turkey coming in my next post, so stay tuned.)

Enjoy!

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A fisherman resting, docked next to the Abu Dhabi fish market.

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A view of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque from across the waterway. (Abu Dhabi)

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Sunset at the St. Regis before a wonderfully refreshing outdoor yoga class. (Abu Dhabi)

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The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque courtyard. (Abu Dhabi)

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A photo break during a dune bashing trip through the Empty Quarter. (Abu Dhabi)

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Camel at sunset. (Abu Dhabi)

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Aquarium at the Atlantis resort in Dubai.

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Yoga in the park in front of the Burj Khalifa during the midday call to prayer. (Dubai)

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The Burj Khalifa at night. (Dubai)

Today We Are In: the United Arab Emirates

At this point in the week, we have been in the UAE for four days visiting with these wonderful friends.

469We’re spending this week in Abu Dhabi, where they live. Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates, and is second to Dubai as the largest city in the UAE. Because it is a quickly developing city and one of the most expensive cities in the world, we are expecting to see lots of newly constructed skyscrapers and gorgeous resorts. We’re also expecting a hot sandy desert surrounding the city. We’ll be staying with our friends right near Emirates Palace.

Abu Dhabi is also home to Ferrari World, which is “the largest indoor and first Ferrari theme park.” It looks gigantic!

We’re also planning to get into Dubai this week, since it’s only about a 45 minute drive from Abu Dhabi. Dubai is a bit of an older city, and so we’re expecting more historical structures among the giant sky scrapers there. Dubai is home to the tallest building in the world and architectural phenomenon  the Burj Khalifa. I’m super excited to see it in person, and even better we will be celebrating my husband’s birthday over dinner there. It will be a birthday to remember, for sure!

Have you been to Abu Dhabi or Dubai, or do you want to go? What would you want to see there?