Alserkal Avenue – the Dubai arts district filled with galleries, hip eateries, a black box theatre and design shops – was once the site of a marble factory. Now, it's home to Concrete, the first building in the United Arab Emirates designed by the Office for Metropolitan Architecture. When OMA received the commission a few years back, they were given a simple directive: 'To make that space multipurpose, to enable that building to live multiple lives, because today no space serves only one purpose,' recalls Vilma Jurkute, the director of Alserkal Avenue. 'A museum is not just a museum, a gallery is not just a gallery. They all accommodate so many other initiatives as part of their program. The idea was to create that space for Dubai.'
OMA delivered, transforming an existing warehouse into a 1,250 sq m multipurpose venue. 'We took a shape that was already existing, and then we looked at the behavior of what can happen in that building. We focused on that,' said Rem Koolhaas, the co-founder of OMA. Concrete can be used for everything from a museum-quality exhibition to a yoga studio to a concert hall where multiple events can be held at the same time thanks to a series of rotating walls. 'There is four of them and they have the ability to divide the space into two, three, or four and conduct four different events at the same time,' said Iyad Alsaka, the lead architect on the project.
Side exterior view of Concrete in Dubai
Unlike the flashy buildings of Dubai – the most famous being the Burj Khalifa and the Burj Al Arab – Concrete takes a more minimal approach in tune with the architecture of the surrounding warehouses of Alserkal Avenue. 'The development of shape was not a very productive future, and it made the office switch to performance,' said Koolhaas. A translucent double polycarbonate was used for the facade, which features four enormous pivoting walls that double as entryways. The three other exterior walls consist of a sprayed concrete with integrated mirrors for a sparkly finish. 'The front was very intentional; we wanted to achieve a continuation of the inside space to the outside,' said Alsaka. The interiors feature sweeping 8m high ceilings, walls composed of concrete cladding and skylights that bring natural light into the space. Tucked away in the back is a green room that takes the concept quite literally by covering it in green velvet, and prayer rooms.
The space’s inaugural exhibition is 'Syria: Into the Light', a survey of Syrian art presented by the Atassi Foundation, on view until 3 April. 'It’s about showing that the region has art history, has talent,' said Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal, patron and founder of Alserkal Avenue. Expect to see a myriad of other happenings, exhibitions, talks and concerts over the next few months.
'Over the last decade, Alserkal Avenue has grown and evolved organically with the arts and culture scene of the United Arab Emirates,' said Alserkal. 'The introduction of Concrete marks a new milestone as part of the cultural advancement of the region.'