CONSERVATION OF THE CULTURAL FOUNDATION

For the Cultural Foundation has continued to stand as an enduring, historic, architectural and cultural national symbol.

Designed to mirror the interaction of the past, the present and the future, blending culture and tradition with modernity, the architecture of the building lends itself to both traditional and contemporary art with overlapping elements that hint of timelessness.

With its importance as a landmark in Abu Dhabi’s collective memory and an almost tangible “key” to the city’s and the nation’s continued cultural growth, the need for the ongoing conservation of the Foundation’s specially designed building continues to be a valuable element in the city’s development.

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Stemming from this, the Cultural Foundation was among the first sites to be registered as a modern heritage site on the emirate of Abu Dhabi’s Historic Environment Record. It was inevitable for the next step to be a move towards the conservation of the site as part of the Qasr Al Hosn conservation project, as the United Arab Emirates gradually sensed the need to conserve the heritage of modernity - which will one day stand as a monument to the past as future generations look back to the contributions of our present time.

One of the challenges facing conservation efforts for modern heritage is to ensure a building remains functional while staying true to its unique character. As the Cultural Foundation’s design is directly linked to its original function, programme design and vision, any intervention needed careful study and consideration.

It was necessary, as with similar types of structures, to gain a thorough understanding of the value of the site’s resources in terms of aspects such as historic value, social impact, political significance, architectural value and economic factors.

A two-pronged approach was taken. Aside from research of such values through archives, available reports and interviews, there also needed to be a full diagnosis, assessing any technical issues such as physical deterioration; and the impact of current and future development.

The Cultural Foundation Conservation Management Plan was compiled, using a participative approach which involved both the community and heritage specialists, engaging both to come to a shared understanding and appreciation of the heritage value of the site. These steps helped define an overall conservation strategy for the site, outlining the guiding conservation policies as well as the selection of specific implementation methods.

In carrying out renovations to the Cultural Foundation, utmost care was taken to preserve the architectural fabric, paying attention to the architectural design, which included restoring lost elements such as the building’s original courtyard fountains.

The communal values held by the site were taken into account, to ensure its original functions were retained in the renovations – while a number of functional enhancements were introduced in response to Abu Dhabi’s continued cultural expansion.

Enhancements included a new staircase, the implementation of the rooftop as an additional space, and the repurposing of a number of areas to create additional workshop and exhibition spaces. Care was taken to ensure the enhancements were sensitive to the building’s original architectural design.

Along with the conservation of nearby Qasr Al Hosn, the renovations to the Cultural Foundation are in line with Abu Dhabi’s overall development plans, one of which is the careful conservation of cultural sites, breathing new life into the city’s heritage landmarks and keeping them fully functional for all to enjoy. The conservation of the Cultural Foundation was a fundamental element in the overall conservation of the Al Hosn site, revealing the development of Abu Dhabi from tradition to modernity within a single city block.