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Qasr Al Muwaiji, Concept to Construction

Jeffry Burchard   December 2015


idden within a dense forest of date palms, Qasr al Muwaiji’s foreboding mud walls and towers frame a vast and empty space that lies in sharp contrast with its cool and lush surroundings. Although the difference between inside and outside once defined protection of its inhabitants, today the difference may be one of old and new—between traditional and progressive cultures and history. This polarity provides visitors with an element of surprise as one meanders through the palm grove and enters the fort—a powerful and sobering experience of transition from the activity of the surrounding modern city.

The adaptive reuse and restoration of the Fort includes the restoration of the existing mosque to the south, the conditioned adaptive reuse of the gate house and palace in the northwest corner, the restoration of the two remaining towers in the northeast and southeast corners and general restoration of the fort walls.

The new construction includes a permanent exhibition pavilion that includes an orientation space, main exhibition gallery and a smaller adjoining gallery for media displays.

Site Plan | Green Shows New Pavilion

The new pavilion and programs are “camouflaged” throughout the site to minimize their physical and visual impact. Iconic expressions for the new buildings are rejected as inappropriate and potentially overwhelming to the Fort’s significant history and sensitive siting. The pavilion is rendered with a minimal expression of glass volumes, raised slightly above the ground-plane to appear light, unobtrusive and respectful of its historical host.

From the interior, the pavilion dissolves to enrich the occupants’ understanding of the Fort as both artifact and experience. The viewer inhabits both the present and the past by simultaneously viewing the Fort as a framed artifact through the climate-conditioned pavilion and through the visual erasure that the glass creates to re-function the Fort’s open courtyard as it was historically experienced.

Glazed Floor Over Historic Well
A Museum of Glass (in the Desert)

Qasr al Muwaiji is located on the eastern portion of the Arabian Peninsula. The climate is characterized as arid and harsh with average high temperatures regularly in excess of one hundred degrees Fahrenheit. The extreme nature of this climate poses several challenges to design of museum spaces.

Average Annual Temperatures | Al Ain, UAE

Essential in the accommodation for exhibition spaces is the requirement for highly specialized lighting and thermal comfort concerns. The key in this design factor is ensuring that the visitors have a comfortable visual experience of the building and can easily discern the detail of the artifacts upon display.

The combination of harsh climate, transparency of the design concept and the nature of exhibition space made it essential to have a well-designed building envelope.

Solar Radiation Study | Atelier 10

Working with Atelier Ten, Machado Silvetti worked to study the building response to the environment thought he interaction of the facades with incident solar energy. We identified the areas of the facade that will receive the most energy over the year and the peak amount of radiation received.

Conceptual Shading Study | Atelier 10

The selection of materials for the glazing system and their technical characteristics plays a major role in controlling how light enters the space and the quality of the indoor environment. Through the combination of double-glazing and low-e coatings, UV light and infrared radiation are filtered from the building, allowing more light into the building than head. To further control solar gain into the space, automatic interstitial blinds are provided inside the cavity to limit the amount of air that has to be introduced to the building for conditioning.

Animation of Glazing Concepts

The double glazing system introduces air underneath the floor which rises up through the building and circulates through the glass cavity. This allows the building to be insulated from the sun.

Glass Panels Before Installation
Installation of Glass Panels
Installation of Glass Panels
Gallery Exposed to Original Fort Wall
Qasr al Muwaiji
Ideas and Architecture
Cultural Heritage
Greening an Oasis
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