The simple design of the building, with its exquisitely carved openings, is attractive but understated. Its architectural focus shifts from aesthetics towards functionality. Arches, columns, courtyards, and gardens discretely reference Islamic architecture. Arcades are tiled with glazed bricks, which contrast with the casual, white concrete walls.
Decorative geometric patterns embellish the floors and the panels that line the arches. They are finished in hand-painted ceramic tiles that use a vocabulary of squares and eight-pointed stars.
The Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation is reminiscent of the elements of the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA, also built by TAC in 1973. Both buildings draw their inspiration from the Bauhaus. They both strive to adapt to the local environment and to the climate: while designing the Cultural Foundation, Ashkouri made a spare use of windows, for instance. He also revived the mix of artistic, technical, and social purposes that was the hallmark of the Bauhaus. The Bauhaus influenced Ashkouri in several other regards: the architect favored asymmetry over symmetry, and he sought to create space within the building, rather than having the building take up space. Favoring space over mass, he used flat roofs, smooth facades, cubic shapes, and right angles.
The Cultural Foundation has been a significant community art center for Emirati citizens in Abu Dhabi. It brought people together to exchange practices and ideas. It was the place where children would meet authors, and where young artists presented their first exhibitions. The Cultural Foundation came close to demolition in 2010, but the government of Abu Dhabi, realizing that the center was a major venue, not only for examining the UAE’s present, but also for discussing its future, decided to preserve the building. Abu Dhabi needs more centers that offer such an informal and open setting which would encourage people of different cultures and ethnicities to meet and create new ideas.