27. National Theater and Cultural Center 1977
Media City, Airport Road
Bus Routes 032, 052
Iraqi architect Rifat Chadirji designed buildings all over the Middle East and in parts of Europe. His designs are conceptual and include abstract forms and arches. He is inspired by second-millennium Mesopotamian architecture and by architects such as Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, and Auguste Perret. Many of his buildings incorporate avant-garde concepts and Iraqi traditions.
One of Chadirji’s renowned buildings in the UAE is the National Theater and Cultural Center, located in Abu Dhabi. Situated on Airport Road, the National Theater and Cultural Center is a massive building enclosed in an area that is largely referred to as Abu Dhabi Media City. The buildings that surround the National Theater and Cultural Center are the Al Jazira Sports Club, the Abu Dhabi Police Department, and low-rise apartment buildings, many of which will apparently be demolished in the next few years. The National Theater and Cultural Center was commissioned by the Ministry of Youth, Culture, and Development to create a more culturally aware society in Abu Dhabi.
The lush green grass at the entrance contrasts with the clay-colored walls. A plethora of palm trees creates a relaxing shade. Right outside the entrance, large arches are one of the key features of Chadirji’s style. He used them, for instance, while designing the Federation of Industries in Baghdad. Arches also form the borders of the windows.
The main lobby is impressive. An elegant chandelier hangs low, and the ceiling is an octagonal pattern mirroring the tiles on the floor. Art workshops and theater performances take place in the building. The theater has state-of-the-art lighting, sound, and film equipment, and it can also double as a lecture or a conference hall. Another hall on the side can be used for special purposes, and can accommodate up to 150 people. The theater houses many multi-purpose rooms frequently dedicated to art workshops and exhibitions. The National Theater and Cultural Center also has a permanent collection of paintings, sculptures, and other works by local Emirati artists.
The interior architecture is very simple; only the reception was extravagant. The classrooms are minimal; the theater’s interior is clear and elegant. Dark blue velvet seats contrast with the wooden, light brown walls, and create a very sober atmosphere.
A new National Theater and Opera House was built on the Breakwater near Marina Mall. The National Theater and Cultural Center is now in light competition with this new structure, which is smaller and has fewer facilities. It is important that the National Theater and Cultural Center be preserved. It is one-of-a-kind in its function, distinct from other centers in the city. When the Cultural Foundation was in operation it played the role of a cultural center by providing workshops and facilities for other activities.
It is important for Abu Dhabi to preserve its older buildings, as they contribute to a more diverse cityscape and visually represent the city’s and the nation’s history.