Abu Dhabi: The efficiently executed Capital House in Abu Dhabi is a rational response to the Abu Dhabi residential market In a quiet corner of Capital Centre – a mixed-use micro city by ADNEC – a pair of sober towers stand as a counterpoint Capital Gate, the development’s flashy icon. The duo comprises International Tower, a slick commercial scheme completed in 2013, and the newly finished residential project, Capital House.
Despite the contrast in functions, both towers were undertaken by the same developer, SinoGulf.
David Cockerton, fund manager for SinoGulf, explains the rationale behind the developments. “It stems from the masterplan of Capital Centre, which was always planned to be a mixed-use. The theory is that you can live, work, and play here. “
For us, the package was to look at a mixed use development and two complementary buildings that support each other. It’s about getting the right sequence and to put the demand driver in place first. We’re expecting a lot of tenants in International Tower to say, ‘great, I can now live on the doorstep of where I work’.”
Comparing the two projects, Cockerton says the elevations are complementary rather than similar. “Obviously both buildings sit within the same portfolio. They are not designed to look like each other – they shouldn’t. But part of the design brief for Capital House was to come up with an external design which complemented International Tower. Capital House has a pretty simple, straightforward design, with a few interesting elements on the external façade.”
While Woods Bagot was behind International Tower, Capital House involved a different construction team, with Jordanheadquartered firm Maisam providing architecture, structures and interior design, and compatriot Universal Consultancy Services (UCS) acting as MEP sub-consultant.
Emad Muqattash, Abu Dhabi area manager for Maisam, elaborates on the design. “There are very strict guidelines from ADNEC and there isn’t much room to manoeuvre in terms of height and setbacks. We tried to match the colour with International Tower, but the two projects definitely shouldn’t look alike.
“The elevation contains lots of balconies, which you don’t really see much in Abu Dhabi, but this is important for the language of residential. We tried to not make the elevation just one block by introducing frames. We think we came up with an elegant, simple, straightforward building that looks very much residential and is very efficient.”
While the visual language of the exterior is clearly residential, the building’s lobby – with its high ceiling, water features, smooth marble flooring and large reception desk – is steeped in hospitality design.
After hearing this observation, Cockerton breathes a sigh of relief. “This was exactly the intention,” he says. “The hotel-like design will be reinforced by how the building is managed. There will be a softer approach, so you feel like you’re being looked after, like in a hotel.”
Muqattash adds: “We wanted it to be a very welcoming lobby – it’s very open and high quality. We made it a high ceiling to induce a sense of grandeur. You are not just going into another residential lobby, you are going to Capital House. This was very important to us.”
The far wall contains a number of unusually shaped openings, which, according to Muqattash, throw light into back of house areas.
While the loftiness of the lobby hints at a plethora of space, Muqattash explains that the planning was very tight, with efficiency being a key driver. “We had many back and forth sessions during schematic design to fit in the maximum number of apartments.”
He continues: “We had almost-daily meetings with the client and had to come up with quick and efficient solutions in little time. We came up with maybe 10 different options, testing the most efficient layout against the grid. The old design contained 250 apartments but we managed to bring it up to 332. That was quite challenging.”
Cockerton adds that these 332 units are made up solely of one- and two-bedroom apartments. He says: “Traditional residential developments might contain one-, two-, threeand four-bedroom apartments, a penthouse at the top and some studios tucked away in the corner – a little bit of everything. We really thought about the occupiers, and we expect the demand to be for one- and two-bedrooms. We agonised a bit but ended up with 98 onebeds and 234 two-bedders.”
While not über luxurious, the apartments are free from dead space and do not feel cramped. “The apartments are not small, and not large – they are the right size. They recognise a way of living and respond to it,” says Cockerton.
Special attention was given to the sense of arrival for each unit. Cockerton adds: “The theory is you come through the door and you always have a view, rather than facing a wall. It’s important to have that feeling of spaciousness. There are more than enough bathrooms.”
With its use of open-plan kitchens, Capital House is firmly aimed at expats. “One of the things that drives you to a certain market is whether you have closed or open kitchens. We have open-plan kitchens, so the focus is the expat market. I imagine we will have a long list of nationalities,” says Cockerton.
Muqattash continues: “Compared to other products on the market I think this is a very generous space. There are straight lines with no weird angles. The apartments have very neutral colours – white and dark brown – and are inoffensive.”
Cockerton adds: “We’ve created canvas for an occupier to do whatever they want. You shouldn't build something that is really nice to some people but horrible to others.”
All apartments share access to communal facilities on a podium – including a 25m-long pool and a well-stocked gym. Cockerton says the intention was always to have the facilities on the podium, rather on the roof, which is used for MEP. “We like to think how the facilities will be used. It’s a serious gym and a serious swimming pool.”
A brick wall, which connects to the building, emerges halfway along the pool. Rendered in attractive yellow brick, with an arched opening, it almost seems like a design feature. However, Muqattash reveals that it is in fact a sheer wall which is used to evenly distribute the load from the structure. He explains that the designers had to work with an existing piling system, without adding new structural parameters, and a protruding sheer wall was deemed the most efficient solution.
Cockerton reveals that “changes in the marketplace” led SinoGulf to rework an earlier design, bringing Maisam on board as architect from schematic till construction. The timeline of 24 months also meant that the developer opted for a design and build contract, with Ali & Sons selected.
He continues: “It was an interesting exercise in design and build, but it has worked. A lot of soul searching went into it, and we’re proud to have brought something that is pretty commonplace elsewhere into this location.
“With design and build it is always going to be the case of choosing the right contractor. I think it’s fair to say that Ali & Sons have performed well. It’s the first time they had been approached for a design and build contract, so they would have learned a lot from the process.”
The programme meant that Maisam also had to change its modus operandi. Muqattash adds: “It was a two-stage assignment – schematic design and then design consulting along with the contractor. We became part of the contractor’s team, providing in-house design, construction monitoring and quality control, which really was a unique experience. It has its own difficulties, but in terms of fast delivery it was a success overall.”
Cockerton stresses that the project required close communication between all parties, including the developer. “SinoGulf didn’t just leave the team to it for two years. We’ve ridden the contractor and the consultant through the process, taking a very close interest in the employers’ requirements with a very, very detailed document – you need that with design and build.
"We tried not to change things because that’s where it starts to fall apart. As an overall team we’ve all pulled together to make this project happen.”