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Cube-Shaped Building Bisected by Sculptural Void

Exterior rendering of the Opus, a mixed-use structure that takes the form of two towers joined at the base by a podium and at the top by a bridge structure
The Opus, a mixed-use structure in a new business district in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, takes the form of two towers joined at the base by a podium and at the top by a bridge structure. The void between them is an undulating form that admits light and offers stunning views. © Zaha Hadid Architects

Zaha Hadid Architects turns plan for a set of traditional office towers into a stunning architectural destination.

March 18, 2014—The master plan for a new business district in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, called for two traditional office towers on adjacent sites in the heart of the development. But when architects began considering the towers’ design, they envisioned fusing the two buildings to form a single monolithic structure. The result is a cube-shaped building with a dramatic free-form void through its center.

The Opus, as the building is known, is under construction as part of Business Bay, a new 195 million m2 development that is expected to become the region’s central business district. The building will rise from two plots at the core of the development, offering views of the tallest building in the world—the Burj Khalifa—as well as the Dubai Stock Exchange and other notable structures. The building will also be adjacent to a new extension of Dubai Creek. The Dubai-based development firm Omniyat Properties owns the project, and following consultations with several architecture firms selected Zaha Hadid Architects, headquartered in London, to design the building.

Even though the development’s master plan called for two separate 30-story tall towers, the architects were drawn by the idea of joining the towers and leaving a void between them. The idea was inspired by the notion of carving space out of a solid block and by the importance of negative space in architecture. “It’s about the visible and the invisible, the solid and the void, and about black and white,” says Christos Passas, the project’s director for Zaha Hadid Architects. As the concept took hold, the architects improved the building’s efficiency by reducing its height to 20 stories and increasing the size of its floor plates. “We compressed and connected the towers to create this structure with a void in the middle and generate about 85,000 square meters of aboveground space,” he says.

The building was initially designed expressly as an office tower but has since evolved to accommodate multiple functions. The first four levels will house an opulent boutique hotel, Michelin-starred destination restaurants, and a cafe, all under an undulating glass roof. Levels 5 through 17 will house offices, and the top three levels—including the “bridge” that links the tops of the two towers—will house luxury apartments. The building will also have seven below-grade levels for parking and back-of-house facilities. “It’s going to be a very exciting layout because the whole building becomes a mixed-use development,” Passas says. “You will have residents in the upper levels, the workforce in the middle levels, and the people who want to go to a hotel and enjoy a night or two in Dubai in the lower levels, all using the building in a different way.”

The building will rise as two towers from a shared podium. Each of the towers will have a concrete core and will be framed in concrete using a posttensioned slab system. So-called “dancing” columns will be angled in various directions to frame the irregularly shaped void between the towers. “Those columns are not vertical because, of course, they follow the form of the void and [the] glazing on the outside of the building,” Passas says. The 50 m long bridge linking the tops of the towers will be framed using steel trusses and will serve as the essential element for completing the void’s sculptural shape. Ramboll, an engineering firm headquartered in Copenhagen, Denmark, provided structural engineering services in the initial design stages, and BG+E, an engineering firm headquartered in Perth, Western Australia, is serving as the structural engineer as the project moves forward. 

 Exterior rendering of the Opus, which displays dark blue-tinted glass within the void that will be illuminated at night by light-emitting diodes

 The dark blue-tinted glass within the void will be illuminated at night
by light-emitting diodes, which will be programmed to slowly flash,
giving the impression that the void is pulsating like a heart.
© Zaha Hadid Architects

The void between the two towers will do more than create an intriguing sculptural expression; it will also increase the opportunity for views out of and into the building, which will be clad entirely in glass. The dark blue-tinted glass within the void will be thermoformed to achieve the undulating shape of each panel and will be illuminated at night by light-emitting diodes, which will be programmed to slowly flash, giving the impression that the void is pulsating like a heart. The exterior glass will be somewhat silvery and covered to a fair extent by a dotted pattern—a mirrored frit. “On one hand, the dots obscure the penetration of solar radiation inside the building, and on the other hand, they also reflect the surrounding site,” Passas says. “So when someone stands in front of the building, they can see inside of the building, but they can also see the reflection behind them.”

After being delayed as a result of the 2008 global financial crisis, the building is now under construction and completion is anticipated in May 2016. At that time, the building is expected to join the ranks of Dubai’s growing list of architecturally stunning structures. “It is going to be an architectural destination with substance and good taste; it’s not a building that tries to do too many things,” Passas says. As a result, he says, “It’s going to be a place that people enjoy traveling to see simply because it is beautiful.”



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