Beauty on the horizon

NYUAD student Sherina Al Sowaidi is finding the artistic side of the AD skyline

Beauty on the horizon
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Abu Dhabi has one of the most recognisable skylines in the world. Liz Totton speaks with NYUAD student Sherina Al Sowaidi about the city’s most iconic buildings.

You can live in the capital for a long time without giving its grand buildings anything more than glance. As you zoom by the structures at breakneck speed on your way into work or back home, all the glassy, gleaming structures – testament to the very potential of modern architecture – loom over you.

It’s tempting to admire the glossiest and newest buildings as the most worthy of interest in they city. However, a young NYUAD undergraduate and writer invites residents to take a look at some of the older buildings and structures that dot the capital in addition to the shiny, new ones that make our jaws drop.

Sherina Al Sowaidi is a second year student at NYUAD majoring in economics with a minor in art history and interactive media. She is also the co-author of the Abu Dhabi Guide. While her peers laze around the campus or spend late nights out with their mates, Sherina explores the city.

TOAD asked Sherina for a shortlist of five buildings that people who are interested in architecture should have look at and why.

Aldar HQ 2010 (MZ Architects)

This building is one of the most attentionigrabbing structures because of its circular shape. Its beauty is magnified at night when the circumference gets lit up, adding circular beauty to an otherwise linear Abu Dhabi skyline.

Although there is conflicted opinion on the architectural perspective of this building, I find it beautiful not only because of its unique aesthetics, but because it plays a significant role as a landmark. Residents use it as a point of reference that tells us where we are. We frequently refer to it as the ‘biscuit building’. It is renowned because of its distinctive shape and the engineering that went into constructing a building such as this.

Maqta’a Bridge 1968 (architect unknown)

There are three main bridges that lead you into the mainland of Abu Dhabi – I find the Maqta’a Bridge most interesting. It is the southern gate to the city and is blue in colour, which is unusual. The word “Maqta’a” designates the narrows that separate the island of Abu Dhabi from the mainland. Before 1968, the strait was crossed by camels rather than by automobiles, and travellers had to wait for low tide before getting to the other side. Maqta’a was the first bridge constructed and, therefore, it represents the first crossing point to many natives of Abu Dhabi. The best time to visit Maqta’a Bridge by foot is in the morning when the sun rises and there is a fresh breeze in the air.

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque 2007

We can’t deny the beauty of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which welcomes people at the entrance of the city with its almost fluorescent white colour and its grandeur. This is the UAE’s largest mosque and a memorial to its founder, HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

It is also testament to the beauty and richness of Islamic architecture. Around the mosque you’ll find examples of classic Middle Eastern flourishes with expertly executed sculpting, exquisite chandeliers, carpets and wall murals. The serenity of the place is engulfing – the landscaping surrounding it is beautiful and befits the building.

At night, it is magical. The best time to visit is around sunset in order to see its full glory both at day and at night.

Don’t miss the chance to hear the sound of the call to prayer reverberating off the Mosque.

Hyatt Capital Gate Hotel, Abu Dhabi 2011 (RMJM, Dubai)

At the entrance of the city, the Hyatt Capital Gate Hotel leans 18 degrees towards one side. It is adjacent to smaller buildings and residential neighbourhoods, so it really stands out. I find this building aesthetically and architecturally appealing because of its unique design in comparison to other buildings around the city.

I can’t imagine not passing by this building every morning on my way into town. When you drive westbound into the city, it feels as though it is leaning down on you; it’s a must-do drive-by for out-of-town visitors.

Zayed Sports City Stadium 1979 (Henri Colboc, Pierre Dalidet and George Philippe)

Just up the road from the Hyatt Capital Gate is Zayed Sports City (ZSC), which I visit two to three times a week. Although I go there frequently to play tennis, I can’t take my eyes off the Colosseum-like building: ZSC Stadium. Its Roman style arches and long, slanted gateways and ramps encircle the structure. ZSC was built during the early development of the city. Its presence surpasses the whole of sports city. Whenever a sporting event is underway, the voices are amplified and echoed out of the stadium. I see it as an intimate hub that brings the city together.
You can read more of Sherina’s work online at or pick up a copy of the Abu Dhabi Guide at the NYUAD student store on campus. NYUAD, Saadiyat Island,,

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