OMA, the famous Dutch design firm, has been behind some of the most cutting-edge architecture of the 21st Century – the imposing CCTV Headquarters in Beijing, the towering “vertical city” De Rotterdam and the futuristic, spherical Taipei Performing Arts Center to name just a few.
Now, Alserkal Avenue’s new exhibition space, Concrete, can be added to that list. It’s the first OMA-designed building in the country. Converted from four warehouses and sitting at no less than 600 square metres with double-height ceilings, the museum-scale venue is composed of rough, black concrete and translucent, moveable walls.
“We wanted to keep the interior as neutral and flexible as possible while transforming the existing exteriors so it would stand out from the surrounding buildings,” explains OMA partner Iyad Alsaka.
See the space, and you’ll notice both how distinctive it is, and how well it blends in with the aesthetic of Alserkal Avenue, offering contrasts in colours and textures. OMA founder Rem Koolhaas says with Concrete, they weren’t introducing a new shape. “We were able to infiltrate an existing building with an arts institution. This building is totally produced in Dubai, it’s not a foreign ideal, and that, I think, is significant.”
It’s another game-changing moment for the country, following the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and the Louvre Abu Dhabi which has been designed by Jean Nouvel. Unlike these two buildings, however, which were both designed with their famous counterparts in mind, Concrete was a chance for OMA to create something truly, originally, Middle Eastern.
“OMA has brought its unique aesthetic to urban architecture to the Avenue,” says Vilma Jurkute, director of Alserkal Avenue. “[The team] have created a space that has started a dialogue for architectural evolution in the UAE.”
It’s the first OMA project to be completed in the UAE, but it’s not the first to be announced. Back in 2014, the firm revealed plans for a service station for Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island, while other mega projects have been tentatively proposed over the last decade, such as the ambitious City in the Desert – an entirely new city for 150,000 inhabitants, built from scratch.
But OMA has long been associated with the world of high fashion, too. The firm regularly designs the sets of runway shows for the likes of Prada and Miu Miu, and it was the agency behind the design of The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute spring 2016 exhibition Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology. So it’s fitting that Burberry chose the space as the location for its stunning exhibition of couture capes: The Cape Reimagined.
Back in February, at London Fashion Week, Burberry introduced 78 limited-edition capes during the show’s finale, 30 of which will be exhibited at Concrete. Inspired by the work and style of British artist and sculptor Henry Moore, they play with sculpture and silhouette, and push the boundaries of what ateliers can achieve. The prints, for example, that are incorporated into the capes, reference designs from Moore’s archives.
The raw, industrial space of Alserkal offers the perfect contrast to the intricate, delicate and detailed pieces on show.
“The Burberry cape has a rich heritage dating back to the 19th century. Like our trench coat it was introduced to protect, but has evolved to become much more,” says Christopher Bailey, Burberry chief creative and chief executive officer. “Each cape is a unique collector’s piece incorporating unexpected materials and intricate techniques that reflect the passion and artistry of our makers.”
Each one takes an incredible amount of skill to create. The emphasis is on workmanship, and they are crafted from unusual combinations of unexpected materials, from solid steel, ceramic and wood to sequins, chainmail, velvet, silk organza and many more besides, and all of them are entirely handmade.
Each piece is available for order – though it’s a process that takes around three months, as each cape is fitted and custom-made for the buyer. The capes aren’t just for women, either. In fact, many of them are designed to be unisex, while there are around ten pieces designed for men.
Concrete is the only space in the region where the exhibition will be on show, following stops in Seoul, Milan, New York, Shanghai and Los Angeles. It’s a rare chance to see the artistry of a high-fashion house up close (without an invitation to the front row of Fashion Week, that is). It’s bound to be just one of the incredible exhibitions that will no doubt be coming to Concrete over the year.
If ever there was a space to watch, this is it.
Free. May 3-7, Sun-Thu 11am-6pm, Sat noon-4pm. Concrete, Alserkal Avenue, Al Quoz (050 556 9797).