Wahat Al Karama: The Oasis Of Dignity

Winning the American Architecture Prize for Cultural Buildings in 2017, and a finalist in the World Architecture Festival, Wahat Al Karama, The Oasis of Dignity, in Abu Dhabi, treads a delicate balance between traditional memorial, artist expression and place destination. Its role is far more complex than any monument may suggest.

As a tapestry of interwoven meanings, symbols, emotions, memories and narratives, it is ultimately the creation of a new urban place with an authentic, distinct place identity. As a civic landmark, it successfully positions unity as a key principle in a highly complex society undergoing rapid development.

From nomadic Bedouin to modern metropolis, Abu Dhabi was a small fishing and pearling village until the influx of petrodollars. Its evolution from desert oasis to city of the future is fueled by visionary leadership as a nation building a place of contrasts where Sheiks take selfies and Westerners smoke shisha. Abu Dhabi, where the traditional culture is firmly rooted in Arabia’s Islamic traditions is also home to a massive population of expat workers now comprising nearly 85% of the inhabitants.

Cognizant of the contrasting urban fabric of a city in flux, Wahat Al Karama is a conceptual metaphor as a place for reflection and unity. In keeping with contemporary memorials, it has transformed the singular ceremonial monument into a placemaking experience. Embedded within the everyday of civic life this new urban destination is infused by the meaningful inclusion of Sheik Zayed’s poetry in Arabic calligraphy.

Martyrs Day, announced in 2015 in response to the tragic loss of life in the battle in Yemen, has been renamed Commemoration Day to highlight the inclusivity and tolerance of the young UAE, independent since 1971.Commissioned by the Crown Prince Court of Abu Dhabi, the memorial park covers 46,000 square meters symbolically located opposite the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque. It contains a central plaza with a reflection pool that is emptied when hosting commemorative events of up to 1,200 people. The dominant centrepiece is the monument, designed by British Artist Idris Khan. Comprised of 31 cast-aluminium tablets, the largest standing 23 metres in height, the tablets cascade and lean on each other to represent unified strength, power and pride among soldiers, loved ones and their country. With its impressive scale, the Wahat Al Karama represents the eternal martyr, a place of reassurance and defiance.

UAP Senior Principal | Middle East, Ms Chetana Andary presented the full paper at 10th International Urban Design Conference in Queensland, Australia in 2017