Central Market 1968-2005

Central Market 1968-2005

Architect: Abdul Rahman Makhlouf

The Central Market was part of the master plan of Abu Dhabi drafted in 1968 by Egyptian architect Abdul Rahman Makhlouf on the template provided by both Arabicon and Katsuhiko Takahashi. The market was built in the downtown area and initially housed two hundred shops. The Central Market earned a reputation as the retail heart of Abu Dhabi, the place where one would venture to shop and socialize. Rent was cheap, shops were spatial and plentiful, the flow of customers was consistent, and the intensity of social engagement between people was very pleasant。




Before it was demolished, the Market showed signs of aging and poor maintenance. On the one hand, there were instances of disorder and overuse, as found any dense urban space. Yet on the other hand, the site was so popular and incredibly diverse. British travel writer Jonathan Raban wrote:

“The symptoms of decay, even squalor become signs that there are elements of life in an ‘artificial’ city such as Abu Dhabi.”

The top view of the Central Market revealed light flat roofs that looked like an infinite of overlapping rectangles. The rooftop’s surface was geometric, yet looked almost chaotic from above. There was a defined rhythm in the angles, overlaps, crossings, and openings of the roof. The structure was meant to be easily accessible, welcoming, and open to all. Makhlouf achieved a careful balance of light and space by simplifying architectural forms, making the most from the natural light, and allowing for wide passages. The Market demonstrates a dedication to functionalism: every element was meant to facilitate trade, make visitors feel at ease, and encourage human interactions.


The Central Market was very different from the imposing high-rises that were built in its place. Each shop had two floors – the first floor was for the display of goods, and the second floor functioned as storage and a space for rest. Simple straight columns supported the roof, and they helped to divide and organize the space. White was used for most vertical surfaces and the roof in order to minimize overheating and direct sunlight. Openness allowed for a constant flow of air through the market.

A fire started one night in 2005, destroying several shops. The event indicated the last chapter in the life of the Central Market, which was demolished that same year. A new, massive complex designed by British architect Sir Norman Foster was built in its place. Set in the area where the old heart of Abu Dhabi once beat,  many believed the new Central Market lacks the human density of its extinct predecessor.


Damlūji, Salmá Samar, ed. The Architecture of the United Arab Emirates. Garnet Pub Limited, 2006.

Emily Cleland, ‘Abu Dhabi on brink of ‘golden age’ as architecture legends hail Saadiyat,” The National, November 8, 2012. Web. January 17, 2014

Yasser Elsheshtawy, “Remembrance of Market’s Past,” FIND, January 17, 2014. Web. January 20, 2014.

1 Comment on “Central Market 1968-2005

  1. It is marvellous to see this documentation of the Central Market. While we often lament the newness of Abu Dhabi, landmarks such as the Central Market are already meeting its demise. While this is supremely interesting, it is equally critical to situate the market in relation to the larger urban plan. Start to locate this market in relation to the other plans of “foreign roots” and articulate its significance. This applies to your interest in the airport, court house and national housing plans in the city. If these are the three or four key typologies under analysis, you ought to be able to tie them together at an urban level. Otherwise, they appear as random bits of interesting architecture around the city. Can you consider adding the thesis and mode of analysis to the title of each entry, so we can quickly grasp the topic at hand? Please cite the sources and dates of the photographs and plans.

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