Often, it is the unconventional details that lend a building its sense of character. This is certainly true of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, a monument striking for its tilt of approximately 4 degrees.


Bonanno Pisano, Campanile (Leaning Tower), exterior, 1174-1350, Pisa, Italy. (c) 2006, SCALA, Florence / ART RESOURCE, N.Y., artres.com, scalarchives.com

The tilt was even more pronounced before modern efforts at stabilization began, and by some accounts has reached 8-10 degrees in past centuries. But while stabilizing the tower has been important to its physical preservation, it may have negatively affected the church’s historical legacy. Since the Leaning Tower of Pisa was straightened out, several other buildings–mainly in Germany and Switzerland–have been vying for the slanted spotlight, as was humorously reported by the New York Times in 2012.

However, no attempt at dethroning Pisa as home to the farthest leaning building has been as bold as that of Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates. Starting in 2007, the city began work on the Capital Gate, which rises at an 18-degree westward lean–more than four times that of the Leaning Tower of Pisa–along the city’s waterfront.

The topography and skyline of Abu Dhabi and of other major cities on the Persian Gulf have been rapidly changing in the past decade, with projects for major museums and cultural centers, shopping malls, offices, and condominiums underway or already completed. In Abu Dhabi alone, two outposts of renowned art museums are in the works – a branch of the Louvre, and a Guggenheim Abu Dhabi designed, respectively, by the famed architects Jean Nouvel and Frank Gehry.


RMJM Architects, Capital Gate; overview of the building from nearby mosque exterior, 2010, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Image and original data provided by Art on File, artonfile.com

Even amid this development, though, the Capital Gate (opened in 2011) remains a unique structure for its arresting form, and the engineering feats that allowed for it. The architectural firm behind the building, RMJM Architects, devised a complex system to ensure that the Capital Gate stays at its intended lean. The building was the first to use what is known as a ‘pre-cambered’ core. 15,000 cubic meters of concrete reinforced with 10,000 tons of steel were sculpted in the opposite direction of the building’s incline and placed slightly off-center at its base. As the building rose, this core was gradually pulled up and compressed into a vertical position to support the mammoth structure.

Other design elements employed to reinforce the Capital Gate’s unique shape include a steel exoskeleton, supported by 490 piles drilled 100 feet underground.

The interior of the building matches the exterior in opulence. The Capital Gate houses an exhibition center, 20,000 square meters of luxury office space, and a five-star Hyatt hotel. Guests lucky enough to stay in one of the Hyatt’s rooms are greeted by floor-to-ceiling windows displaying a panoramic view of the city through custom-built window paneling. A large, airy atrium fills the central 17th and 18th floors, and contains both a swimming pool and cantilevered tea lounge.

The 18th floor is also where the ‘Splash’–a 320-meter metal element that sweeps down from the outside of the building and connects to the nearby Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre–is placed. More than a mere aesthetic flourish, the Splash turns into a canopy for the Centre’s outdoor grandstand, used for viewing parades and other national events. Unsurprisingly, the client behind both buildings is one in the same: the Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company (ADNEC), a national body that oversees conferences and exhibitions.


RMJM Architects, Capital Gate; overview; exterior, 2010, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Image and original data provided by Art on File, artonfile.com

Exhibitions have a way of inspiring futuristic architecture. The Eiffel Tower was built for the 1889 World’s Fair; the Unisphere in New York City is a relic of the 1964/5 event; and in 2010 the city of Shanghai completed the Expo Axis, featuring one of the world’s largest membrane roofs, to accommodate the 2010 year’s World Exposition. The Capital Gate’s metallic, undulating shape lends it–and in turn the events it hosts–a cutting-edge appearance at a time when this region is staking its claim as a future international center for business and culture.

Despite its bid for dominance in the architectural monuments game, though, Pisa may still have Abu Dhabi beat. The Capital Gate was given the honor of the Guinness World Record for “farthest leaning man-made structure,” but unless something goes awry with its foundation (and let’s hope it doesn’t), Pisa still houses, arguably, the world’s quirkiest and most iconic slanted structure – tilted by human error, not meticulous design plans.

Hannah Stamler

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