Chains surrounding the prayer room of a UAE government office designed by Agata Kurzella

Chains surrounding the prayer room of a UAE government office designed by Agata Kurzella

Interior design firm Agata Kurzela Studio has reworked the top floor of a heritage building in Abu Dhabi to create offices for a UAE government office, which oversees major public architecture projects.

The workspace is located in the capital’s waterfront district, Khor Al Maqta, within the former Armed Forces Officers’ Club with its distinctive concrete shell designed by French architect Roger Talibert.

Entrance to the Abu Dhabi Government Office through Agata Kurzella's studio
A steel volume next to the entrance to this UAE government office (above) leads to the mezzanine floor (top photo)

Recently redeveloped and rebranded as the Erth Complex, the project now includes a hotel with sprawling sports facilities as well as several offices in the central building, called The Club.

On the top floor of this building, Dubai-based Agata Kurzella designed a workspace for an Emirati government office working on “the most prestigious developments in the UAE,” although the designer says she “cannot reveal” her name.

A veiled woman walks into an office
The work spaces are located in the basement

Her studio added a mezzanine below the roof to house exhibition spaces, where upcoming architectural projects can be presented, while work spaces are located on the floor below.

Kurzilla says this was necessary because the office experienced an unprecedented period of growth as the project unfolded, meaning the space had to be adapted to accommodate 120 people instead of 88 as originally planned.

“Once ambitions exceeded the available space, we expanded vertically by adding functional platforms interconnected by stairs,” Kurzilla told Dezeen.

A man wearing traditional Emirati dress climbs a steel staircase
The steel unit contains two stairs and a women’s chapel

Previously inaccessible cobblestone surfaces have been resurfaced and opened up to serve as rest areas. This practice also added spaces for prayer rooms, nursing rooms, and ablution areas for performing purification rituals before prayer.

In the entrance area, a bold new volume made of recycled mild steel houses two staircases spaced close together to create a connection to the gallery level above.

A chain-covered prayer room inside the Abu Dhabi Government Office designed by Studio Agata Kurzella
The men’s prayer room is surrounded by metal chains instead of walls

“We needed to provide a reception space open to the main building while providing privacy for the main office,” says Kurzella. “The size was a response to both compositional and functional needs.”

“This bold sculptural element creates a beacon that signals the entrance and organizes the multiple competing geometries of the original building.”

The steel cube also includes a women’s prayer room and an office downstairs, while the men’s prayer room takes the form of a smaller cube located above.

This second prayer room was carefully designed to be half the size and half as opaque as the steel volume below, its walls made of suspended aluminum chains rather than solid metal.

“It has volumetric qualities when viewed from the outside while adding a sense of privacy to the space it contains,” the designer said. “The daylight filtering through adds lightness and mysticism.”

Meeting room inside the Abu Dhabi Government Office designed by Agata Kurzella Studio
Designer Agata Kurzella created a custom folding conference table for the office

This practice sought to celebrate and restore the building’s original features, including the dramatic undulating roof.

“The floating roof of the building protects a structure that originally had a very clear arrangement, which can be seen in the original plans,” Kurzilla says.

“This logic was sometimes obscured by random subdivisions and was often lost to the visitor by the sheer size of the building. We felt our opportunity was to provide visual direction and clarity, and for the space to feel like a natural part of the building.”

Close-up of meeting room with beige furniture
Reconfigurable tables allow narrow and curved spaces to be maximized

The designer made the decision not to add ceilings over the open offices, which helps reduce material waste and allows daylight to penetrate these spaces.

“Before the renovation, the space was mysterious, but now it benefits from skylights and a panoramic window, with a view of the Grand Mosque,” ​​she said.

The studio also used ultra-thin LED light strips designed by Davide Groppi, up to 17 meters long, to bring illumination to areas where lighting in walls, floors or ceilings would be impossible.

Meeting room inside the Abu Dhabi Government Office designed by Agata Kurzella Studio
Much of the furniture was produced locally

Throughout the project, there was an emphasis on locally produced items including acoustic glass partitions, furniture in the executive areas and cushions woven by a group of Emirati artisans using a traditional technique called Sadu.

The material palette combines contrasting textures including rough plaster, aged mild steel and woven palm matting known as matrix.

“It brings a sense of familiarity mixed with the sense of dread found on the sets of Ken Adams’ James Bond films,” Kurzella says.

Bathroom with freestanding central sink unit
Custom vanity mirrors in bathrooms combine matte and transparent surfaces

The government office has been shortlisted in the Large Workspace Interior Design category of this year’s Dezeen Awards alongside Universal Design Studio’s 210 Euston Road.

Photography is done by Sebastian Butcher.

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