Grand opening set for cultural destination Qasr Al Hosn with designs by hsd

Grand opening set for cultural destination Qasr Al Hosn with designs by hsd

Posted by: Haley Sharpe Design Limited

A visual created for the Inner Fort exhibition space by hsd showing the story of Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nayan.

ABU Dhabi’s most important historic and cultural landmark, Qasr Al Hosn, will be opened to the public on 7 December 2018 with exhibits designed by, Leicester-based Haley Sharpe Design (hsd). Celebrations throughout Abu Dhabi will mark the opening of this much-anticipated cultural destination.

Qasr Al Hosn, located in the heart of downtown Abu Dhabi, will feature the historic Qasr Al Hosn Fort, the Cultural Foundation, the National Consultative Council building, and the House of Artisans. The official launch will be a celebration of Abu Dhabi’s rich history and foundation of culture.

hsd was appointed by the Department of Culture and Tourism (DCT) Abu Dhabi as the exhibition designers for the Qasr Al Hosn Fort and the National Council Chamber, located next to the Fort. The principal aim was to restore these two culturally important buildings back to their former glory while preserving their historic fabric. The new exhibitions have a mix of AV, artefacts and interactives telling the story of the city, its people, their history and its modern heritage.

Working in close collaboration with the DCT, hsd has contributed to the transformation of the Qasr Al Hosn Fort into a new museum for the 21st century. The Fort consists of the Inner Fort, the Outer Palace and the National Council Chamber with each telling their own stories about this historic landmark.

HE Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, Chairman, Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi, said, “Qasr Al Hosn retraces the history of the city of Abu Dhabi, our very first building. It stands as a constant in our evolving city. It is a testament to the heart and spirit of our people and the repository of our collective memories, and its reopening is a key moment for both the citizens of Abu Dhabi and the wider UAE.”

Qasr Al Hosn Fort – Inner Fort

The Inner Fort takes visitors from the transition of the Nomadic people to the origins of a nation through culture, position, ingenuity and leadership. Each room creates a chronological journey through Abu Dhabi from the origins to the 21st century.  

Moving through the Inner Fort the narratives change from the building to the stories of those who inhabited it. Artefacts significant to the Fort and discovered within the Fort’s walls are displayed in all the spaces. There is also an opportunity for local residents to have their personal items related to the Fort put on display. In addition, the stories of Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nayan and Sheikh Shakhbut Bin Sultan are told using portraits, life size images and specially commissioned artefacts.

The Inner Fort has two original towers which have purposely been transformed into a completely different visitor experience than the rest of the Fort. Here projections, gobo effects and soundscapes fully immerse the visitor in the history of Qasr Al Hosn.  

Jan Faulkner, Director and Designer at hsd, commented, “To have been given the opportunity to work on such a historically significant building has been a real privilege for the team at hsd. To illustrate the creation and growth of a national monument.

“We have created a multi-layered experience to give visitors an accurate idea of what it was like living and working in and around the Fort. By mixing traditional with digital media the Fort has been brought back to life and visitors are really immersed through sound, imagery and dynamic interactives.”

Caption: A visual created for the Inner Fort exhibition space by hsd showing the story of Sheikh Shakhbut Bin Sultan.


Qasr Al Hosn Fort – Outer Palace

The visitor experience in the Outer Palace focusses on Sheikh Shakhbut with numerous spaces and reconstructed rooms immersing the visitor in life at the Fort during his reign.  

The story starts in an un-rendered room that serves as an introduction to the Outer Palace and includes a model of the Fort. Next visitors walk into a Ghati, there are a series of these smaller spaces in between the main rooms offering a new experience every time. The first Ghati offers the visitor a Gahwa experience. Gahwa, Arabic coffee, is integral to Arab hospitality, and the traditions associated with it are authentic to the region’s heritage. The visitor will experience smells, sounds and taste. Other Ghatis throughout the Outer Palace include artefacts and graphics about the women of Qasr Al Hosn, hospitality and food.

Reconstructed rooms show Sheikh Shakbut’s majlis (sitting room), office and bedroom. Each one has an interactive aspect. For example, in the office room there is a reconstruction of a desk representing the administrative role of the Outer Palace. In this room visitors can listen to a selection of oral histories through the phone by dialling a combination of numbers.

Other rooms focus on the Women of Qasr Al Hosn, with reconstructed rooms from the most significant women of the Fort’s history, including the mother of Sheikh’s Zayed and Shakhbut, Sheikha Salama. The working Fort is also represented, taking visitors behind the scenes. There is a recreation of a working kitchen displaying herbs, spices and utensils. These and the smells of food preparation give the visitor a multi-sensory experience of what it was like inside the palace kitchen. The visitor is further immersed with audio of the general sounds of a working kitchen; the shuffling of feet and clatter of plates as food is delivered around the Palace.

The Men of Qasr Al Hosn, Children of the Fort and Rites of Passage are other subjects featured in the Outer Palace. Just as in the Inner Fort, artefacts, interactives, reconstructions and soundscapes are used and included at the end of the experience there is a fun and lively space for visitors to build a model of the Fort.

hsd designer Robin Pierce commented, “It has been such a fascinating project to work on from a design perspective. Especially the reconstructing of the rooms has given us all at hsd insight into what the Fort and especially the Outer Palace would have been like whilst occupied by the Sheikhs. We hope adding interactives to each of the rooms will enthuse and excite those visiting this significant historic site.”

Caption: A visual created for the Outer Palace exhibition space by hsd showing the reconstruction of Sheikh Shakhbut’s bedroom.


The National Council Chamber

The exhibit design for the National Council Chamber was also part of hsd’s scope of works. Constructed between 1968 and 1970 by Sheikh Zayed, its purpose was for the unification of the Sheikhdoms to be undertaken here. The chamber witnessed many important historical decisions and hosted the Federal and National debates up to the late 1990s.

The chamber itself has been left in its original state with an introductory zone at its entrance.  Once visitors step into the chamber there are projections and soundscapes to simulate meetings that took place there. The old media viewing platform now features a timeline showing historic and significant events, and several interactives along with audio and video to give visitors more information.

hsd Director and Designer Jan concludes, “From conceptual design, guiding the build and installation, hsd is delighted to have collaborated on such a prestigious project in the UAE. The opening to the public on 7 December will be testament to the amazing work undertaken by the wider teams at DCT and hsd, ensuring the Fort and chamber are enjoyed for many years to come.”

hsd is currently working on numerous cultural and heritage projects worldwide including the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C., Oman Botanic Garden in Al Khoud, Oman, American Battle Monuments Commission in the UK and France, and Yorkshire’s Maritime City Project, Hull, UK.

For more information about hsd, their projects and range of services for the cultural sector, please visit their members page.