Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat

Spiny Lizard
Arash Sheikhi
Site: Abu Dhabi, UAE
University of Nottingham
David Nicholson-Cole & Philip Oldfield
2011 Climate, Culture, Context

Aerial View

Design Inspiration

Model Development

Typical Plan


Unfolded Facade

Facade Model

Facade and Internal Spaces

Model in Context

Aerial Views

View from East

View Looking Up

This project is designed as a direct response to the harsh sun and hot semiarid climate of Abu Dhabi. Rejecting the curtain-wall-clad, fully-glazed tall building, so prevalent in the Middle East, it instead draws inspiration from nature, and in particular the Spiny Lizard. This desert creature responds to the hot sun through its protective scales and its ability to change colour, becoming darker when temperatures are cool thus absorbing more heat from the sun, and becoming lighter during warm times so as to reflect unwanted solar radiation.

Inspired by this strategy, the design proposes a perforated exoskeleton made up of a concrete structural diagrid with coloured Teflon-coated fibreglass panels. Each of these panels is adjustable, allowing them to be opened and closed by occupants as the sun-path changes throughout the day, creating dynamic and vibrant elevations. In terms of colour, the panels are warmer towards the base, where the building is shaded by surrounding towers, but lighten to blues and yellows towards its peak to reflect unwanted solar gain and respond to the blue skies. Residential units are set back from the exoskeleton, creating a buffer zone which acts as a solar chimney, drawing unwanted heat up and away from the apartments. The units are arranged around open central courtyard spaces, inspired by the Arabian Courtyard House, and shaded by the exoskeleton.