The Sheikh Mohamed Bin Khalifa House Project (SMBKH) is a cultural restoration project to preserve and rehabilitate a major building in the context of the UAE’s recent history, as it is a tangible evidence of the ‘Transition Period’, the crucial period between the pre-oil and post-oil eras. The SMBKH is also an important landmark as it was located at the gates of Al Ain city, and it was the first visible house for people accessing Al Ain from Abu Dhabi. Furthermore, because it was built near a falaj, it represents a link between traditional pre-oil settlements (near the water sources) and the modern era (when the location of dwellings no longer depends on the availability of water). Although the building typology was traditional, the house was built using concrete, an innovative material during the Transition Period. Due to a long period of abandon the present state of conservation of the building is quite poor.
The house was built in 1958, near Al Mu’taredh falaj, for Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa (1979-1909) and his fourth wife, their daughters and sons. Sheikh Mohamed Bin Khalifa gave instructions on the construction, on the number of rooms and even on colours and style of decorations. The layout and functions of the house reflect the traditional family structure and the social rules, which implied that public and private life, were strictly separated.
The building is composed of two blocks: one for receiving guests (Block A) – the majlis building - and the other for the family life (Block C). Block A is a two-storey structure built in concrete with liwans along its perimeter, round arches on the main façade and majalis divided by a central passageway on the ground floor. The first floor which has largely been demolished and of which only the outer walls are still standing was used as a majlis for important guests. The private block (Block C), is a larger two-storey structure featuring full length balconies, some triangular arches, decorative elements and concrete columns. The central courtyard is divided from Block A by a straight wall with a bent entrance. This smaller L-shaped wall was meant to hide the courtyard and Block C from men and guests received in the majlis. The manama in the middle of the courtyard was used by Sheikh Mohamed and his sons to sleep outside during the summer.
The present owner of SMBKH, the Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA) Abu Dhabi, launched an ambitious project to preserve and rehabilitate the house, involving the relevant stakeholders and the community of Al Ain, in order to return this significant historic building to the local people and pass it on to the future generations.
Sheikh Mohamed Bin Khalifa house is intended to be a cultural and social hub targeting the local Al Ain community and by extension Abu Dhabi, as well as the regional tourism audience. The conservation of the house shall commemorate the living memory of the late Sheikh Mohamed Bin Khalifa in the history of Al Ain and Abu Dhabi, highlighting the importance of the Transition Period in Abu Dhabi by presenting and interpreting the architectural, social, and urban context of the house and associated historic and economic changes.
The house will complement and enhance the presentation and understanding of the World Heritage Site and link the pre-oil history and heritage of Al Ain with the present day. Conservation of the building strikes a balance between preserving the tangible and intangible significant values and adapting the site to create a vibrant venue for the community. Sheikh Mohamed Bin Khalifa house will be accessible and inviting to all different sectors of the community by setting an active and dynamic program of activities and complementary uses. The house will also include a specialised or multipurpose hall, special honorary events, commercial and retail activities. Landscaping and presentation will provide a tranquil space for leisurely relaxation and reflection.
Ahmed Al-Ali, Farid Esmaeil, Marija Krsmanovic, Sebastiano Baldan, Abdullah Bashir, Nazis Khurshidkhan, Halla Al Fahmawi, Emmerson Angeles, Arvin Padayao