Six Must-See Marvels of Modern Middle Eastern Architecture

By Gareth Rees
29 October 2018
Middle East, Architecture, Burj Khalifa
From Sheikh Zayed Mosque to Burj Khalifa, we look at some of the region's most iconic designs

The Middle East is renowned for many stunning contemporary buildings, with the world's finest architects, like Zaha Hadid, leaving their fingerprints on some of the regions most iconic structures. Here are six of the best.

1. Cayan Tower, Dubai, UAE

There are 20 skyscrapers in Dubai taller than Cayan Tower, but the 306m-high, 75-storey structure, is the world’s tallest twisting tower. Turning 90 degrees from top to bottom, the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill-designed luxury apartment building is one of the most remarkable in an emirate known for its arresting architecture.

Cayan Tower

2. King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Centre, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Centre (KAPSARC) in Riyadh, opened in 2013, is an institution purpose-built to serve as a hub for research into the energy challenges facing the planet. With such a noble goal, it is fitting the Zaha Hadid-designed KAPSARC’s “hexagonal prismatic honeycomb structures” – five buildings populate the 70,000sqm campus – are reminiscent of the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars.


3. Tabi'at Bridge, Iran

Iranian architect Leila Araghian’s Tabi'at Bridge (Nature Bridge) in Abbas Abad in northern Tehran, completed in 2014, is one of the most impressive architectural achievements in the Middle East in recent years. The largest pedestrian overpass in Iran, the multi-level 270-metre construction straddles one of Tehran’s major highways, the Modarres Expressway, to connect Taleghani Park and Abo-Atash Park. "There are multiple routes from one point to the other, encouraging pedestrians to wander and get lost on this bridge," says Araghian.

Tabiat Bridge, Iran

4. Burj Khalifa, Dubai, UAE

Burj Khalifa is the world’s tallest building. Completed in 2010, the 828-metre, 163-floor skyscraper in Dubai is the most iconic structure in the Middle East. Its architect, Adrian Smith, formerly of Skidmore Owings and Merrill now of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, also designed Jeddah Tower, currently under construction in Saudi Arabia. If Jeddah Tower is completed on schedule in 2020, at 1,000m, it will be 172m taller than the Burj. Until then, Burj Khalifa retains the record.

Burj Khalifa, Dubai

5. Kuwait National Assembly Building, Kuwait

Completed in 1982, Kuwait National Assembly Building, in Kuwait City, seat of the country’s elected National Assembly, is the oldest building on this list, but it cannot be ignored. Designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon, the Pritzker Architecture Prize-winning designer of the iconic Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia, it is a masterpiece.

6. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi

With its 82 white marble domes and four 107m-high minarets, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi is the largest mosque in the UAE. Envisioned by HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, ruler of Abu Dhabi between 1971 and 2004, inspired by architectural styles from across the Middle East and designed by British, Italian and Emirati architects, the gleaming titan has space for 40,000 worshippers. Completed in 2007, it is a masterwork of modern Islamic architecture and a fitting tribute to the “Father of the Nation”.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque Abu Dhabi