“Dubai is one of those territories – like Russia, China and America – that once you're involved here, there's a climate of self-development and reinvention,” says Rem Koolhaas, founder of OMA (Office of Metropolitan Architecture) which had been commissioned to realise a study for a “waterfront city” in Dubai in 2008. However, the plan for the artificial island was cancelled during the economic crisis.

Nearly a decade later, the opening of Concrete is a fulfillment of Koolhaas's ambition to contribute to Dubai's evolution. “I think no other city has had an impact on our practice as Dubai has,” says Koolhaas, who worked with local companies on the interior design and engineering. “Here things are subtler and softer [than in Europe], there's not just one identity.”

Photograph by Mohamed Somji, courtesy Alserkal Avenue

The venue formerly comprised four warehouses that OMA has combined into one structure. Koolhaas has “always been obsessed with buildings that transform” and, as with the Fondazione Prada in Milan, OMA studied the existing shell to see “what it had to offer”.

The idea of performance is key to the design of the multi-purpose venue, with four rotating, sliding walls enabling various spatial configurations. Four circular rings, on which the walls pivot, are embedded into the ceiling as an attractive architectural feature. Two skylights can also be adjusted to allow either blades of light or full daylight to stream into the space.

Photograph by Mohamed Somji, courtesy Alserkal Avenue

The front facade, of 8.10m, has been clad in a translucent, poly-carbonate membrane. Its full-height, fully operable doors provide a blurring between the exterior yard and the interior space when open. “Before it was a dark storage, abandoned facility,” says Kaveh Dabiri who, along with OMA partner Iyad Alsaka, led the Concrete reconversion. “Now the whole exhibition space has been given to the yard.”

The other outside walls are covered in sprayed concrete and a myriad of small mirrored glass pieces that sparkle in the sun. It's a raw, complex finish to a project that brings a different architectural vision to the city-state most famous for the Burj Khalifa – the world's tallest skyscraper.

The inaugural exhibition, 'Syria: Into the Light', showcasing a collection of Syrian art focusing on the face and the body, runs until 3 April 2017.

Photograph by Mohamed Somji, courtesy Alserkal Avenue
Photograph by Mohamed Somji, courtesy Alserkal Avenue
Photograph by Mohamed Somji, courtesy Alserkal Avenue
Photograph by Mohamed Somji, courtesy Alserkal Avenue