The Old Watchtower is the oldest building of the Qasr Al-Hosn ensemble and a monument of the highest cultural significance in the region, having witnessed the development of the city and surrounding region from a small fishing village to the modern metropolis of today. The Tower is by many connected with the story of the first free-standing Watchtower constructed on Abu Dhabi island and as such with the founding of Abu Dhabi. The Tower itself was more likely constructed at the same time as the original Inner Fort around the beginning of the 19th century.
During the 1980s, the tower underwent heavy structural interventions when a reinforced concrete lining was inserted inside the tower to support it and replace the original timber beam floors. These additions aged badly under the harsh site conditions and as works began, corrosion of the concrete elements was causing serious damage to the valuable historic masonry fabric. As conservation specialists ZRS were responsible for the conception, planning and supervision of the works on the Tower. The aim was to restore the building to a safe, stable condition while ensuring the conservation of original materials and building elements, with a view to allowing visitors to experience the interior of the valuable monument. Works included the complete removal of the concrete liner and the painstaking conservation of the historic masonry using a bespoke mortar mix developed to match the properties of the historic material. Furthermore a new massive timber ceiling was installed – timber being more suited to the flexible nature of the historic masonry and better able to provide the seismic response required.
The Old Watchtower conservation provides a best-case example for the restoration of delicate historic monuments in the region using a combination of cutting-edge engineering, traditional techniques and natural building materials. The Tower forms a key part of the Qasr Al-Hosn visitors experience and allows visitors to experience the interior of one of the oldest buildings in Abu Dhabi.