Computer-controlled sunscreens featured on two of the strangest-looking towers in Abu Dhabi have helped the buildings to win an international award for innovation.

Al Bahar towers in the capital, home to the new headquarters for the Abu Dhabi Investment Council, earned the first innovation accolade under this year’s best tall buildings awards, revealed the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, a Chicago-based association. The two towers are adorned with hundreds of screens, which operate like umbrellas that open and close to shade the surface of the buildings from the sun.

“The dynamic facade on Al Bahar, computer-controlled to respond to optimal solar and light conditions, has never been achieved on this scale before,” said Antony Wood, the Council’s Executive Director.

“The way you’re seeing it now, it will probably never look like that again, in that the mashrabiya – as we call it – on the building will actually open and close as the sun moves round the building throughout the day,” said Peter Oborn, the Deputy Chairman of Aedas, the Architect for the project.

“At night they will all fold, so they will all close, you’ll see more of the facade,” he added. “As the sun rises in the morning in the east, the mashrabiya along the east of the building will all begin to close and as the sun moves round the building, then that whole vertical strip of mashrabiya will move with the sun.” The building was designed as a modern interpretation of the traditional mashrabiya, the complex wooden-lattice screens found in many Middle Eastern buildings that help to reduce heat from the sun in the building and therefore reduce the use of air-conditioning.

“It allows us to use more naturally tinted glass, which lets more light in so you have better views and less need of artificial light,” Oborn said. “It’s using an old technique in a modern way, which also responds to the aspiration of the emirate to take a leadership role in the area of sustainability.”