One of the projects I didn’t mention in my story about Abu Dhabi’s real estate crunch is Saadiyat Island. The “Island of Happiness,” located next door to Yas, is to be home of the emirate’s cultural district. Developers are busily constructing local branches of the Guggenheim and Louvre museums as well as a National Martime Museum, the Sheikh Zayed National Museum and a new Performing Arts Center. (As far as I know, the contractors on this project are able to pay their bills.)

Saadiyat untouched, for now

There’s not much to see now.  The Saadiyat Golf Club is open and I was able to ride a golf cart around its 18-hole course and take a look at the half-dozen or so beach resorts that are under construction there. Construction has really only just begun on the first two museums. I couldn’t even get close to the construction sites. Despite some delays because of the economic downturn, the Guggenheim and Louvre are scheduled to open two years from now. Don’t know if I’ll be here then but I’ll be curious about how they handle exhibitions of art that may not conform to some of the notions on modesty around here.

The Saadiyat project, which includes nine five-star hotels, the Saadiyat Beach Golf Club and villas to house about 145,000 residents is estimated to cost about $27 billion. And it’s understandably of interest to the world’s engineering, construction and architecture firms as a rare spot in the world where mega-development projects are still going strong.

Golf ... the Ritz ... Museums TK

Like Dubai, Abu Dhabi has also gone for high-octane star power. No ordinary architect would do for Saadiyat. The constellation of Jean Nouvel, Tadao Ando, Frank Gehry, Lord Foster and Zara Hadid will all leave their mark on this Happiness Island. My update on the project in ENR features a Slide Show that shows the fantastic designs planned for these buildings.

One thing the U.A.E. really lacks is art and the performing arts so in that sense the projects seem like a much better idea than another luxury, eight-star hotel. Other than the tiny Dubai Museum in Bastikiya near the Creek, there isn’t any public space dedicated to art. I suppose Dubai is a place bent on looking forward and not back.

Abu Dhabi isn’t the only Gulf city-state trying to be the epicenter of art in the Arab world. In some ways, Doha, the Connecticut-sized sheikhdom to the north is ahead.

Its ruling Al Thani family have been collectors for a few decades and using their collection as a base have already opened the Museum of Islamic Art, which has artifacts dating back to the 10th century at least, and just last month the Mathaf, a museum dedicated to modern Arab art. Its National Museum of Qatar is planned to be open in 2013. And yes, Qatar, too, hired its own dance list of starchitects to design its art dreams, too.

Guggenheim Abu Dhabi
Louvre Abu Dhabi

Two Iconic Buildings in Abu Dhabi’s Delayed Arts District Finally Moving Forward


By Angela Shah

After delays attributed to the global economic recession, construction has begun on two of Abu Dhabi’s five planned cultural buildings—the Louvre Abu Dhabi and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi museums.

The five facilities will form an emerging cultural district on Saadiyat Island, located 500 meters from the city of Abu Dhabi, which serves as the capital of the United Arab Emirates. Officials at Abu Dhabi’s Tourism Development and Investment Co. (TDIC), which is developing the island, say they are using the recession to take advantage of reduced prices in construction materials and equipment.

TDIC officials decline to give a value on individual contracts or on the development as a whole, but media reports have estimated that the entire Saadiyat project—which includes nine five-star hotels, the Saadiyat Beach Golf Club and villas to house about 145,000 residents—would cost about $27 billion.

A galaxy of international “starchitects” has been commissioned for the cultural buildings, one more iconic-looking than the next. Ateliers Jean Nouvel, Paris, is designing the Louvre, which resembles a giant mushroom cap. Gehry Partners, Los Angeles, is the architect for the Guggenheim outpost, which features a mix of oversized and seemingly randomly placed geometric shapes. Foster + Partners, London, has the commission for the Zayed National Museum. The Zayed galleries will be housed in five soaring forms designed to resemble the feathers of a falcon—a favorite of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, for whom the museum is named—but functioning as solar thermal towers. Zaha Hadid Architects, London, has conceived the Performing Arts Centre, the design of which evokes the lines and shape of a bicycle helmet. Tadao AndoArchitect & Associates, Tokyo, has the commission for the Maritime Museum, which is designed to resemble a modernistic sail to symbolize the close relationship the U.A.E. has to the Persian Gulf.

According to the government agency’s website, the Zayed, Louvre and Guggenheim are scheduled to open in 2013. TDIC expects to announce a main contractor for the Louvre by April, based on bids received in November. Last fall, TDIC invited builders to bid on the concrete contract for the Guggenheim. The project includes excavation, filling, waterproofing and construction of nearly 120,000 cu m of reinforced-concrete slabs, retaining walls, columns and beams. A winner has not been announced.

For the Louvre’s foundation sitework, Bauer International FZE, the local arm of the German construction giant Bauer International GmbH, Schrobenhausen, “used an environmentally sustainable and economical mixed-in-place, sand-cement wall that acted as a diaphragm wall to facilitate excavation and dewatering,” says Stuart Magee, a TDIC executive director. “This was the first time this technique was utilized in the U.A.E. and, as far as we’re aware, in the Middle East,” he adds.

Workers have finished installing the Louvre’s 3,600 large-diameter bored piles. Because the basement floor has only a few expansion joints to ensure maximum waterproofing, the bored piles include high-strength, H-section steel columns to resist slab shrinkage, says Magee.

Foundations for the Guggenheim include a two-kilometer-long structural sea wall, completed in June, that defines the museum’s footprint. The local Al Habtoor and its Al Habtoor-STFA Soil Group LLC expect to complete the building’s 1,700 piles by March.

3 thoughts on “Art Abu Dhabi

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