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Island's museums an orchestration of form and function

The structures on Saadiyat Island demand solutions to complex problems that will be studied by architecture students for years to come.

Coming up with museum designs that will be world-renowned is a great creative task, but the thousands of construction workers, consultants and project managers actually building the other-worldly structures on Saadiyat Island face challenges that students of architecture and engineering will study for years to come.

The newly unveiled design of Zayed National Museum reveals a project that will be one of Saadiyat Island's most striking, with five buildings designed by Foster and Partners to evoke the wings of falcons. The tallest will rise 124 metres.

"We have assembled the best possible mind talent and brains to help make all these ideas into reality," said Stuart Magee, the head of delivery for all projects at the Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC). "When I wake up in the morning, I pinch myself. Few people get to work on this many amazing projects at once."

Component manufacturers will need to devise a way of bending steel to create the compound curves and seamless connections to create the wing structures. Exhibition spaces will be contained within suspended pods. And engineers will have to get wind calculations just right to achieve structures whose design pulls in fresh air and vents stale air.

Zayed National Museum is already past the piling stage, with the full construction award expected to be announced in the middle of next year.

Teams are already intensely working to build the Louvre Abu Dhabi, designed by Jean Nouvel, and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, designed by Frank Gehry. The international consultancy AECOM is acting as the overall project manager for the TDIC on Saadiyat Island.

The main feature of the Louvre is a 180-metre-wide dome that is to be held up by only four pillars to give observers the feeling that it is effortlessly floating. A network of galleries and other exhibition spaces will be housed beneath the dome.

If it were not for a tight schedule, the buildings under the dome would be constructed after the dome was installed, but TDIC has asked the contractors to erect the dome and the galleries simultaneously. The UK engineering firm Buro Happold has been contracted to help with the construction of the dome.

"It's like a giant umbrella," Mr Magee said. "We don't have the luxury of building the umbrella and then the buildings, so engineers are coming up with a very clever way of building the dome and the buildings below at the same time."

The TDIC even built a test structure that included a portion of the dome to ensure that Mr Nouvel's "rain of light" effect would work. Thousands of holes forming a complex pattern in the roof of the dome will create a constantly shifting dance of light on the galleries and exhibition spaces.

Just a short walk away from the Louvre site, more than 23,000 tonnes of steel - three times the amount in the Eiffel Tower - will be used to build the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.

Mr Magee said the challenge with Guggenheim construction materials applied across the board with the TDIC's projects. To be sustainable, the projects needed to include as much locally produced materials as possible. Precast concrete panels will be made in Abu Dhabi.

Mr Gehry's design is extraordinarily complex, with a range of shapes seemingly tumbled together. Wooden cones will act as wind towers drawing cool air in at the bottom and allowing the rising hot air to escape at the top, "just like an Indian tepee", Mr Magee said.

Planning was crucial to executing all these projects at once, he said. All of the structures have been extensively modelled on computers and tested by engineers across the world. The TDIC team includes specialists who have worked on projects such as the flowing metal form of Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.

"Everything from shading to glass specifications to air flow has been studied," he said.

Mr Magee likens his job to conducting an orchestra. "I am not a trumpeter or a drummer, but I know when we need some trumpet or some drum," he said. "I give the pace."

 

bhope@thenational.ae

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