Dean, an artist and designer trained at the Royal College of Art (RCA), has worked for clients such as the Natural History Museum in London and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.
Dean was appointed by Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed, the then Deputy prime minister of the UAE, who was also responsible for overseeing the mosque’s construction at the time.
“I went away and did several ideas for what the courtyard might look like — the sahan was always the main focus — and from then on, I was asked to look at the archways looking into the courtyard and then internal floors and walls as well,” says Dean.
“For the main courtyard I used flowers that can be found in the Middle Eastern region — mostly irises, tulips, lilies and roses,” Dean recollects. “The original idea was that they would cover the whole of the sahan, but it was decided in the end to take out a lot of the design.” Courtesy Kevin Dean
Once Dean had finished his “painted designs”, he then spent time travelling between the UK, Abu Dhabi and Fantini Mosaici’s workshops in Carrara, Italy, to see his vision transferred from watercolour to marble.
The flowers in the sahan include poppies (Papaver orientale), while Dean selected jasmine (Jasminum officinale) for the northern entrance and red frangipani (Plumeria rubra) on the opposite side.
For the entrance to the mosque’s main prayer hall — the only part of his design where floor mosaics are transferred to the walls — Dean used morning glories and the desert-dwelling Pergularia tomentosa.
“In all, there are about 30 colours that occur in marble naturally, and we selected the most appropriate marble colours to suit my design,” Dean explains.
It was only when he was working at the marble workshops in Italy that Dean finally started to appreciate the enormity of the design. Once Dean’s idea had been transferred to a marble slab using computer-aided drawings, the stone was then cut using a water jet.
The flowers were then mounted on four-metre-square concrete slabs, like the pieces of some enormous jigsaw, before being shipped to Abu Dhabi. Finally, as the elements of the design neared completion, they were hand-finished by craftsmen using chips of white marble.
The area where those workmen toiled is now filled with tourists and worshippers. More than 3.3 million people visited the mosque in 2013, with the building attracting 15,000 tourists a day in high season. An estimated 40,000 worshippers congregated for Eid Al Fitr prayers in July 2014.