Full steam ahead on Saadiyat but museum design remains secret

Design for Zayed National Museum is a secret, but work on all three ambitious projects on Saadiyat is on schedule, developer says.

March 8, 2010 / Abu Dhabi / A model of the Louvre Museum on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi March 8, 2010. (Sammy Dallal / The National) For NATIONAL story on islands by Rym Ghazal
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ABU DHABI // The master developer behind Saadiyat Island offered a fresh glimpse yesterday at progress on three exhibition spaces in the Cultural District, including a peek at the secretive groundwork for the Zayed National Museum.

The design for the 12,000 square metre museum has not yet been unveiled, although the Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC) displayed an aerial photograph showing preliminary construction. "The enabling works were finished in January, which was basically setting up a shoring line to protect us from a big canal that surrounds the site," said Felix Reinberg, the director of museum projects delivery for the TDIC.

The architectural design of the museum was created by the London firm of Foster and Partners and chaired by Lord Foster, the British Pritzker Architecture Prize laureate. Bassem Terkawi, a TDIC spokesman, said a final design existed but the agency was waiting for an "interesting moment" to unveil the project. The Zayed National Museum is expected to open in 2013, around the same time as the Louvre Abu Dhabi, designed by France's Jean Nouvel, also a Pritzker winner. The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi is expected to open roughly three months afterwards. The final design for the Louvre was completed this month. Nearly 500,000 cubic metres of earth was excavated in December for the 24,000-square-metre institution, which will sit on reclaimed land.

"The main contract work, the whole thing the dome, mechanical, electrical, glass the main contract was tendered today, so that's another major milestone we achieved," Mr Reinberg said yesterday. He would not disclose the shortlist for the tenders, who went through the pre-qualification process last August. Construction on the Louvre is on schedule, and will begin next September once a main contractor has been appointed.

The Louvre's porous dome, 180 metres in diameter and described by Mr Reinberg as "a very complex architectural wonder", would allow light to filter in through perforations in 10 layered roofs. Mr Reinberg said a prototype scaled to six metres in diameter had been updated with the aluminium cladding that would be used for the dome. Like the Louvre, the Guggenheim will also occupy reclaimed land. The 100,000-square-metre site is undergoing construction of a basement structure and a permanent seawall. That work should be completed within two months.

The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, designed by the Canadian architect Frank Gehry, will be the largest Guggenheim in the world, occupying more than 80,000-square-metre. The gallery space will take up over 13,000sqm. Mr Reinberg said it would be "a very significant building", adding that the main contractor would be announced early next year. "The design of this is following the Louvre, progressing with construction and design simultaneously," he said.

The design of the Zayed National Museum exhibition area was in the concept phase and would be completed next year, said Mr Reinberg. The TDIC signed a contract last month for piling works that will finish in June. It will issue the tender for the main works in July. Mr Reinberg expects to the main contractor will be chosen before the end of the year. The Manarat al Saadiyat, was completed last November and opened as an exhibition centre to showcase the island's projects as well as host art exhibitions from around the world.

"This job was basically completed from concept to opening in only 11 months an incredibly short period," Mr Reinberg said. *A new, free exhibition, The Saadiyat Story, to educate visitors about the development of Saadiyat Island, opened yesterday and is open daily from 10am to 8pm. mkwong@thenational.ae