Time seemingly stood still for much of the world at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
But in the UAE, the landscape continued to evolve with new developments coming to fruition.
Under-construction skyscrapers have grown taller, plots of land have been cleared, and fresh projects have been announced by the government.
This year is very much shaping up to be another filled with mega-project progress – and not just in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, but the Northern Emirates as well.
See our list below and slideshow above of what's in the pipeline, and note that original completion dates may have been subject to change:
Abu Dhabi's ever-evolving Reem Island has one particular project that has been developed on a large scale – and that is Reem Mall.
The island already boasts Boutik Mall, but this will be on another level and will mean residents won’t necessarily need to island-hop over to Al Maryah, which is home to the well-stocked Galleria Mall.
Reem Mall will have more than 450 stores, a hypermarket, two food courts and a multiplex cinema, plus Snow Abu Dhabi which is set to be about four times the size of Ski Dubai.
Royal Atlantis Resort
Why have one Atlantis on Palm Jumeirah when you can have two? This one doesn’t have the iconic arch of the long-time hotel at the tip of the island, but is does, according to its website, have “a playful contrast between fire and water”. The architecture is typically eye-catching.
The right wing of the Royal Atlantis will house 231 residences, while the left will be made up of 795 guest suites. The two are linked by an infinity swimming pool that is 90 metres above the ground.
Dubai doesn’t do things on a small scale – just look at Ain Dubai, the world’s tallest observation wheel. It started spinning on October 21, with tickets completely booked up and sunset proving to be the most popular time slot.
The attraction on Bluewaters Island stands at a height of 250m and has 48 capsules.
Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai posted a video of himself to social media riding on top of the wheel as it prepared to open.
The town of Hatta is to be transformed into a major tourism destination, with an inland beach, lake and cable-driven mountain railway.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, unveiled the latest vision for the town.
Hatta, near the border with Oman, has in recent years been transformed into an adventure getaway, with mountain biking and kayaking popular activities.
It may not be welcoming passengers yet, but the hulking Midfield Terminal is very much part of the Abu Dhabi landscape as you reach the outskirts of the city.
It will be able to process 8,500 travellers per hour once open and spans and spans 742,000 square metres. No opening date has been confirmed yet.
Museum of the Future
The eye-catching structure on Dubai’s Sheikh Zayed Road has already provided some fantastic Instagram snaps as it nears completion.
The building's exterior is made up of 1,024 pieces that were manufactured by automated robotic arms and installed over the course of 18 months.
The Dh500 million museum's outer shell extends over more than 17,000 square metres and is covered in Arabic calligraphy illuminated by solar-powered LED bulbs at night.
It combines elements of exhibition, immersive theatre and themed attraction.
Expo 2020 site
The show will go on. Dubai's Expo may have been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, but it's been full steam ahead for 2021.
Years in the making, almost 230,000 workers have worked tirelessly on the site which welcomed hundreds of thousands of people during its first few days in October.
There are 192 country pavilions on the 438-hectare site, with some of them requiring up to 200 staff each.
One of the main attractions is Al Wasl Plaza – a dome filled with fountains, waterfalls, parks and palm-lined courtyards.
Meydan One Mall
Malls are not just about shops and restaurants these days, they are more a living, breathing experience. This one, located between the existing Meydan racecourse site and Al Khail Road, is certainly slated to have a little bit extra – including a 1km-long indoor ski slope and winter village, plus a 400-metre Central Canyon and football and cricket facilities.
The groundbreaking ceremony was held in March 2017.
Abu Dhabi's new waterfront entertainment complex is slated to open after Ramadan. The 2.6km canal-side development features an aquarium, e-sports academy and adventure activities.
The centrepiece aquarium will be home to more than 300 species and 46,000 creatures.
Fairmont Marina Abu Dhabi
Architecturally very similar to Dubai’s Atlantis The Palm, this Accor hotel now dominates Abu Dhabi’s Corniche skyline.
Initially anticipated to open in March 2020, the 39-storey building will offer a private beach, five swimming pools and watersports facilities. There will be 563 guest rooms, with King, Twin, Deluxe, Gold and Signature categories.
A haven of tranquillity, Jubail sits between Abu Dhabi's Saadiyat Island and Yas Island and is set to become an upmarket residential community.
The 45 million-square-metre island already contains a large mangrove park and the developer is planning to add restaurants, a beach club, a business centre, sports facilities, schools, clinics, nurseries and a community centre.
Homes for more than 5,000 residents are set to be built. A contract to build the first 300 villas was awarded to Arabian Construction Company in April 2021 and 60 per cent of the site's infrastructure was said to be already complete. The first villas will be ready by the fourth quarter of 2023.
SeaWorld Abu Dhabi
Construction on the tourist attraction has been gathering pace on Yas Island. It was said to be 40 per cent complete in October 2020, with work set to be finished by the end of 2022.
The 183,000-square-metre venue will boast purpose-built habitats and ecosystems housing a variety of species. It will be home to the UAE's first dedicated marine research, rescue, rehabilitation and return centre.
This pair of towers is located next to Dubai's Trade Centre and connected by a 7,700-tonne bridge.
Once completed, the buildings will feature luxury residences, a hotel, offices and retail spaces.
Tower A is 304 metres high and topped out in April 2021, while the 241m Tower B was topped out earlier.
Parts of this project on Abu Dhabi's Yas Island, such as the Etihad Arena and Hilton hotel, are already open to the public.
There will be 15,000 residences and the new headquarters of TwoFour54, the media free zone that operates from Khalifa Park, which is expected to be ready this year.
It was said in September that the construction of Yas Creative Hub, Abu Dhabi’s newest hub for the media, gaming and entertainment industry, is 95 per cent complete.
The city already has the world’s tallest hotel – the 356m Gevora Hotel. However, there’s set to be a new record holder, and once again it’s going to be in Dubai.
Construction of Ciel tower in Dubai Marina is under way and it will eventually reach 360m according to developer The First Group.
It will have 1,209 luxury hotel suites and serviced residences spread over 82 levels, plus a glass observation deck with 360-degree views.
The first phase of the Dh3.2 billion e-commerce free zone has just been launched.
It is being built at the project in the Umm Ramool area of the city, close to Dubai International Airport.
The first phase will have a 'business cluster' with more than 95,000 sqm of offices and 50,000 sqm of logistics units and "multi-client warehouses".
Abu Dhabi Hindu temple
Construction is well under way at the Abu Mureikha site, with the foundations expected to be completed in April 2021 and the outer structure to start taking shape in the following months.
The UAE's first Hindu temple, it will be the largest centre in the country for people of all faiths to learn about Indian culture and the Hindu religion when it opens in 2023.
It will feature an amphitheatre, prayer halls, library, community centre, play area for children, parks, visitor centre and food court.
Abrahamic Family House
Designed by the renowned British architect Sir David Adjaye, it will be a place for religious tolerance and education, bringing faiths together with a mosque, a church and a synagogue on the same site on Saadiyat Island.
The vision for the Abarahamic Family House originated after the signing of the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam Ahmed Al Tayeb in February 2019.
The project’s anticipated completion date is in 2022.
Sharjah’s east coast exclave is the focus of a major revamp, which will see the restoration of one of the emirate’s most historic houses, construction of a clock tower roundabout and the opening of a revamped Corniche.
Then there’s the Kalba Heritage Museum project – a sail-shaped museum will be built on the seashore.
The projects are expected to provide a big boost to tourism in the area.
Dibba Fujairah Sports Club Stadium
There’s a new sports stadium taking shape in the UAE.
The stadium in Dibba, Fujairah will be able to host up to 10,000 fans and cost an estimated Dh100 million.
It meets the requirements of the UAE Pro League and the Asian Football Confederation to host regional championships.
The development of the railway service has been under way in the UAE for some time with the goal of connecting the country with the rest of the GCC.
Stage one is complete and operating along a 264km route from Shah and Habshan to Ruwais, transporting sulphur.
In January, it was announced that tracks were being laid for the 139-kilometre stretch connecting Ruwais with Ghuweifat on the UAE border with Saudi Arabia.
It will eventually stretch for about 1,000km from Ghuweifat to Fujairah on the UAE’s east coast.
Freight is the focus but its mandate included a potential passenger element.
Guggenheim Abu Dhabi
The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi is on track to open its doors in 2025, according to the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi.
Designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, who is also behind the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, the UAE site is set to be the latest and largest outpost of the Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation’s list of international museums.
The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi was first announced in 2006, and was initially meant to welcome visitors by 2012. The museum’s completion date was later pushed to 2017.
The museum aims to present global modern and contemporary art, said Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, chairman of DCT Abu Dhabi.
Saudi Arabia megaprojects
* This article was first published on April 22, 2021