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A centre for global culture

Saadiyat Cultural District in Abu Dhabi, UAE

dr hab. in. arch. Krystyna Januszkiewicz

This paper presents project of the development of Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi , the capital of the United Arab
Emirates (UAE). Abu Dhabi is in the process of positioning itself as an international tourist destination with an
estimated $27 billion dollar development project on Saadiyat Island that includes museums, hotels, resorts, golf
courses and housing that could accommodate more than 125,000 residents. An important component of Saadiyat
Island is its Cultural District, which will include the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the Performing
Arts Centre, the Maritime Museum and the Sheikh Zayed National Museum. It appears that a major goal of this
district is to jump-start cultural tourism and to aid in the development of the local economy. Providing an overview of
Saadiyat Islands Cultural District, this paper analyzes and critiques museum initiatives that were designed in part to
develop the local economy and reflects upon the role of education within a museum context.

Master Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 and Saadiyat Cultural District

A comprehensive Master Plan Abu Dhabi 2030, drawn up in 2006 by (Skidmore, Owengs, Merrill) was initiated by
Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE. It is based on the extensive urban planning research, and
its aim is to emphasize the community which is to give evidence of the future of Abu Dhabi and the UAE.
In 2005, the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) commissioned to Tourism Development & Investment
Company Company (TDIC), which is preoccupied with the development of tourism in the UAE, a task to make the
city of Abu Dhabi a world-class place for leisure and business. The program included residential condominiums,
business areas and tourist center at the highest level. The emphasis was put on the environmental sensitivity,
relationships with Nature and sustainable development. Particular attention was focused on the island of Saadiyat,
regarded as a place of recreation and leisure activities for several years. The area of the island was divided into seven
districts, according to the objectives of the program.

fig. 1. Saadiyat Cultural District, Abu Dhabi, UAE - aerial view, visualization, 2008 [3] pp. 2-3
One of the main components of this project is the Cultural District, which ADTA is developing to be a destination
everyone in the world of art and culture would have to visit, annually and more than once, by building a series of
permanent institutions -museums, performing art centers, exhibition halls, educational institutions in the arts - that
through its collections, architecture and programs will become one of the greatest concentrations of cultural
experience anywhere in the world [1].
In the same year the ADTA and TDIC hired the New York City-based Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation to
develop the conceptual stage of Saadiyat Islands Cultural District project. The Guggenheims role has been to help
develop and refine the master plan for the Cultural District and assist with the recruitment of internationally
recognized architects. The winners of the Pritzker Prize were invited: Frank Gehry (1989), Tadao Ando (1995)
Norman Foster (1999), Zaha Hadid (2004), Jean Nouvel, (2008) believing that cultural institutions would be
represented by structures forming the creed of the architecture of the early twenty-first century.
Frank Gehry is designing the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi a contemporary art museum, which will be the only one of
its kind in the Middle East; Jean Nouvel of France is designing the Classical Museum, the British/Iraqi born architect
Zaha Hadid is designing Saadiyats Performing Arts Centre, which will present the finest in music, theatre and dance,
while Japans Tadao Ando is designing the Maritime Museum which will reflect the rich maritime history of the UAE
and the Arabian Gulf. These structures were located along the shoreline over a distance of more than 500 meters from
the channel that separates Abu Dhabi and its exclusive promenade Corniche from Saadiyat Island (fig. 1, 2).
The approach to urban design in Abu Dhabi is more sophisticated than in Dubai. In Dubai there is still no sense of
specificity of what is called palce, or recommendations in this regard under the guidelines of the master plan. Space
and place are the two archetypes of the quality of the environment, which in different cultures play a similar role in the
individual development of a human personality [2]. These are properties that give individual quality to the
environment. The history of urban design provides numerous designs of creating places, but these designs will always
require updating, locating them in the conceptual realm of their users. Therefore, each of the projects for Abu Dhabi
must respect the guidelines for urban development. It is mainly about the creation of semi-public space for contacts,
squares, plazas with outdoor seats among trees, shrubs, flowers and water. It is an attitude that has not yet been able to
take root in Dubai.

fig. 2. Saadiyat Cultural District, Abu Dhabi above: Saadiyat Island (master plan), below: general view cultural cost[1]pp.7-8
fig. 3. Foster&Partners, Zayed National Museum, B. Soowczuk,2012, above: [3] p. 12
Zayed National Museum
Almost in the very center of Saadiyat Island, the Zayed National Museum designed by Norman Foster is currently
being constructed. The structure formation will dominate over the island, as well as it will become an important land-
mark. On the one hand, the form of the museum aspires to be a symbol of the UAE national heritage, on the other, it
manifests the UAE involvement in the implementation of environmental solutions and technologies. At the beginning
of the new millennium the UAE authorities commissioned to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (U.S.) to develop
methods for generating energy from alternative sources. Today the result of these studies are buildings mainly in
Dubai and Abu Dhabi, as well as the new City of Masdar, which does not emit CO2, i.e. it is entirely powered by solar,
wind, hydro and biofuel energy. The design and model of Masdar City, developed by Foster & Partners, were first
disclosed to the public N in 2008 at the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi [4].
The Islamic architecture has allowed people to survive for centuries in extreme climatic conditions. Looking at the
path of the sun and the air movement, climate modulation systems were developed for residential households and
commonly used markets and mosques. Copying these solutions today leads directly to the new ones, based on simple
ideas. In the project of the National Museum Foster skillfully uses these ideas, creating a monumental form inspired
by the dynamics of the falcon wings, in order to refer to the national sport, that is falconry, practised with love by
Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (1918-2004), founder of the UAE. It has been a great privilege to work on the
Zayed National Museum, to carry forward Sheikh Zayeds vision and to communicate the dynamic character of a con-
temporary United Arab Emirates. We have sought to establish a building that will be an exemplar of sustainable
design, resonating with Sheikh Zayeds love of nature and his wider heritage, said Foster in one of the interviews [1].
Therefore, falcon pinions were an inspiration to shape highly energy-efficient towers with a height of 73 m to124 m.
These towers, as in the traditional Islamic architecture, are designed to exchange and cool the air, and wet sheets,
which are hung there, have been replaced by automatically sprinkled surfaces to ensure proper temperature and humi-
dity. These towers are lightweight steel structures set on the top of a mound of soil with the height of 30.7 m,
surroundded by the surface of water like an island, it hides in its interior exhibition space, auditorium, audiovisual
rooms, etc. of a total area of 53,331 m. The proximity of water results here from the need for its use in the second
cycle and to maintain a favorable microclimate in some rooms. Surrounded by water, the island also offers 21,439 m
of public gardens designed by Dreseitl Atelier, the company with a global reputation in landscape design (fig. 3).
The National Museum will house an exhibition on the cultural history of the region and the union of the UAE through
the story of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan's life, the father of the nation. The exhibitions related to the life of
Sheikh Zayed, falconry and environmental protection in the UEA will be presented here. The exhibitions on land and
water, people and heritage, history and society, science, and religion will be found here as well. The museum will
house Sheikh Zayed's library.
fig. 4. Tadao Ando, Maritime Museum, Zaha Hadid, Performing Arts Center, K. Januszkiewicz 2012[3] above: [3] p 32.
Maritime Museum and Performing Arts Center
A series of cultural facilities located on the shoreline of the island is opened by Maritime Museum designed by Tadao
Ando. Andos concept takes its inspiration from Abu Dhabis natural surroundings, landscape and maritime traditions.
It has a reflective surface visually merging the sea and land. Its ship-like interior has floating decks which guide
visitors through the exhibition space (fig. 4).
The presence of maritime heritage is visible not only in Abu Dhabi or Dubai, but in all the emirates. The form of
Maritime Museum, by its shape, is excellently referenced to a traditional dhow boat, built for generations for the pearl
divers in the Persian Gulf. The unique curvature of the bottom of the boat was reversed and entered into the museum
space, ensuring an unconventional form to the structure. Dhows float over the voids of the interior space and help
create an intense visual experience by relating objects to one another and to the museum architecture as a whole,
explained Ando [1]. Below ground, there is a second space a reception hall with an enormous aquarium.
A traditional dhow floats over the aquarium and is seen from different perspectives. At the exhibition at the Emirates
Palace the model of the building in a section can be seen, showing how the form of the boat refers to the mass of the
Maritime Museum will be a structure with a length of 108 m and a width of 36 m, its height will reach 27 m and
the cubic capacity - 61,000 m. The museum will offer 33,300 m of exhibition space located above and below the
surface of the water, available both from the sea and land. This is because the structure is located on the water, almost
in the very center of the largest marina on the island.
The Performing Arts Centre by Zaha Hadid Architects is also accessible from the Arterial Road, an island ring
road, full of greenery. The building becomes part of an inclining ensemble of structures that stretch from the Maritime
Museum at its southern end to the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi at the northern tip. With its centre of mass at the waters
edge, the Performing Arts Centre focuses its volume along the central axis of the site. This arrangement interrupts the
block matrix at the Arterial Road, opening views to the sea and the skyline of Abu Dhabi.
In Hadids Performing Arts Centre concept, a 62-m-high building is proposed housing five theatres a music hall,
concert hall, opera house, drama theatre and a flexible theatre with a combined seating capacity for 6,300 thats
1,100 more than Londons Royal Albert Hall. The centre may also house an Academy of Performing Arts. The world-
class performers of the opera, drama and music from every corner of the globe will perform here (fig. 4).
The form of the structure is an exploration of the biological analogy. The components such as branches, stems, fruit
and leaves were processed and entered into the diagram of the architectural form. As it winds through the site, the
architecture increases in complexity, building up height and depth and achieving multiple summits in the bodies
housing. The Performance spaces, which spring from the structure like fruits on a vine and face westward, toward the
water, explained Hadid [1].
fig.5. Atelier Jean Nouvel, Louvre Abu Dhabi, [3]pp.14-15
Louvre Abu Dhabi
Farther in the shoreline, Louvre Abu Dhabi designed by Atelier Jean Nouvel was located. Such a prestigious museum
was placed between the Performing Arts Centre and the Guggenheim Museum, and it is available not only from the
Arterial Road, but also from the harbor rendering services to the Guggenheim Museum as well. The introduction of
this cultural institution in Abu Dhabi is the result of agreements between the UAE and France. Just as it is in the case
of the Louvre in Paris, the form of this structure will skillfully combine modernity and tradition, and the collection
located here will present Abu Dhabi as a city at the crossroads of the Eastern and Western cultures. Louvre Abu Dhabi
is in the course of setting up its own national collection, which will be supplemented by the exhibits borrowed from
various French art institutions (fig. 5).
Jean Nouvel argued in his vision: This micro-city requires a micro-climate that would give the visitor a feeling of
entering a different world. The building is covered with a large dome, a form common to all civilisations. This one is
made of a web of different patterns interlaced into a translucent ceiling which lets a diffuse, magical light come
through in the best tradition of great Arabian architecture. Water is given a crucial role, both in reflecting every part of
the building and acting as a psyche, and in creating, with a little help from the wind, a comfortable micro-climate[1].
The dome supported at three points, with a diameter of 180 m, is the hallmark of this structure. It covers 60,000 m of
exhibition space located in ruled solids scattered on the water. The dome is a play of light and shadow, a reference to
the openwork partitions called mashrabiya, which as screens or partitions are used to modulate the climate in the
traditional buildings of the Middle East. Nouvel understands that light can be treated so as to create a magical sense of
respite, as under the palm trees in an oasis in the nearby Al Ain [7].
The design of the dome was developed using digital design tools in cooperation with Gehry Technologies. More
than 1,000 sheets of databases were created, describing the results of the analyses regarding the location and
parameters of the dome grid bars. Each of the more than 100,000 bars was determined and arranged on a 3D model.
The optimization of the joints was carried out and the requirements of manufacture were specified as well. Based on
these data, the German company One-to-One made a test model of the dome in the scale of 1: 33 (diameter of 6 m) in
order to study the penetration of light.
Guggenheim Museum Abu Dhabi
The Gehry concept for the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Museum, which at 30 000 m2 will be the worlds largest
Guggenheim museum, is designed around accommodating approximately 12 000 m2 of exhibition space (fig. 6).
It will feature permanent collections, galleries for special exhibitions, a centre for art and technology, a childrens art
education facility, archives, library and research centre and a state-of-the-art conservation laboratory. Inspired by
traditional middle-eastern covered courtyards and wind towers, used to cool structures exposed to the desert sun, the
museum's clusters of horizontal and vertical galleries of various sizes are connected by catwalks and planned around a
central, covered courtyard, incorporating natural features intended to maximize the energy efficiency of the building.
The largest galleries will offer a grand scale for the display of large contemporary art installations. Parts of the
building will be four storeys tall with galleries stacked atop each other. The museum is intended to be a centerpiece in
the island's plan for contemporary art and culture. The program proposed here is much richer than the program which
is currently presented in the [5].
Approaching the design of the museum for Abu Dhabi made it possible to consider options for design of a building
that would not be possible in the United States or in Europe, said Gehry. It was clear from the beginning that this
had to be a new invention. The landscape, the opportunity, the requirement, to build something that people all over the
world would come to and the possible resource to accomplish it opened tracks that were not likely to be considered
anywhere else. The site itself, virtually on the water or close to the water on all sides, in a desert landscape with the
beautiful sea and the light quality of the place suggested some of the direction [1].

Emanating with ultra modern architecture is aimed to show the emirate and the city of Abu Dhabi not only through the
economy fueled by profits from the sale of crude oil, but also, and above all, as one of the most attractive cities in the
region in terms of creating new opportunities of development and doing business.
In order to evaluate the viability of such an undertaking, the developers researched and analyzed the economic
impact of such contemporary cultural developments and/or expansion projects as the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao,
Bilbao, Spain; the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, USA; the Cultural Park, Chicago, Illinois, USA; and the
Tate Modern, London, England. From the case studies presented in the Saadiyat Island Cultural Exhibition at Emirates
Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi, it would appear that economic impact is one of the most important aspects of the
development of the Cultural District [6].
Abu Dhabi, in its sustainable development, is moving towards the cultural integration. Saadiyat Island Cultural
District is a manifesto of the creative coexistence of the new with the old, as well as a confirmation that only holistic
thinking in sustainable design leads to proper relations Man-Technology-Nature-Culture.

[1] ADTA: Saadiyat Island Cultural District Exhibition. Abu Dhabi, Emirates Palace, Exhibition Catalogue 2007.
[2] Tuan Y-F., Space and Place. The perspective of Experience, Edward Arnold, London, 1977, p. 28-36.
[3] SCD: Saadiyat Cultural District Abu Dhabi, Exhibition Brochure 2012.
[4] Carvalho S. Hardy W., Dickson G., First Solar to help power Masdar. UAE green city, Reuters UK, 28 July 2012.
[5] Critchlow A. Guggenheim to Open Gehry-Designed Museum in Abu Dhabi, (Dostp: 6. 05. 2013)
[6] Thompson S., Globalization, Economics and Museums: Saadiyat Islands Cultural District, Journal for Arts in Society, Vol. 3,
No 3, 2008, pp. 42-47, ISSN: 1833-1866.
[7] Januszkiewicz K. Lorenc J., Wyspa Kultury, Abu Dhabi, ZEA, AV 4-2012, pp. 34-43, Indeks 353833

figl.6. Frank Gehry, Museum Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, [3] pp. 221, above: K. Januszkiewicz