ISSUE No.3 March - April 2007

Construction Projects in Abu Dhabi
Controlled Gigantomania in the Emirati Capital?

Covering 85 percent of the country’s total area, Abu Dhabi is the largest and richest Emirate in the United Arab Emirates. Ten percent of the world's known oil reserves are located in Abu Dhabi and provide for progress and prosperity. The eponymous capital is situated on an island just off the coast with an area of approximately 60 km². Its well-known neighbour Dubai has been taking advantage of the favourable situation for years and has attracted international attention through spectacular construction projects; Abu Dhabi is now following suit and has been competing with the famous desert metropolis for some time. Consequently, large and modern buildings are also sprouting up here to step out of Dubai's shadow at long last.    

Only 50 years ago, there were only small huts and simple houses on the island and it was lacking all of the comforts we associate with modern civilisation. There was no sewer system, hospital or electricity. However, the discovery of oil marked a change in the island's fortune, which is the epitome of luxury today. The young metropolis is giving its all to show this off. Although the Abu Dhabi Island is limited in terms of space, tower blocks are shooting up left right and centre, like in the neighbouring state of Dubai. Due to the spatial situation, it could be described as controlled growth. However, for the builders the sky is the limit and they do not let the natural limitations get the better of them. Anything is possible! For example, a few years ago the corniche was widened simply by extending it into the sea. Abu Dhabi's six-lane boulevard now makes for a leisurely drive alongside the turquoise water. The wide stretches of road littered with green palms and flanked by parkland are a far cry from the nearby desert. Nevertheless, the idyll cannot hide the pending mega-projects. Regardless of whether entire groups of islands are populated, the skyscrapers actually reach the heavens or luxurious accommodation units are planned, one thing seems sure: money is no issue in Abu Dhabi.

Abu Dhabi's leading real-estate companies include Aldar Properties and Sorouh, who make contractors' dreams come true and implement the planned mega-projects. However, an increasing number of real-estate companies are being established in Abu Dhabi. For example, the Al Qudra Group is set to create a landmark with the construction of Danet Abu Dhabi. 34 skyscrapers are to be built on an area of 210,000 m². The builders would like to complete the apartments or offices within only three years.

The landmark of the Emirati capital is the seven-star luxury hotel Emirates Palace. The building is situated on a site with an area of one million square metres. The magnificent palace alone has 114 domes, 92 luxury suites and 302 deluxe rooms. 1,000 Swarovski crystal chandeliers cater for the right ambience. Guests can allow themselves to be pampered on lavish pool landscapes or the 1.3 km private beach. The tales of 1,001 nights are brought to life here.

At the beginning of 2003, Abu Dhabi's old Souk in the city centre was burnt to the ground. This was the perfect opportunity to locate the new central market in the centre of town. Three modern towers have been designed and are under construction and, thanks to a 24-hour building site, the ambitious plans should be implemented in no time. The 700 million-dollar project includes hotels, apartments and shops. The capital's new architectural motto is "clean lines", meaning that the new buildings are supposed to blend into the cityscape.

Abu Dhabi's city centre changes on a daily basis. The scheduled restructuring of the port is beginning to take shape. Local proprietors, such as plant retailers, had to clear their establishments within a week to make way for the advancing diggers. Notice can be given without warning and irrespective of losses.

Building tycoons are constantly surmounting natural obstacles and finding new areas to cement. The "Al Grum Resort" is set to be built for 400 million dollars in a mangrove area outside the city. Described by the builders as an environmentally sound building project, 60 villas are to be constructed in the swamps. Glossy, colourful brochures lure would-be buyers to Abu Dhabi. There was even enough space for nine mansions on separate private islands. Even the droves of tourists are supposed to get a taste of the unspoilt landscape in future. A five-star hotel with over 160 rooms is scheduled, along with the construction of spa facilities, 161 suites and three restaurants. Whether the sensitive ecosystem of the mangrove forests can survive the building project remains to be seen.  

The belt around the capital will also be exploited. The "Al Raha Gardens", only 20 minutes from the centre of Abu Dhabi, are a prime example of the ambitious building projects. 338 picture-book villas were erected in the first construction phase of the project. Labelled as solitary islands, they are set to be inhabited from March 2007 and the resort filled with life. According to the operators' statements, all of the houses were sold within 45 minutes. Eight new hotels and another 470 villas will be built in the immediate vicinity over the next few years. The project is due to be completed in ten years.

The word luxury also springs to mind at the new Shangri-La Hotel "Qaryat Al Beri Abu Dhabi". Another luxury hotel which should attract sun-hungry holidaymakers from all over the world is being built on an area 8.5 hectares. If everything goes according to plan, tourists will already be able to book their rooms for mid-2007. In addition to a private beach and a central souk, guests will also be able to use Arabian gondolas called abras to travel along the resort's 700-metre waterway.

Of course, cultural facilities will also find their way into the desert. The museum island Saadiyat Island, the island of fortune, will appease the hunger for art and culture in Abu Dhabi. The Guggenheim Museum is being designed by none other than the top American architect Frank O. Gehry. His new creation will upstage the Guggenheim Museums in New York, Venice and Bilbao. The world's biggest Guggenheim Museum is due to open in 2011.
In addition to various art museums, the Sheikh Zayed National Museum will also be constructed. An art centre with five big cultural halls is in the planning phase. The 62-metre high building is to include a music and concert hall, an opera house and two theatres. With a seating capacity of 6,300, one of the two theatres outstrips the London Albert Hall by 1,000 seats. Art coupled with leisure activities is the island’s new secret formula. Three marinas, two golf courses and 29 hotels accompany the Museum Mile. Entertainment-hungry visitors will be able to choose from over 7,000 rooms. What is more, the construction of another seven-star luxury hotel is also scheduled.

The Ethihad Towers are also shooting up. They are supposed to reach 49 to 74 storeys, whereby the highest of the five towers will be 300 metres high. Office blocks, additional luxury hotels and apartments are emerging with a good view of the Emirates Palace. The towers should be completed by 2010.

Houses of worship are also aiming big. For example, the world’s second largest mosque is being built in Abu Dhabi. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is much more than a mere memorial to the late regent; the white building gleams in the sunlight during the day and is lit up by enormous floodlights at night and constitutes yet another of the capital’s landmarks. It is made of makrana marble, which was also used in the construction of the Taj Mahal. After its completion, 70,000 worshippers will be able to visit the mosque simultaneously to pray.

In a country where money seemingly is no issue, design dreams can come true. Regardless of whether they are buildings for commercial use or the construction of new Formula 1 tracks, the motto is “higher, faster, further” in the rich desert nation in the Gulf. We can only hope that the tales of 1,001 nights do not become lost at sea.