Case Study: Zayed National Museum

We take a closer look at Abu Dhabi's latest landmark


The project
Unveiled by HRH Queen Elizabeth during a state visit to the United Arab Emirates in November 2010, the Zayed National Museum is the latest project by Foster + Partners in Abu Dhabi, and one of a number of landmark projects on Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island.

With a total built up area of 66,000m2 around a 4,386m2 central atrium, the Zayed National Museum tells the story of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. Work has already begun on site, with the museum slated for completion by 2014.

The Site
This design forms the centrepiece of the Saadiyat Island Cultural District, which is located 500m off the coast of Abu Dhabi and is the largest single mixed-use development in the Arabian Gulf.

Arranged as seven districts, the Cultural District will also include the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Museum, the Louvre Abu Dhabi, as well as a Performing Arts Centre and Maritime Museum.

The concept
The museum will be the centrepiece of the Saadiyat Island Cultural District with the five lightweight steel towers sitting atop a man-made, landscaped mound and the museum’s galleries placed at their bases.

The museum draws inspiration from falconry, a favourite past time of Sheikh Zayed, but it was also designed with the environment in mind. “We have sought to establish a building that will be an exemplar of sustainable design, resonating with Sheikh Zayed’s love of nature and his wider heritage,” said Lord Foster, at the project launch.

The Details
The five towers, the highest of which is 124 metres, are reminiscent of the wing tips of the birds. The design also serves to deliver environmental advantages, as the buildings are positioned to channel air through the museum, reducing the energy demands required to cool the complex.

The towers take advantage of the regions constant sunshine, with carefully positioned openings drawing light in to illuminate the interior spaces.

The aerodynamic structures are oriented to take advantage of prevailing breezes, reducing the energy required to mechanically regulate interior temperatures.

The wings act as an extraction system and solar thermal chimney: heat builds up in the glazed tip, creating a cycle that drags used air up and out through the façade, aided by negative pressure on the surface, which promotes air flow.

Enabling work commenced in the third quarter of 2009 and was completed in the first quarter 2010, while piling work was finished in the second quarter of 2010. Substructure work is currently underway on site, and the main construction contract will be awarded this year.

Internally the museum spaces are housed within suspended pods, enclosed within solid and glazed elements. Entry to the galleries is from a ground floor lobby which is dug into the and illuminated from above.

The cave-like public lobby beneath the galleries is naturally ventilated by means of air drawn through the feather-like structures, supplemented by a system of buried ducts.

A double skin, comprising an outer facade exposed to the elements and an inner skin that encloses the galleries, promotes air flow between the exhibition and circulation spaces, further reducing energy use.

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