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Site visit: Abu Dhabi Cultural District

The three proposed museum sites are set to be the star attractions at Abu Dhabi's Saadiyat Island, but none would be able to operate without the infrastructure works delivered by NBHH and overseen by Parsons

ANALYSIS, Site Visits, Projects, Abu dhabi, Abu Dhabi construction, Construction in abu dhabi, Cultural district, Frank Gehry, Guggenheim, Guggenheim ABU DHABI, Saadiyat island, Site visit, The Louvre, The Louvre Abu Dhabi, UAE consruction, Zayed national museum


The three proposed museum sites are set to be the star attractions at Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island, but none would be able to operate without the infrastructure works delivered by NBHH and overseen by Parsons.

When it comes to projects dedicated to promoting culture in the UAE, then the Cultural District within Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island has to be right up there in terms of importance.

Devoted to culture and the arts, the Cultural District will eventually be home to the Louvre Abu Dhabi (2015), Zayed National Museum (2016) and Guggenheim Abu Dhabi (2017) – buildings that are each designed by a Pritzker prize-winning architect that will bestow some of the world’s finest architecture on a single island located just off the main Abu Dhabi island.

Complementing these museums are local and regional arts and cultural institutions, including Manarat Al Saadiyat (which has been open since 2009) and the UAE Pavilion (inaugurated in 2011), as well as educational institutions such as Cranleigh Abu Dhabi.

Just as important as the showpiece buildings themselves, however, is the infrastructure work that is running parallel to their construction. Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC), the government-backed developer of the entire 27km² Saadiyat Island, reappointed Parsons back in June 2013 to handle infrastructure design and construction supervision for all infrastructure-related work within the 2.8 million m² Cultural District.

The same firm was also responsible for developing the infrastructure masterplan and transportation masterplan for the whole of Saadiyat Island. This is in addition to the design and construction of the infrastructure that has been installed to date, including the Sheikh Khalifa Bridge, the expressway and the beach district.

Construction was started by Nael & Bin Harmal Hydroexport (NBHH) – the main infrastructure contractor for the Cultural District – in March 2014 with the first target of having the infrastructure in place by the time Cranleigh Abu Dhabi opened in September last year.

“We had to make sure that we got all the approvals, all the NOCs (No Objection Certificates) to allow the school to open,” said Jassim Al Hammadi, TDIC director of infrastructure. “So to us it was one of the main milestones to be hit and we managed to achieve it.”

The second milestone was putting in the infrastructure in time for Abu Dhabi Art, the sixth edition of which was held at Manarat Al Saadiyat last November.

“We needed that road to open for that event to take place. The roads that were used to access it previously had all been redesigned for the new masterplan,” said Neal Coote, programme manager for Parsons. He added that laying down the wearing course was the only task still to be completed.

“We want to do that all at once so we need to plan when to do that accordingly to ensure there’s as little disruption to the traffic as possible,” he said.

Infrastructure work is taking place across the entire Cultural District but in terms of phasing, the next milestone is getting things ready for the Louvre Abu Dhabi that is due to open in December.


Tied to this is the Abu Dhabi Civil Defence building, which is programmed to open in the second quarter of this year. The building will provide emergency services for the Cultural District’s three museums.

“That was the same situation with Abu Dhabi Art and Cranleigh Abu Dhabi and will also be the same situation for the Civil Defence building,” said Coote. “We will need to install the infrastructure before it can obtain the BCC (Building Completion Certificate).”

Heavy excavators have been used to dig up the ground in order to lay the deep utilities such as the district cooling pipes (some 14km worth) which will feed into the museums and the adjoining District Mall when that is eventually built – TDIC was understood to be in the process of finalising funding for the mall’s construction at the end of 2014.

The district cooling plant (DCP3) is currently under construction by Al Nasr General Contracting. Coote said several option were studied, but added that district cooling was the preferred method for controlling air temperature in the museums, despite its cost and efficiency being a point of ongoing debate in the industry.

“We’re not supplying all the plots on the site with district cooling. It’s only the large commercial buildings like the museums that are viable to supply with district cooling,” said Coote.

“There are strict requirements for museums in terms of making sure they keep their cooling supply. The district cooling network has redundancy built to it in order to lower the risk of cooling not being available in the museums.”

For example, the district cooling system has been built in a loop rather than a direct feed to safeguard continuous supply in the event that one of the supply pipes breaks.

In addition, the district cooling plant is fed from two substations to provide some backup in case one fails. And in the event that all of this doesn’t work, cooling can also be provided to each museum from a temporary plant.

“When you consider all those things, we felt that this was the most secure way to provide the cooling to these prestigious buildings,” said Coote.

A big feature of the infrastructure work is the 1.5km, one-way subterranean service tunnel running below a main road that has seven branches linking to the museums and the District Mall. The cut-and-cover tunnel has been procured through design and build and is being constructed by Nurol.

Parsons prepared the schematic design and tender documents for the tunnel and has an “oversight role” during construction. Project management is being carried out by Turner International Middle East.

The tunnel is made up of 47 units and to date 20 have been cast with another 17 in progress. Concrete pours (70,000m3? the final total) have each tended to last up to 16 hours unbroken. Each unit has three elements – base slab, walls and a roof slab.


Slabs are poured in a single go up to 1,200m and walls are cast in sections depending on curvature. Around 660,000m of sand has been dug, 11,000 tonnes of steel used and 600 tension piles driven to prevent the water table from raising the tunnel. The tunnel is due to open in the fourth quarter of this year, in line with the opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

“We want to try and have as few construction joints as possible as this reduces the potential for leakage because a lot of the tunnel is going to be under the water table,” said Al Hammadi. “We managed to source all the concrete from local suppliers, which allowed the contractor to avoid some of the construction joints.”

“Building the tunnel in aggressive saline conditions has made it essential to ensure that the waterproofing is done in the best manner possible,” he added.

“For the tunnel, we still have to install the MEP equipment and roof slab paving.”

The tunnel connects to a vehicle underpass which was designed to facilitate the Zayed National Museum’s Zayed Timeline Garden. The garden will stretch from the museum to the sea and detail the life of UAE founder Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

It will be completed on time for the museum’s proposed opening date at the end of 2016. The tender process to appoint a contractor to build the museum, which has been designed by UK architect Sir Norman Foster, is still ongoing.

“The underpass had to be designed to go underneath this garden,” said Coote. “This presented a number of engineering challenges from a topographical and road design point of view.”

In the future, the 60 metre-wide underpass will have a light rail transit system (LRT) passing through it – part of Abu Dhabi’s proposed metro and tram network. The future network, which is part of Abu Dhabi’s Vision 2030 plans, has been incorporated into the design despite the fact that it has yet to be developed.

“It’s part of the masterplan and the stations are located at each of the museums,” said Coote. “We’ve provided a corridor for this so the DoT (Department of Transport) can come in at a later date and construct the LRT network.”
The remaining work on the underpass involves walls, columns and base slabs. The base slabs are monolithic pours of up to 4,500m, the walls are poured in sections and the columns set in one straight shift.

The project peak is anticipated next month when the labour force will ramp up from 1,500 to 2,000 in order to meet a completion date of Q1 2016 for the entire infrastructure package.

However, some sections will be completed this year to allow the Abu Dhabi Louvre to obtain the necessary approvals it needs to open in December.


PROJECT INTEL: Saadiyat infrastructure works

Professional team
Client: TDIC
Project managment consultant: Turner International Middle East
Infrastructure design: Parsons
Infrastructure contractor: NBHH
Service tunnel contractor: Nurol
District cooling plant contractor: Al Nasr General Contracting

What lies beneath:

• Approx. 18km of roads and street lighting
• 20 signalised intersections
• 1 reinforced concrete underpass structure
• 16.6km of storm drainage networks
• 16.7km of potable water
• 8.4km of sanitary sewer networks
• 18km of primary irrigation
• Irrigation reservoir and pumping station
• 7.1km of district cooling
• 90km of MV and LV electrical cabling
• 8 distribution substations
• 25km of telecommunications ducting
• 11.5km of gas networks

Timeline Garden underpass
• 96,140m3 of excavation
• 93,753m3 disposal of suitable fill
• 2,387m3 of filling
• 32,328m3 of reinforced in-situ concrete
• 4,021 tons of reinforcement
• 1,287m of precast concrete barriers
• 14,00m² of bituminous asphaltic wearing course
• MEP works

Service tunnel
• 1.5km (seven branches linking to museums)
• 11,000 tonnes of steel
• 600 tension piles
• 70,000m3 of concrete

• 430,000m3 of excavation
• 81,000m3 of fill
• 160,000m² of trimming

Site clearance
• 208 hectares of general clearance

Cultural District at a glance

• Land area of 2.8 million m²
• Zayed National Museum
• Louvre Abu Dhabi
• Guggenheim Abu Dhabi
• Manarat Al Saadiyat
• UAE Pavilion
• Performing Arts Centre
• Cranleigh Abu Dhabi
• Beach Promenade
• Boutique hotels
• The District
• Residential, retail and commercial developments
source: TDIC


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