How The Constellation at UAE's Founder's Memorial was engineered

Aurecon has shared details of the 'platonic solids', lighting, and 1,110 cables that make up the 30m-tall Constellation

The Constellation at Abu Dhabi's The Founder's Memorial is a 30m-tall structure that creates a 3D portrait of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan [image: Aurecon].
The Constellation at Abu Dhabi's The Founder's Memorial is a 30m-tall structure that creates a 3D portrait of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan [image: Aurecon].

The Founder’s Memorial, a cultural landmark built to commemorate the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, opened this April in the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi. The project was launched to coincide with the centennial celebration of the late Sheikh Zayed’s birth.

At the time of its opening, Yousef Al Obaidli, general manager of The Founder’s Memorial, called the project a “new landmark” and “major visitor attraction” that would strengthen the UAE’s attractiveness as a cultural tourism destination.

Situated within Abu Dhabi Corniche, The Founder’s Memorial is comprised within 3.3ha of landscaped space and is open on all days of the week. It also includes a welcome centre, a sanctuary garden, a heritage garden, and an elevated walkway. The centrepiece of the memorial is a sculpture designed by Ralph Helmick, called The Constellation. It features 1,327 geometric shapes suspended on 1,110 cables, each 30m long, creating a 3D portrait of the late Sheikh Zayed that can be seen from different viewing points around the memorial site. At night, the shapes shine so they appear like stars in the night sky. Helmick said the legacy of Sheikh Zayed inspired his design.

Construction and engineering consultancy, Aurecon, has released additional details about the Constellation’s development. Aurecon delivered façade engineering services for the project.

The 30m-tall “prism-like pavilion”, as Aurecon described The Constellation, is open on two sides. The “floating” geometric elements comprise varying sizes of “five complex polyhedrons”, known as ‘platonic solids’. In its statement, Aurecon said each solid had to be placed “perfectly”, since “Sheikh Zayed is much beloved”.

Steve Daniels, global façades leader at Aurecon, said the engineering challenge lay in creating a design system that could “continue in parallel with the artist’s sculpture work”.

“This resulted in a set of rules allowing structural design of the Constellation’s ‘frame’ and cables to continue while still providing the artist with a blank canvas upon which to work,” Aurecon’s statement continued.

READ: UAE's 3.3ha Founder’s Memorial to open in Abu Dhabi this month

Another consideration at the design stage was Abu Dhabi’s climate, with temperatures prone to reaching 50°C during summer, and high-speed winds prevailing during the year. The latter in particular is a significant concern for the multitude of thin cables that are placed closely together for the structure, which is located close to the sea.

“Under normal circumstances, the wind might funnel across the cables and create a humming sound, known as ‘aeolian tones’,” Aurecon explained, adding that “the challenge” was to minimise the potential of this sound to ensure visitor experiences remained undisrupted. The cables, wound tightly together, may also become entangled, “thus ruining the likeness being portrayed”, the consultancy added in its statement.

To manage these challenges, Aurecon said its engineers “studied how the complex interaction of wind, moisture, salinity, and heat would affect the performance of the cables and spheres”.

“The objective was to minimise sound, vibration, corrosion, wire fatigue and stresses on the roof structure and foundations,” the company’s statement continued. “Solutions were also found for the pre-tension required for the cables to counteract thermal changes,

“Aurecon’s engineers also conducted numerous wind studies for the optimum cable material and diameter for design wind speeds up to 40 m/s (about 140 km/h). More work was put into researching the ideal material for the solids to ensure the Constellation would continue to maintain its appearance while transforming the Sheikh’s portrait into a celestial display.”

Stainless steel was picked to develop the platonic solids, due to its strength, corrosion-resistance, and ability to achieve the daytime and night-time finishes desired by the design team. These platonic solids were suspended on 4mm duplex-grade stainless steel wire ropes.

According to the consultancy, The Constellation is “unique in its use of abstract portraiture at this scale”. To ensure its evening viewing was as desired, 753 downlights and 1,203 up-lights were custom-made to illuminate the structure.  

“Despite the many challenges, the team from Aurecon enjoyed the research, model building and analysis to ensure the design would assimilate into Abu Dhabi’s hot, windy, and hazy environment, resulting in an outstanding piece of art reflecting the people’s reverential feelings for Sheikh Zayed,” its statement added.

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