If you're happy and you know it

Saadiyat Island will reach its first milestone in September

Saadiyat island's Director of infrastructure Andrew Seymour explains what progress has been made on one of ABU Dhabi's mega projects.
Saadiyat island's Director of infrastructure Andrew Seymour explains what progress has been made on one of ABU Dhabi's mega projects.
Infrastructure across the first phases of Saadiyat island is shaping up. A transportation hub is also set to be built on the project.
Infrastructure across the first phases of Saadiyat island is shaping up. A transportation hub is also set to be built on the project.

The flag-bearer of Abu Dhabi’s tourism ambitions, Saadiyat Island, will reach its first milestone in September with the opening of Saadiyat Bridge. As work continues to flow for contractors on the island, director of infrastructure Andrew Seymour talks to Construction Week about progress, positivity, and pipes that go everywhere.

Saadiyat means ‘happiness’ in Arabic. And, touring round the ongoing mega-project that is Saadiyat Island, it would appear that the developer is delivering a certain amount of this cheerful vibe, not least to UAE contractors.

Work on the US $27 billion (AED100 billion) project is progressing to schedule in terms of infrastructure. Abu Dhabi government-owned Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC) is the master-developer, and is overseeing installation of this side of the project.

Government-funded projects have been a lifeline for many contractors throughout 2009, as public projects have continued to prosper where private ones have fallen foul of the economic crisis. Saadiyat Island falls firmly within the prosperous category.

On September 1, the 10-lane Saadiyat Bridge, the second-largest bridge of its kind in the Middle East, and the Saadiyat Expressway, will open. The bridge links the island to downtown Abu Dhabi and the expressway. The expressway in turn links downtown Abu Dhabi with Yas Island, via Saadiyat Island.

Several contractors have been working on the infrastructure to date, including Zublin and Gulf Leighton. Parsons has been the engineer for the works.

Saadiyat Beach Golf Course is also set for a “soft opening” on September 1. Both are firm indicators of the progress being made. Later this year, major infrastructure packages will go out to tender, according to TDIC director of infrastructure Andrew Seymour.

The packages relate to works within the island’s Cultural District and its Marina District, both of which fall within the master-development’s first phase. The Cultural District packages include the first phase of canal construction, coastal protection works and the main infrastructure for around two-thirds of the district.

The Marina District packages include construction of a boulevard, bridge construction, and works on a section of a main expressway.

“These are pretty huge packages,” Seymour says.

Best price

The increase in available contractors has allowed TDIC to keep its infrastructure costs relatively low. “The amount of contractors looking for work here will be great for us,” Seymour says. “As a client, our primary objective has got to be getting good contractors at the best price.”

Work on the island’s initial hotels is also showing good progress. The main construction contract for the St. Regis Hotel, due for completion in mid-2011, was awarded last month to a joint venture between Al Habtoor and Murray & Roberts.

The project includes a 380-room hotel, 259 residential apartments and 33 villas, as well as a shopping complex, health club and 1600 parking spaces. Both the Shangri La hotel and the Rotana hotel are at the piling stage, while work is already underway on the Park Hyatt, being developed by Abu Dhabi National Hotels, with Alec as the main contractor.

As for the island’s highest profile district, the Cultural District, the wheels are beginning to turn on the main structures. Bidding is closed for the main construction contract for the Louvre Abu Dhabi, with an as yet unnamed contractor, which was appointed recently.

Groundbreaking on the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi will take place before the end of the year, and the Zayed National Museum will go out to tender by December. The Performing Arts Centre in the cultural district and the Maritime Museum in the Marina District will be tendered at a later date. Further, the Saadiyat Experience Centre, being built by Alec, is set for completion in November.


With infrastructure falling into place, four flagship hotels making good progress, and main contractors getting set to roll into the Cultural District, the stage is set for the Saadiyat sub-developers. In fact, the stage has been set for some time now.

“We were in place by November last year,” Seymour says. “But a lot of sub-developers were waiting to see what happened with the market, and now that people are starting to feel a little more comfortable, we are starting to see some movement again.”

But, Seymour says the delays were, to some extent, welcome. “Three years ago we built a temporary access road all the way from Yas Island to here so that we had vehicle access onto Saadiyat,” he explains.

“If things had developed as quickly as people thought they were going to, that road would have seen tailbacks all the way to Dubai,” he jokes.

So though privately-funded sub-developers have experienced delays to their original plans as a result of the global financial crisis, Seymour indicates that things may be finally starting to pick up. This is more good news for the contracting world.


Saadiyat Island is split into seven districts: Cutural, Marina, Promenade, Reserve, Lagoons, Retreat, and Beach. The first phase involves works on the Cultural, Marina and Beach districts. Hilalco was awarded the $61 million, 18 month infrastructure contract for the Saadiyat Beach Residences last month, while the main construction contract for Saadiyat Beach Residences was awarded to Al Jaber.

With the sheer amount of work progressing across the 27km² island, logistics has proven to be a challenge. Fifty-three million m³ of sand has been reclaimed from the sea bed and distributed across huge sections of the island to create a gentle slope towards the ocean This has allowed for the expressway to be dug into the island itself to restrict noise for the 160,000 residents expected to be based there.

“We have put down 53 million m³ of sand at the same time as building a 10 lane highway, treatment plants and reservoirs,” Seymour says. “We had pipes to drain water from the reclaimed sand back out to sea. The coordination has been the most challenging aspect, because those pipes – they went everywhere.

The logistical requirements of the project, however, have been eased by the steps taken by TDIC to ensure the project is as self-sufficient as possible. The island supports a Construction Village to accommodate the immense labour force, a petrol station and a batching plant, all of which restrict heavy vehicle movements. The island is also home to a crushing plant which has allowed the master-developer to recycle much of its materials.

“A lot of the rock and concrete that came off the island got crushed and has gone back into forming the platforms for the museums,” Seymour explains. “We’ve reused a lot of the core rock, during the development, that came off of the island originally. It has saved us millions.” Thiess Services was appointed to handle waste management across the island and will continue in this role to handle long-term waste strategies.

The words mega-project and environmental concern may not go hand in hand, but Saadiyat Island is progressing with as much respect for the surrounding environment as can reasonably be expected. If you are a contractor capable of pulling off the work required by TDIC, and you can offer to do so at a competitive price, then Saadiyat Island could well live up to its name and bring you a little happiness.

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