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Sheikh Zayed Bridge

Sheikh Zayed bridge seen from Al Maqta bridge.

British-Iraqi Dame Zaha Hadid (also on wikipedia) is one of the most visionary and innovative architects of our times. Worldwide acclaimed for her fluid and creative designs, she has been the first woman ever to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize, which is considered the Nobel for architecture.

Her name was in the news recently because she designed Qatar’s Al-Wakrah stadium for the World Cup 2022 in Qatar and redesigned the new Tokyo National Stadium for the 2020 Olympic Games, to be set in Japan.

She also designed this incredible yacht, still in the process of be made reality, but guaranteed to give nightmares to all sailors out there. (I love it, but I must admit it would scare me out of my pyjamas if I were to see it approaching my boat on a dark, stormy night!)

The list of the iconic buildings she designed could go on for hours, but my personal favourites are the Aquatic Centre for the London Olympic Park, for the 2012 Olympic Games, the very recent Sackler Serpentine Gallery in London, and the MAXXI Museum of XXI Century Arts in Rome.

From a taxi riding on Sheikh Zayed bridge.

Now, I have another wonderful structure to add to my list: Sheikh Zayed Bridge, which was opened in 2010, is a triple-arched bridge inspired by the asymmetric shapes of desert sand dunes. It was awarded the Global Road Achievement Award in the Design category from the UN recognised International Roads Federation.

This bridge is 842 meters long and 64 meters high, and houses a two-way four lane highway spanning 140 meters. The cantilevered road decks are suspended from symmetrical steel arches, which form a sinusoidal waveform and give this massive structure its fluid silhouette. (source)

Named after HH the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, together with Maqta bridge and Mussafah bridge, this is one of the three main bridges connecting Abu Dhabi island with the rest of the city, and it is said to be the most intricate bridge ever built.

I really love it, and I can’t help by taking photos of it every time I am passing over it or seeing it from the distance: it looks amazing, both during the day and at night, when it is all lit by the impressive dynamic lighting created by Dutch designer Rogier Van Der Heide: he used Martin professional luminaries in subtle colours which gradually fade from a shade to another, flowing across the bridge’s spine and symbolising the connecting nature of the bridge and the energy that Abu Dhabi radiates across the water. (photos)

This innovative lighting can be customised and the different colours can mark national or religious holidays as well as other important events. As it happens with the lighting of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque (about which I have written here), also this bridge’s lights follow the phases of the moon, and once a month both landmarks appear coloured in a deep blue shade. (source) (source)

Where it is: City East
Designed by: Zaha Hadid, Rogier Van Der Heide, Arup


Sun and Sky Towers


Sun and Sky Towers.

These residential towers on Al Reem Island are very popular with Expats, thanks to their sleek design, great facilities and easy location.
Beside the fact that my ears pop between four and five times each time I am in the lift to go visit someone, I can’t help but be amazed by these glass and steel giants, overlooking the rest of the rapidly expanding island with a slightly suspicious eye.

Sun and Sky are two non-identical twin elliptical towers, with cantilevered sections that create vertical (on Sky) and horizontal (on Sun) patterns on their glass surface. These sections translate in extra space for some residential units, a sort of ‘light box’ with floor to ceiling glass windows.
Sky is 74-storeys strong, as it contains both residential units and a shopping centre, whilst Sun is ‘only’ 65 as it is only residential.

The two towers are joined at the base by the ‘Podium’, a large communal space for the towers’ residents, complete with gyms, swimming pools, tennis courts and similar amenities.

It is easy to get a crooked neck if looking at these imposing blue giants from the street below, but their elegant silhouette in the clear sky of Abu Dhabi is definitely worth a visit.

Where it is: Al Reem Island
Designed by: Arquitectonica, RW Armstrong.


Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Breathtaking view.

Words fail me when it comes to describe how wonderful this Holy place is.
I know I will write many other posts about this beautiful Mosque, but this time I would like to concentrate on its stunning architecture, to try at least to give an idea of how impressive this religious landmark is.

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque was built between 1996 and 2007, and takes its name from Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who is buried at the site.

With its 22,000m2 of space, it is the third largest Mosque in the world, being able to welcome between 30.000 and 40.000 worshippers at any given time.
The main courtyard, a space of 17,000 m2, features the largest mosaic floor in the world.

The Mosque is visible from the three main bridges connecting the island to mainland Abu Dhabi: Maqta bridge, Mussafah bridge and Sheikh Zayed Bridge. This geographical positioning is a symbol of the connection between the whole city and its Grand Mosque.

Amongst many wonders, it is home to 82 domes, over a thousand columns, four minarets standing over 100m high, the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet (measuring 5,627 m2 and weighing 32 Ton) and some of the world’s largest chandeliers, incorporating millions of Swarovsky crystals.

The Islamic religious calendar is based on the lunar cycle, hence the moon has been used as source of inspiration and design motif across the whole building.
The Mosque’s look is based on a full moon with clouds moving across its face: a system of hidden projectors create this impression, and the clouds are drifting from the direction of Mecca.


So peaceful.

As the lunar cycle changes, the building is lit in different ways: even if to the naked eye might be hard to notice these changes, the Mosque has been designed so that with the full moon it appears basking in bright white light, but as the days go on and the moon wanes, the building gradually becomes lit by a bluer, darker light.

Built in concrete and then clad with marble from Macedonia, this Mosque is a masterpiece of both traditional and innovative Islamic art. Materials for its completion were sourced from many countries including Greece, Italy, Germany, China, Austria, India and New Zealand, just to name a few.


Golden lights.

Thanks to the many lanterns and artificial lighting, the Mosque is just as stunning in the evening than under the sun: the building’s ‘glow’ comes from the many carved wood latticework (the Mashrabiya) and from the expert lighting of each material used in the interiors: marble panels, glass mosaics, carved gypsum panels and calligraphy have all been lit so to highlight their texture and natural veining.

Inside the Mosque, the Qibla prayer wall, pointing to Mecca, is a luminous panel where end-emitting fibre illuminates a gold-mesh curtain, concealed behind the 99 inscribed names of Allah, while side glow fibres reveal the organic forms of vine fronds.

This is an amazing religious space and a true architectural wonder. Thanks also to the fountains reflecting the beautiful courtyard’s columns and the perfectly groomed gardens, the Grand Mosque takes my breath away every time I catch even just a glimpse of it.


(Source 1) (Source 2) (Source 3)

You can also see this interesting video about how the suggestive lighting effect was achieved, featuring more images of this wonderful Holy place.

Official Website: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Centre
Where it is:
City East
Designed by: Spatium, Halcrow Group, Speirs and Major.


The Gate Towers

The Gate Towers at night.
Anyone else thinking about Tron?

These striking residential and commercial towers are not quite finished yet, but as of summer 2013 they are 98.28% complete, so they are nearly there. (source and source)

They are composed of three 65-storeys towers and a two-storeys penthouse bridge delicately sitting on top of them, which standing at over 240 meters it is believed to be the highest in the world of a residential kind. The bridge is also the largest and highest to ever been lifted, with its first two sections weighing 750-ton. The fourth and final section took four days to be forklifted in place. (source and source)

Click here to see interesting photos from the construction site which clearly showcase the incredible height of the penthouse bridge.

In recent times, the concept of ‘skybridges’ has become more and more popular in the world (see the Marina Bay Sand in Singapore or – somehow – the Elephant Tower in Bangkok) however no building reaches world-record numbers quite as these stunning Abu Dhabi towers.

What personally strikes me the most is that, despite its fantastic modernity, this is basically what Stonehenge would look like if it had been made by aliens. And I love it.

Where it is: Al Reem Island
Designed by: Arquitectonica, Khatib and Alami, Sorouh/Aldar, Hill International.


Al Bahr Towers

The beautiful Al Bahr Towers are two 25-floors twin office towers which house the Abu Dhabi Investment Council Headquarters.

We first heard about these ‘breathing’ buildings (that’s how I describe them) by watching this interesting CNN Video, long before coming to live in Abu Dhabi, so it is a real joy to be able to witness them in action every day!

Just driving by the towers.

The main feature of these cocoon-like towers is the series of ‘honeycomb’ shaped and solar-responsive modular shading screens that cover the South, West and East elevations.
They are smart panels, designed to open when the light is very bright and close in the evenings after sunset, following the movements of the sun around the building.
This helps to minimize glare and improves the building’s environmental performance by reducing the solar energy entering the windows by 20%.

Also, they look really, really cool.

This idea has been inspired by nature, origami art and by the traditional Islamic design of the Mashrabiya.
The Mashrabiya is a type of oriel window often made with carved wood and lattice, and it is present in Arabic architecture since the Middle Age: the result is a stunning combination between innovation and heritage.

The South-facing roofs also incorporate photo-voltaic cells, generating approximately five percent of the total required energy from renewable energy sources. (source) These buildings’ innovative design resulted in a 40% saving in carbon emissions. (source)

These wonderful buildings are visible from many places in the city, and the opening and closing of their panels make them looks like they are alive, a vibrant and gentle couple of giants in the lovely Abu Dhabi skyline.

Where it is: City Centre
Designed by: Abdulmajid Karanouh for Aedas Architects, and Arup Architecture.


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