In May 2013, James Langton visited the site to see the foundations laid for a building that would stand poised between sea and sky. The Louvre Abu Dhabi, which was under construction under the supervision of a man like Peter Armstrong, a laconic Canadian and the project manager for Turner Construction, who spent more than a decade on UAE construction sites, his curriculum vitae includes the Burj Khalifa and the Emirates Palace.
Armstrong explained that there are the deepest foundations of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, seven meters below sea level, the Arabian Gulf held at bay by walls of concrete while powerful pumps that ensure the groundwater table is always below the site. In the end they can be removed, but turn off the pumps than and eventually the museum could risk becoming a lake.
Keeping the site watertight both now and in the future is one of the great challenges of building the Louvre Abu Dhabi. When Jean Nouvel’s stunning design is made real, the sea will be allowed back to lap around the museum’s walls. When it is completed, two years later, the museum will resemble a vast floating disk pierced with light. It is a design that will balance two colossal forces – the weight of gravity bearing down from the 180-metre-wide dome against the pressure of the water as it pushes against the building’s foundations.
Armstrong describes this process as similar to taking an empty bottle and pulling it under the water. To keep everything in place, the Louvre Abu Dhabi must sit solidly on its foundations, while retaining the illusion of weightlessness. Armstrong jokingly said that it would float out to sea.
Later Abu Dhabi’s Tourism Development and Investment Company awarded the Dh2.4 billion contract to a joint venture headed by Arabtec, with Constructora San José and Oger Abu Dhabi. Overseeing the building work is Armstrong and Turner Construction, effectively TDIC’s eyes and ears on the ground.
This stage represents the low point of building. Two basements will be built once the foundations are finished both below sea-level. Twin underwater tunnels will follow, one for visitors, who will enter after parking in a shopping mall still to be constructed. The other tunnel is the entrance for works of art, where the security must be as watertight as the structure. Several stages had passed before the basement structure is completed and the museum proper can begin to rise above ground.
Making the building waterproof on a tight timescale, Armstrong called it a significant challenge and said that there was no allowance for a leak in that project. It had to be 100 per cent watertight. In February 2014, all the building above ground has been finished.
The Dome will be constructed with about 120,000 prefabricated pieces of steel in a series of criss-crossing layers was assembled in Abu Dhabi. Nothing like it had been seen architecturally since the Bird’s Nest stadium for the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
No human hand alone can create such a precision piece of engineering, just as a structure of such mind-boggling complexity as the Louvre Abu Dhabi cannot be contained in a single human mind. No matter how brilliant the designers, however dedicated the engineers, none of this would be possible without computer technology and modern materials.
Armstrong described about the dome’s design that it could not have been done 100 years ago, one couldn’t have done it even 20 years ago due to the complex geometry and the requirement for computer aided fabrication. Completing the dome will take just over a year but when it is done, the silhouette will be physical proof to the city that the Louvre Abu Dhabi has arrived.
The vast weight of the dome – that its 7,000 tons are almost equal to the weight of the Eiffel Tower is currently TDIC’s favorite statistic – rest on just these four points. The structure, which rises to around 30 meters on the inside, provides shade for the galleries underneath as well as being energy-efficient. In concept, the design is said to mimic the palm frond roofs once common in ordinary Arish homes across the Gulf. The promised effect is described as a “rain of light”.
The construction and sophistication of the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s dome is among the most unique projects
Less romantically, but of more practical concern, are the four huge bearings that will be mounted on each pier to take the weight of the dome. These allow movement caused by the dome contracting and expanding with seasonal changes in temperature but would also ensure that even if the building was hit by a major earthquake – something experts say is virtually impossible – it would remain standing. Still the work is in progress against an invisible clock, and the world is waiting Tick Tock.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi will be different with its unique museum collections approach – displaying historical objects and art – will explore connections between distinct civilizations and cultures around the world. This is what will make the museum truly universal.
From The National