Hello again, after a long break for this blog. We’re going to share with you our thoughts about buildings and places we enjoy here in Abu Dhabi. Most people that haven’t come to Abu Dhabi think of it as a place with big, splashy buildings like Dubai – and there are some of those — but there are also more subtle gems that stand out.
Today we will highlight the Sheikh Zayad bridge, designed by Iraqi born and Pritzker prize winning architect, Zaha Hadid, and completed in 2010.
The name Abu Dhabi applies to several things: Abu Dhabi is one of the seven Emirates; it is the capital city of the Emirate and the UAE; and it is the name of the island on which most of the city sits. The eastern edge of Abu Dhabi island is currently linked to the mainland by 3 bridges… the Maqta bridge, the Mussafah bridge and most recently the Sheikh Zayed bridge.
When Abu Dhabi was first settled in the mid- to late 1800’s, the center of the city was at the western (bottom left) edge of the island. Historically, the oasis town of Al Ain to the east on the UAE/Oman border was the center of the Emirate since it had natural fresh water and was the home to the founder and ruler of the UAE. Therefore in the beginning of the UAE, traffic primarily moved between Abu Dhabi and Al Ain. The first bridge was built near the site of a ford in the middle of the island.
As Dubai rose in prominence, the connections between Dubai and Abu Dhabi became more important and the road between the two became heavily traveled. Getting on to the island of Abu Dhabi from Dubai was difficult and very time consuming with only the Maqta and Mussafah bridges. So, the idea of a third bridge on the direct route to and from Dubai was conceived. This new bridge was named for Sheikh Zayed, the founder of the UAE, and work began in 1997.
Unlike the first two bridges, which are traditional, functional spans, the Sheikh Zayed Bridge is a work of art.
Three arches of varying lengths and heights support the roadway, which spans the Maqta channel. Hadid said she drew inspiration from the dunes and wind patterns found in the desert, and this is clearly reflected in the undulating, ribbon-like forms.
While the bridge waves across the water in the daytime, it becomes truly alive and dances at night as a result of ever-changing lighting projected on all facets of the bridge. The play of reds, blues, greens and purples accenting the curves and counter-curves highlights the design and emphasizes its motion. The beauty of the asymmetrically proportioned arches is brought into focus.
It’s play of color also calls to mind the changing of color on the nearby Grand Mosque, where the lighting color changes daily to reflect the current phase of the moon.
The very modernity of the bridge’s structure stands in strong contrast to the two hundred year old watch tower for the Maqta fort at the site of the Maqta ford, which we will discuss next.