The spotlight has recently turned on Abu Dhabi as an emerging cultural centre of the Middle East focused on developing visionary projects based on modern architecture and sustainability.
Abu Dhabi's cultural focus is centered on the Saadiyat Island development which includes the first branch of the Louvre outside of Paris and the world's largest Guggenheim Museum. Appropriately, Saadiyat translates as 'Island of Happiness.'
The dramatic Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim Museum in Abu Dhabi will be the largest Guggenheim at 30,000 square metres and will be built at an estimated cost of US$400 million. Gehry's previous best-known works include the world-renowned titanium covered Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain.
The Guggenheim is being developed by the Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC) which invited international firms with annual sales of more than US$1 billion to pre-qualify for the project.
Three of the world’s biggest builders are planning to compete for the contract to build the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Museum, according to The National newspaper.
Balfour Beatty of Britain, Murray and Roberts of South Africa and Leighton of Australia are considering bids to build the high-profile contract, which will be worth about US$750 million (Dh2.75 billion), senior officials said.
They may face competition from local rivals including Arabtec of Dubai and National Projects and Construction (NPC) of Abu Dhabi.
The building’s unusual design could be challenging to build, Grahame McCaig, the general manager of Dutco Balfour Beatty, which is the local unit of Britain’s biggest builder, told The National.
“With very complex details and architectural finishes, it won’t be straightforward,” Mr McCaig said. “Therefore, it would be advantageous for us to hook up with one of the larger subcontractors for some of the packages,” he added.
Murray and Roberts is in discussions with Al Habtoor Leighton Group, a senior official said.
“Abu Dhabi is certainly taking off,” Nigel Harvey, the general manager for Murray and Roberts, told the newspaper. “The type of projects Murray and Roberts looks for tend to be more complex. That’s why we got involved in the Burj Al Arab, and that’s where we think we can add value.”
The similarly dramatic domed Louvre Museum planned for Abu Dhabi is designed by French architect Jean Nouvel who was awarded the 2008 Pritzker Prize for his creative experimentation.
His works include the much acclaimed Institut du Monde Arabe (Arab World Institute) in Paris, which utilises aspects of Islamic architecture and, like the Louvre itself, is one of the French capital's cultural reference points.
Tom Barry, the chief executive of Arabtec Construction, the UAE’s largest construction firm, said Arabtec has “had some discussions” with the TDIC about the contract to build the Louvre, after having submitted a bid in May. The shortlist for the Louvre contract is expected to be finalized shortly.
Meanwhile, Bilbao Guggenheim Museum has been hosting a series of meetings based on the future Abu Dhabi Museum.
About 30 people participated in the sessions, most of them engineers and official representatives of the project such as the TDIC, architects from Gehry's studio, senior staff of the Guggenheim Bilbao and Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation delegates.
The meetings were aimed to analyze the future art's center design, management of artistic services, maintenance, and installations or security systems, for which Bilbao Guggenheim Museum is a reference.
Saadiyat Island's cultural district is one of the emirate’s planned anchor tourism attractions and is expected to attract 1.5 million visitors a year once fully completed by 2018 and will be home to around 160,000 people.
When the project was first announced, the island was expected to attract investment of more than US$27 billion.