Like many other powerful
rulers before him, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan is preparing
for his journey to the next world by erecting an impressive
place of worship for followers of his faith that he will leave
behind. The president of the United Arab Emirates, 86 years
old and in frail health, may not live to see completion of a
giant mosque, said to be the third largest in the world, that
is midway through construction on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi.
Completion is scheduled for November 2006.
While much of the news from the
Middle East in the past year has focused on misunderstandings
and mutual distrust, construction of this place of worship
has been marked by a blend of international and local participation.
Structure is done, finish
to come. (Photo by Andrew G. Wright
Milan-based Impregilo S.A. completed
about $120 million worth of structural work about a year ago,
under the design direction of Swindon-U.K. based Halcrow Group
Ltd. The owner took a hiatus to consider a number of different
approaches to finishing the job before awarding a $340-million
contract last month to a UAE-based joint venture of Six Construct
Ltd., an arm of Brussels-based BESIX, and Arabian Construction
Co. Halcrow will remain to coordinate design, construction
and interior work.
Halcrow joined the project in 2001,
replacing Tractebel Al Khaleej after relations deteriorated
between the owner and the Brussels-based contractor. Halcrow
moved to recapture time lost to poor communications between
the owner and the first contractor.
Impregilos commitment level
and quality control paved the way, says Sami Al Qazzaz, Halcrows
assistant resident engineer. "They managed to keep crews
going 24 hours a day, six days a week, while maintaining a
very tight standard for their [concrete] mix quality,"
Daytime temperatures that topped
120°F in summer forced operators to run two onsite batch
plants at night. Ice and fiber additives were key components
in the concrete mix.
The mosque footprint covers 500,000
square meters. One-tenth is for buildings. On the four largest
of seven domes, crews spliced precast panels with rebar and
The work force totaled 2,500 at
its peak. Most expatriate supervisors maintain comfortable
housing off site, often with their families present. The bulk
of the work force, consisting of laborers from the Indian
subcontinent and Asia, lived in sprawling dorm-style camps
just outside the jobsite perimeter.
The owners technical office
considered hiring a number of subcontractors to finish the
interiors, but ultimately concluded that a single contractor
coordinating all work was the best way to proceed. "Halcrow
stays on and well remain as the construction manager
through the finishing phase, Inshallah," says Raouf Ghali,
vice president of Hill International, Marlton, N.J.
The structures columns and
domes are impressive, but they will soon be burnished by the
finish materials, says Ian McLennan, an engineer on the Halcrow
team. The mosque will be clad in Indian Makrana marble, which
also was used on the Taj Mahal. Interiors will feature a mix
of marble, mosaic tile, and gypsum crafted by Morrocan artisans.
The main prayer hall will include a Qibla wall with Koranic
verses crafted in marble and gold. Semi-precious stone inlaid
on marble colonnades will enclose the open prayer court. The
mosque will be a fitting monument to Sheikh Zayed, who has
used oil-generated wealth to transform seven emirates from
a loose confederation of nomadic tribes into one of the most
modern Arab states, says one project source.
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