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RELIGIOUS CONSTRUCTION
In Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zhayed Builds A House for the Holy
By Andrew G. Wright
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.

HALFWAY Structure is done, finish
to come. (Photo by Andrew G. Wright
for ENR)

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.

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Impregilo’s commitment level and quality control paved the way, says Sami Al Qazzaz, Halcrow’s 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," he says.

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 cast-in-place connections.

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 owner’s 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 we’ll remain as the construction manager through the finishing phase, Inshallah," says Raouf Ghali, vice president of Hill International, Marlton, N.J.

The structure’s 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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