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Architects welcome go-ahead for Abu Dhabi projects

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The approval of a vast array of construction projects in Abu Dhabi this week heralds an ‘exciting time’ for UK architects in the emirate, according to a senior industry figure

The Abu Dhabi Executive Council on Monday gave the green light for a raft of schemes that had been either placed on hold or held up in creation.

A meeting chaired by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, general shaikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, released funding for more than 20,000 homes, 24 schools, a 700,000m² airport terminal, two major road extensions, a drainage system and 14 healthcare facilities.

Richard Philipson, international director of AJ100 top 20 practice Stride Treglown, told the AJ the announcement was a major boost for UK practices that had invested in the region.

‘It is very positive news,’ he said. ‘All architects in Abu Dhabi have been in a hiatus for the past 12 months and this will hopefully kickstart things.

‘I would expect calls to clients to start up in earnest again. It is an exciting time.

‘My experience is that it can take an inordinate amount of time to get to this stage but then I would expect a fast route through procurement to delivery.’

Philipson said he expected firms already set up in Abu Dhabi to benefit from most of the work, adding that those from the UK had excellent prospects.

‘I would not advise anyone to pack their bags and head to Abu Dhabi now,’ he said. ‘There are a lot of companies already in the emirate who have invested and waited for this to come along. Those who turn up now have a lot of work to do to win any of the work.

‘I expect UK architects to do well. We have one of the best reputations in the Middle East. But we still have to be competitive.’

Projects approved in Abu Dhabi this week include:

  • a 13,150-home development at North Wathba
  • in excess of 7,600 residential villas
  • infrastructure works at Khalifa Industrial Zone for the new Shaikh Khalifa Port
  • new terminal facilities at the Abu Dhabi International Airport
  • a 246 km extension to the Al Mafraq-Ghuwaifat Highway to the Saudi border
  • extension and expansion of the existing Truck Road linking to Dubai
  • construction and maintenance of drain systems in Al Ain and the Western Region
  • 14 healthcare facilities and a rehabilitation centre
  • two new industrial zones in Ruwais and Medinat Zayed in the Western Region
  • development of an auto city adjacent to the Industrial City Abu Dhabi
  • construction of the Sir Baniyas wind farm
  • 24 new schools, and the refurbishment of 10 existing schools

Meanwhile, budgets and opening dates were confirmed for the high-profile museum projects in the cultural district on Saadiyat Island.

The government announced that Jean Nouvel’s Louvre Abu Dhabi would open in 2015, Norman Foster’s Zayed National Museum in 2016 and Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Abu Dhabi (pictured) in 2017.

This ends a long period of speculation over the projects, originally slated to open in 2013 to 2014. Pascall + Watson this month revealed it had disbanded a team set to work on the Louvre as it did not expect work to progress this year.

Pascall + Watson managing director Phil Holden said this week: ‘We would be hopeful that we could reinvigorate our appointment in order to meet the planned delivery date of the Louvre project, but we have had no formal approaches as yet.

‘For a long time the executive council has been silent regarding all projects, so we see this as a very positive move to re-ignite the economy.

‘We believe a number of the more significant projects may take a little time to work through the system but overall it is a move in the right direction.’

A spokesman for Foster + Partners said: ‘We welcome the news today and look forward to working with the client to build the Zayed National Museum.’

Tourism Development & Investment Company said the new opening dates ‘give each museum sufficient time to establish its own identity on the local and international cultural stage’.

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