Minarets of the Grand Mosque reach the sky as project enters phase two

The Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi will be the largest ever built in the UAE. When complete, the structure will stand nearly 110 metres tall and hold 32 000 worshippers. Zoe Naylor takes a tour around the site and talks to the team behind this massive project.

  • E-Mail
By  Zoe Naylor Published  January 7, 2006

uae is set to break national records as the structure of the ‘grand mosque’ takes symbolic shape in Abu Dhabi|~|102proj200.gif|~|UAE big guns: The project management contract for phase two was awarded to the joint venture of Six Construct and Arabian Construction Company.|~|Destined to be the largest mosque in the UAE (and possibly the fifth largest in the world), Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque in Abu Dhabi is well underway. The main concrete building structure is complete and work is now progressing on the second phase of the project, which involves the final stages of the work. The overall completion date is scheduled for 2007. Initially envisioned by the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nayhan in the late 1980s, the mosque is set in 500 000 m2 of ground between Mussafah and Abu Dhabi International Airport Road. The footprint of the structure itself is 175 m by 225 m, or 39 374m2. This includes one main prayer hall for men, and two smaller prayer halls — one of them for women. When finished, a total of 32 000 worshipers will be accommodated inside and outside. Numerous teams are involved in the project: Tractebel Al Khalij carried out the design phase between 1996 and 1998, during which time Hill International was appointed as project manager by the Works Department — now known as ADM (Abu Dhabi Municipality). The construction contract for phase one was awarded to the joint venture of ImpregiloRizzani de Eccher in 1996, which was completed in 2003. A management contract was introduced in phase two, whereby the remaining works were divided into packages managed by the joint venture of Six Construct and Arabian Construction Company (ACC). Halcrow International is the main design and supervision consultant for the second phase. Others teams involved in the project include Hyder Consulting Middle East as MEP consultant; Speirs and Major as lighting specialist; PMK as acoustic consultant; Spativm Studio Associates as interior designer; and Parsons International as landscape designer. The sheer scale and diversity of the project makes for some challenging construction techniques: “There will be 57 different domes in total, the biggest of which has a 43 m-diameter and a height of 83 m,” explains Khawla Al Sulaimani, the project manager from ADM. Out of the 57 domes, 34 are on the arcade surrounding the mosque. One of the main concerns on this project, according to Muhammad Ajmal Sheikh, chief engineer at ADM, is durability: “All the materials had to meet very stringent specifications. The long design life of the building meant that the durability of the materials — especially the concrete — was one of the main criteria.” “It was imperative to make sure that the strength of the concrete was right. The design was 45 Newtons per mm2 but actually we were getting 58 to 60 Newtons mm2. But it was also important that the concrete was not too strong that it should crack,” he adds. Coatings of MCI (migrating corrosion inhibitors) were used to protect the concrete surfaces and steel. More than 200 000m3 of concrete was used on the project, most of which was batched on site using two purpose-built plants. The exception to this was the three biggest domes, which were precast. “These came in 54 sections — 18 sections for each of the three domes,” says Samir Hammoud, project manager, Hill International. A special type of crane from Al Jaber (the largest mobile crane in the UAE) was used on site for three months to lift these dome sections into place. Making concrete during the hot summer months posed challenges due to the high temperatures. Ice was used to cool the mixture and to prevent the curing concrete from drying out, along with fibre additives. “Control of the concreting process was very strict and it was not made in temperatures of more than 37°C,” explains Sheikh. Another important consideration was working at heights. “Site safety on this project is paramount, and especially when some of the labourers were working at heights of around 100 m,” he adds. Weekly toolbox meetings were held to ensure that any new contractors on site were fully aware of safety procedures. The formwork required plenty of technical know-how because the concrete structure of the mosque is formed from many different shapes at different levels. “It’s not an easy construction in terms of formwork; the arches and domes make it especially complex,” says Sheikh. An important aspect of the project is its seismic design. “Each of the three big domes is independently supported from one another and the main structure,” explains Samir Tawakol, architect, ADM. “The joints that hold these dome segments together are designed to allow for a movement of 3 to 10 cm in case of seismic activity,” he adds. An intricate system of arches and beams running in three or four directions is used to carry the massive weight of the domes. “Constructing domes of this size requires a very competent designer and one who has the technical expertise,” says Tawakol. With most of the main construction of the Grand Mosque now complete, attention is now focused on the finishing e.g. electrical and mechanical works, cladding and interior decorations. “A few weeks ago we began the cladding on the interior for the main sections,” says Hammoud, “and we’re now in the process of cladding the external walls with marble.” The entire mosque, including the four 107 m-high minarets, will be clad in white marble sourced mainly from Macedonia. There is also intricate marble works taking place inside the main prayer hall. “A lot of work on the external Macedonian marble is being processed in Greece,” says Hammoud. “But some of the marble inlay work is being carried out on site by Indian craftsmen.” Marble colonnades surround the sahan (courtyard), which will be able to accommodate more than 20 000 worshippers. The colonnades are being inlaid with semi-precious stones from India and will be used to enclose the arcades. The interior of the mosque entrances will feature white marble on the walls and floor, inlaid with coloured marble. Iznik tiles from Turkey will be used on panels on the arcade walls and in the ablution areas located at the south and north corners of the building, which will be accessible by escalators. Inside the main prayer hall will be the world’s largest handmade carpet (measuring 5700m2), from Iran. The mosque will also feature the biggest chandelier in the world: “Measuring 10 m diameter by 15 m in height, it is being made by the Faustig Company using crystal and gilded metal,” says Al Sulaimani. “It will hang underneath the biggest dome and will weigh approximately 11 tonnes.” And as the interior works moves towards completion, attention will soon turn to landscaping the grounds of the mosque, which will eventually include gardens and reflective pools that flank the building’s main entrance. In time, the planned expansion of Abu Dhabi will place the Grand Mosque at the heart of the city. As Abu Dhabi continues to develop its construction projects, the Grand Mosque is a befitting monument to the man referred to as the founder of the UAE.||**||

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code