Abu Dhabi: Saadiyat Island Museums by 2017, Etihad Towers Wins Awards, Beirut’s Martyr’s Square

Big news — most of the Saadiyat Island museums are back on! After construction was put on hold for several years, there are now set dates: Jean Nouvel’s $500 million Louvre in 2015, Lord Norman Foster’s Zayed National Museum in 2016 and Frank Gehry’s $800 million Guggenheim in 2017. No word on NYU-AD’s new campus, Tadao Ano’s maritime museum or Zaha Hadid’s performing arts center (New York Times).

The Louvre Abu Dhabi, seen here in 2010. / Image via TDIC and NYT.

Meanwhile the emirate’s Executive Council approved funding for a ton of new projects, including Saadiyat Island, expanding the International Airport and Khalifa Port, and building industrial areas in the Western Region and an auto city in Abu Dhabi. Most of the spending is on domestic projects, like housing, hospitals, schools and roads — plus Abu Dhabi’s metro and tram system (The National).

We had reported that the city’s metro is supposed to open in 2016, but that seems ambitious, and an updated timeline is scheduled for this year. The first phase of Etihad Rail — to transport sulphur from Ruwais — is funded with a $1 billion loan (The National).

The 'At 300' observation deck being fitted-out at Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi. / Image via Construction Week.

The airport continues to expand — passengers up 14 percent to 12 million, cargo up 10 percent (The National) and Al Bateen Beach is scheduled to open in March (The National).

The $1 billion Etihad Towers in Jumeirah by DBI Design was named the World’s Leading New Hotel by the World Travel Awards, and will have an observation deck at 300 meters high (Construction Week: first and second articles).

To improve sustainability, Abu Dhabi should look into banning plastic bags like many global cities have done (Atlantic Cities). Plus lecture at the Sorbonne-AD lecture on Arabic’s contributions to the French language (Zawya).

Elsewhere in the region…

The Bourj, early 1900's. / Image via Global Urbanist.

Fascinating three-part series on Beirut’s reconstruction over the past 20 years. Intriguingly, Martyr’s Square’s current form — of an open, public space — is a maidan, a traditional feature of Arabian cities. While the reconstruction is admirable — the downtown looks like 1920’s Paris — it’s also become a polarizing space, for the urban elite (Global Urbanist: First, Second and Third). As Cairo’s Tahrir Square and Manama’s Pearl Roundabout showed, these public squares are often flashpoints for democratic protests (Design Observer).

Watch out Dubai — Avesta is looking to Baku, the capital of oil-rich Azerbaijan, in building a 1,050 supertower on a chain of artificial islands in the Caspian Sea
(Arabian Business). Madinah, Saudia Arabia is to be redeveloped by MMM with improving its green space (Arab News), Atkins finished Oman’s $1 billion Medical City master plan (Arabian Business) and in Kazakhstan, Almaty’s new metro looks beautiful (Atlantic Cities).

Finally, a fascinating photo series on American Muslims (NYT Lens Blog)

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Salam Street Expressway Reopens, Improving Traffic

Big transportation news as Abu Dhabi’s Salam Street expressway finally reopened! Well…only from Hamdan (5th) to Al Falah (9th) Streets. Still, traffic has been running smoothly, and businesses and residents are happy, per The National.

Traffic on the Salam Street Expressway, via The National.

The AED 5 billion megaproject — 2 km of surface roads, 3.1 km of tunnel — is slated to fully open early next year, after four years of construction. I’m eager to see if Salam will become a “complete street” with lanes for buses, trams and bikes.

High-speed rail could help transport people too, but curiously financing it is the main problem in the GCC, according to a Construction Week, citing a report by media group Terrapinn. It’s probably more difficult to change car culture, but Saudi Arabia is building light rail and high-speed rail so it can be done.

Dubai, which already has an incredibly efficient metro, now will be getting a master plan for 2020 plus a new planning commission. (Construction Week) Perhaps they’re taking notes from Abu Dhabi’s Plan 2030, which we looked at yesterday, as the capital hosted the Spanish city of Marbella to talk about urban planning. (Zawya)

Elsewhere in the region…

There are tons of new infrastructure projects in Iraq. Baghdad’s new metro is in the early planning stages, funding for reconstruction of the historic city of Babylon and the Dutch are helping rebuild the country’s ports. (Construction Week)

In neighboring Iran, could neighborhood cinemas close? The government may end electricity subsidies. (The National) Another neighbor, Turkey, is hosting a cool photo festival in Bursa, attempting to bridge West-East divides. (NYT Lens)