Abu Dhabi - Classy development site
An emirate reinvents itself: With Formula One racing, spectacular architecture and the world’s largest indoor amusement park, Abu Dhabi is striving to overtake Dubai. But as it pins its faith firmly on the future, the emirate is cultivating its past and trying to reconcile its Arab heritage with modern influences
The drivers competing on Abu Dhabi’s desert racetrack push their vehicles to the limit, hurtling around hairpins, overtaking each other in death-defying maneuvers on the home stretch and thundering under the bridge straddled by the luxury Yas Hotel, the 800 horses under their engine hoods straining at the bit. But the last time they were out there dicing with death there was only one guest in the spa of that beautiful snow-white hotel overlooking the racetrack. A middle-aged woman enjoying a massage in a darkened room lit only with candles and filled with meditative music. She had literally come here to seek refuge from the race.
“She was the mother of one of the drivers,” explains Aoibheanna Bonner, the spa manager, “and she was worried about him.” Did the manager remember the driver’s name? “Of course,” she replies with a smile. But she doesn’t reveal it. Discretion is writ large in the luxury hotels that are springing up out of the desert sand all along the Gulf coast. These hotels are a key part of the master plan for the future of Abu Dhabi, which is trying to reduce its dependence on oil by moving into service industries and tourism. Auto racing is an important element of the plan because it’s dynamic and exciting; it’s all about speed and winning and brand consciousness.
In short, all of the values so beloved of Emiratis. There’s still a lot of sand around the place. Many of the attractions that are going to bring the world to Abu Dhabi are not yet operational or even completed, but they are springing up with breathtaking speed.
Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates and by far the richest of the emirates, is acquiring almost overnight a new skyline of glass, steel and concrete designed by renowned international architects. The Yas Hotel with its futuristic honeycomb design and ingeniously lit facade is one of the emirate’s most recent and most striking architectural achievements.
Zayed National Museum, Saadiyat and Louvre Abu Dhabi
Zayed National Museum:
Big names, big buildings: British star architect Sir Norman Foster is building the Zayed National Museum. The museum’s website carries full details of the ambitious project.
Zayed National Museum: www.zayednationalmuseum.ae
Isle of culture: Over the coming years, a Guggenheim Museum (left), the Center of Performing Arts (right) and a branch of the Louvre (left of the latter) will open on Saadiyat. A website has already been set up to provide information and updates on this project’s progress, too.
Louvre Abu Dhabi:
Natural spotlights: Apertures in the roof will channel daylight into the exhibition rooms once the building has been completed. The museum could open as early as 2015.
Louvre Abu Dhabi: www.saadiyat.ae
Sheik Zayed Mosque, Ferrari World and Emirates Palace Hotel
Sheik Zayed Mosque:
Richly decorated: The world’s third-largest mosque has space for 40 000 worshippers. The main dome over the prayer hall is 85 meters high.
Sheik Zayed Mosque: Tel.: +971-24 41 64 44. Open: daily 9am-10pm except Friday mornings, guided tours daily at various times, see website. Admission: free. www.szgmc.ae
Vision in red: Ferrari World, the world’s largest indoor amusement park, is dedicated to motor sports in general and the high-end Italian auto brand in particular. The park’s 20 rides and attractions include a giant walk-in engine.
Ferrari World: Yas Island, Tel. +971-24 96 80 01. Open: Tue-Sun 11am-8pm. Admission: starts at 225 AED (reduced 165 AED for visitors up to 1.50 meters tall). www.ferrariworldabudhabi.com
Emirates Palace Hotel:
Abu Dhabi’s transformation began in 2005 with the opening of this five-star hotel in 2005. It was originally planned to host government conferences.
Emirates Palace Hotel: West Corniche Road, Tel. +971-26 90 90 00. www.emiratespalace.com
Fotos: LOOK-foto, Zayed National Museum, saadiyat.ae, © Ateliers Jean Nouvel, mauritius images, Scattolon/laif, PR