sheikh zayed bridge

sheikh zayed bridge

Zaha Hadid Architects
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Project Year
Stories By
Zaha Hadid Architects


Rogier van der Heide
Hufton + Crow

sheikh zayed bridge

Zaha Hadid Architects as Architects

The UAE has a highly mobile society that requires a new route around the Gulf south shore, connecting the three Emirates together. In 1967 a steel arch bridge was built to connect the fledgling city of Abu Dhabi island to the mainland, followed by a second bridge built in the seventies, connecting downstream at the south side of Abu Dhabi Island. The location of the new (third) Gateway Crossing, close to the first bridge, is critical in the development and completion of the highway system.

Conceived in an open setting, the bridge has the prospect of becoming a destination in itself and potential catalyst in the future urban growth of Abu Dhabi. A collection, or strands of structures, gathered on one shore, are lifted and ‘propelled’ over the length of the channel. A sinusoidal waveform provides the structural silhouette shape across the channel. The mainland is the launch pad for the bridge structure emerging from the ground and approach road. The Road decks are cantilevered on each side of the spine structure. Steel arches rise and spring from mass concrete piers asymmetrically, in length, between the road decks to mark the mainland and the navigation channels. The spine splits and splays from one shore along the central void position, diverging under the road decks to the outside of the roadways at the other end of the bridge. The main bridge arch structure rises to a height of 60 m above water level with the road crowning to a height of 20 metres above mean water level.

Sheikh Zayed Bridge lighting design

ARUP as Lighting design

After almost eight years of construction time, Arup has finalised a unique dynamic lighting scheme, based on a concept developed by Hollands Licht. As the sun sets the bridge structure appears dematerialised by fluid movements of light.

Designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, the bridge consists of concrete strands that gather on one shore, flowing across to the adjacent shore in a sculptural waveform.

Named after the country's former president Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the 842m bridge connects the mainland to the island of Abu Dhabi. The bridge arch structure soars to heights of up to 60m above water level, creating a formidable gateway to the city, over the Maqta Channel. The bridge is seen as a potential catalyst to the future urban growth of Abu Dhabi.

The lighting scenarios comprise of dynamic coloured light that smoothly flows across the channel. The luminous gesture creates an embracing landscape of colors for the users of the bridge and a scenic feature for distant viewers.

The structural silhouette shape, the so called “spine” of the bridge, is highlighted by dynamic coloured light, while the underside of the road deck features integrated monochrome dynamic “cell” lighting. A lighting control system allows for animated flow movements in the spine and the cells, resulting in fluid patterns of light travelling along the bridge.

The highly artistic lighting scenarios designed by Arup, reflect Abu Dhabi’s soul. A specially developed ‘language of light’ celebrates religious traditions, festivities and public events together with the people of United Arab Emirates.

With new moon the bridge lighting links with the appearance of the Grand Mosque. Once a month both iconic pieces of architecture appear tinted in deep blue colours and create awareness of urban connectivity.

The initial lighting concept was developed at Hollands Licht by Rogier van der Heide. The lighting design was further detailed with an international design team at Arup. The final project phases, including programming of 13 artistic scenarios, were led by Simone Collon.

Arup’s international core project team consisted of Simone Collon, Imke van Mil, Salomé Galjaard, Bob van der Klaauw, Rogier van der Heide and Ben Kreukniet.

Sheikh Zayed Bridge lighting concept

Rogier van der Heide as Lighting design

The bridge connects Dubai and the capital city Abu Dhabi and is more than 840 metres long. Connecting the mainland with the Emirates largest island – Abu Dhabi covers more than 86% of the total land area of the Emirates – might stimulate further ambitious growth of the Emirates.

The bridge has been designed by the prestigious architect Zaha Hadid of London, and is a unique orchestration of a straight, linear bridge deck and a sensually-shaped double spine, consisting out of three times two arches. Rogier van der Heide, now Chief Design Officer of Philips Lighting, designed the lighting already from the start of the project in 2001. He says about the lighting design of the bridge: “it is based on two principles: first of all it is a metaphor of energy flowing across the water, visualized by colors of light cross-fading from one to another while simultaneously moving along the bridge’s spine. Secondly, the lighting renders the bridge’s spine at night in a 3-dimensional fashion, by projecting different colors on horizontal and vertical surfaces, that way articulating the spatial structure of the bridge’s spine.”

The road lighting – manufactured by Philips Lighting – is based on energy efficient, asymmetric architectural light fixtures that offer precise beam control to prevent interference with the delicate feature lighting that is supplied by Martin Pro Middle East. By designing the road lighting and feature lighting in an integral way, they do not disturb each other and strengthen the overall concept instead. Rogier van der Heide concludes: “the lighting design of this project was incredibly complex. I had to integrate color changing technology, dust- and waterproof equipment, a very advanced control network and special optics into a single holistic solution to realize the creative design. The successful finalization of this project demonstrates how important it is to collaborate, and how architectural lighting has evolved into a holistic discipline that brings together designers, manufacturers and engineers in an integrated process.”

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