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The tide turns at Louvre Abu Dhabi as the sea becomes museum’s first attraction
After a construction process that has taken seven years, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is now surrounded by the waters of the Arabian Gulf
As the sea is welcomed back to the area, an energy of calm and majesty gives a glimpse of a building site’s transformation into a future crown jewel of Saadiyat island.

Serenity is not a word normally associated with building sites but after three years of near-continuous construction, a curious sense of calm has descended over the precincts of the Louvre Abu Dhabi.
During the recent stages of the museum’s creation, the presence of hundreds of temporary towers, cranes and thousands of workers lent the site a shadowy, hivelike atmosphere.
With the external spaces approaching their final state, focus has shifted to finishing the building’s interior.
The source of the site’s newfound composure, however, lies not in any absence of machinery outside but in the addition of an element – the sea.
It laps at the underside of the broad bridges that will carry visitors from the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s beach to the pools, plazas and galleries that form the heart of the new island museum.
After seven years of continuous effort to keep the museum’s construction site dry – with dampness being a huge enemy of art storage, the neon waters of the Arabian Gulf have slowly and methodically been welcomed back, transforming its precincts from a shadowy peninsula of rusting metal and bare concrete into an archipelago filled with the delicate movement of water and reflected light.
“This project combines one of the most aggressive external environments – seawater – and one of the most stringent requirements for dryness," says Brian Cole, a director with BuroHappold Engineering, the consultants responsible for making it possible for the sea to enter the museum site while being protected from it at the same time.
“Art storage is probably one of the most highly controlled internal environments, so we needed the highest degree of watertightness."
The process of “flooding" the site was completed in a few weeks, but the sequence of works that were required to get to this stage began in 2009 with the reconstruction of the entire north-west corner of Saadiyat Island.
“This enabled the construction of a platform that the museum could be built on, as well as excavation down to the required level," says Mr Cole.
Flanked by open water on three sides, the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s basement is 10 metres below sea level.
“We’ve used every measure we can," Mr Cole says. “We have a double-layer system of waterproofing and we’ve created a watertight concrete box, not just because we’re going to have expensive artworks inside, but because the client wanted a 100-year design life.
“Repairing this building will be very difficult because it stands in the sea. Other buildings that stand in the sea, such as the Burj Al Arab, do so on a platform, but here we have the sea coming up to the sides of our building, which is quite unusual."
A layered system of 278 ¬marine piles, concrete breakwaters, ¬tidal pools and a specially ¬designed “wearing wall" also protect the museum from the effects of maritime traffic, the vicissitudes of the Gulf’s weather and any potential security threats that might come from the sea.
Four metres high and weighing about 10 tonnes each, the precast units of the museum’s wearing wall are made of special, ultra-high-performance concrete that not only allows them to protect the museum from the effects of waves but also enables them to bend outward – a key consideration during a ¬receding tide when rapidly falling water pressure can create a suction-like ¬effect on the museum’s cladding.
At the beginning of the construction process, the most immediate challenge facing the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s engineers and designers was the fact that the museum had to be built in what was effectively a giant dry dock.

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