Friday, May 18, 2007

Saadiyat Island

Saadiyat – which translates from Arabic as ‘Island of Happiness’ – is a 27 sq km island 500 metres offshore from Abu Dhabi city. It is being developed under the direction of the Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC) as a flagship initiative in the emirate’s economic diversification. Five art galleries will form the centrepiece of the development.

Architects Jean Nouvel, Zaha Hadid and Tadao Ando were this morning named as the prestigious names behind the other cultural centres set to be built on the island.

Nouvel is set to build a ‘Classical Museum’. Although not officially confirmed, it is believed that this space could accommodate works from Paris’s Musée du Louvre – home to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. The French and UAE governments are thought to be close to a $800m-$1bn deal agreeing this. It was previously reported that a 20-year agreement could include up to 300 Louvre artworks on "permanent" display in Abu Dhabi and four temporary shows a year.

The news drew objections from campaigners in France, who claim that France is “selling its soul” in agreeing to sign over some of its cultural heritage as a “commercial interest”. A French website, which is blocked by the UAE authorities, has been petitioning against this.

The Iraqi-born, British-educated Zaha Hadid is designing Saadiyat's Performing Arts Centre, which will host music, theatre and dance events; Japan’s Tadao Ando has submitted a design – also unveiled today – for a Maritime Museum, which will focus on the maritime history of the UAE and Arabian Gulf.

It was also announced today that Saadiyat will feature a Sheikh Zayed National Museum, which will be devoted to the history of Abu Dhabi and its late ruler, HH Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan al Nahyan. An international competition to find a design for this will be launched.

As reported last year, Tessa Jowell, the UK’s Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport, met with the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) to talk about a possible involvement on Saadiyat. It was speculated at the time that one area of discussion was the possible involvement of a UK art institution.

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