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Sheikh Zayed Bridge, Abu Dhabi, UAE

Issue 60 Apr / May 2011 : Architecture : Transport

Architect: ZAHA HADID Lighting Design: ROGIER VAN DER HEIDE & ARUP LIGHTING (later stages)

When Zaha Hadid contacted Rogier van der Heide to talk about lighting a bridge she was designing in Abu Dhabi, little did they know that it would be thirteen years later when it would finally come to fruition. The success of the complex process, that also included Arup Lighting, Martin Professional Middle East and others, is a testament to their collaborative skills and the importance of the lighting design discipline to a major architectural project.



The epic story that is the lighting scheme for the Sheikh Zayed Bridge in Abu Dhabi began way back in 1997 when coloured illumination on bridges was first promoted by Nour Assafiri, CEO of Martin Professional Middle East, to the Municipality of Abu Dhabi. They liked the idea and accordingly asked the bridge’s architect Zaha Hadid to consider the concept when designing what was to be her first project in the UAE.
So, in 1998 after initial design work, Zaha Hadid made a phone call to Rogier van der Heide and asked if he could design the lighting for her future masterpiece.

The bridge spans Al Maqta and connects Abu Dhabi and Dubai with four traffic lanes in each direction. Equally important, Sheikh Zayed Bridge is a symbol for the prosperity and ambition of the city of Abu Dhabi, bringing together local culture and international design excellence.
Van der Heide discussed the opportunity with his staff at Hollands Licht Advanced Lighting Design in Amsterdam, and it was no wonder that they immediately got very excited. Although at that time Zaha Hadid had not yet completed many buildings (she was only known for her Firestation in Weil am Rhein, Germany), her theory and visionary design concepts drew the attention of the young crew at Hollands Licht.
A long lasting collaboration between the tall Dutch designer and the charismatic Iraqi architect Hadid ensued, collaboratively creating the lighting for the Mind Zone at the Millennium Dome, the Salerno Ferry Terminal in Italy, Strassbourg Gare Terminus in France, and a whole array of projects such as Chanel’s Art Container when Van der Heide continued his design work as Director at Arup.

None of these ventures though have exceeded Sheikh Zayed Bridge in comprehensiveness, ambition, complexity and duration. Using a wooden model and miniature lights, Van der Heide developed the lighting design for the 850-metre long bridge. After that, in 2000, technical designer Bob van der Klaauw at Hollands Licht produced over a hundred technical drawings, each depicting the optical and focusing details for one or two of the hundreds of Martin Exterior 600 automated lights Van der Heide had projected along the bridge. Other elements of the lighting design are the road lighting, based on asymmetric washlights so as not to disturb the flowing colours of the feature lighting, the dynamic cell lighting underneath the deck of the bridge, and fixed lighting to light up the top of the arches.

The control system is designed to be fully redundant, which means that all lights and data distributors are part of a looped network. In case of a broken wire, the signal finds its way to the colour changing lights through the loop, going in the reverse direction. Electrical engineering firm High Point Rendel and Van der Heide drew the entire network on a single sheet of paper: a fibre glass backbone, the fully redundant TCP/IP network, and industry standard ArtNet branching out across the bridge to the colour changing luminaires. Finally, Graham Modlen of Zaha Hadid Architects and Van der Heide designed the lightmasts that support both the roadway lighting as well as the feature lighting.

When Van der Heide joined Arup Lighting in 2003, a break in the project ensued and it was not until 2005 that the Arup Lighting team continued the design process. First the team decided to compare alternative colour changing metal halide fittings side-by-side. A highly skilled design team including Arup’s project designer Imke van Mil took care of validating the original specifications. Fixture specifications and placement control of every single luminaire were checked using full scale mockups and the application of all bespoke lenses was verified to ensure a perfect illumination of the bridge, and a dynamic flow of coloured light after sunset. The software package ‘3D Studio MAX’ was used to check fixture specifications by placing accurate photometric luminaire data in a 3D model along the bridge. The end product was a dynamic, photometrically correct animation, presenting the luminous colour flow abilities on the bridge.

Finalising the detailed design phase like this, which required the combination of design skills with technical expertise, took Arup’s designers around 1500 man hours. The invested amount of design time shows the complexity and is exemplary for the efforts taken to come up with the most perfect lighting design.

When in the spring of 2010, Van der Heide joined Philips Lighting as Chief Design Officer, Simone Collon, who used to work at Hollands Licht and is now Associate with Arup Lighting, took over the responsibility for the last project phases of the bridge: composing the lighting scenes and programming and commissioning on site. Together with Salome Galjaard, Collon designed thirteen artistic scenarios that were translated by Martin Professional Middle East using a Maxxyz theatre console. After seven intense nights of collaboration on site, with Martin Valentine (Lighting Expert for the Municipality of Abu Dhabi) overseeing the process, the programming resulted in stunning lighting effects.

Valentine says, “It was a pleasure to work with Simone and the rest of the Arup team during the weeks of commissioning. They took on board the additional requests for multiple special scenarios, including ones for the month of Ramadan, the two Eids, the UAE National Day and New Year, and with a little background information, programmed some truly stunning effects to add to the beautiful standard scenes.”

The lighting scenes comprise of dynamic coloured light that smoothly flows across the channel. The luminous gesture creates an embracing landscape of colours for the users of the bridge and a scenic feature for distant viewers. The structural silhouette shape, the ‘spine’ of the bridge, is highlighted by dynamic coloured light, while the underside of the road deck features integrated monochrome dynamic ‘cell’ lighting, all as proposed twelve years before. The lighting control system allows for animated flow movements in the spine and the cells, resulting in fluid patterns of light traveling along the bridge.

Collon says, “The artistic lighting scenarios 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. During a 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.”

Throughout, Hollands Licht and Arup Lighting collaborated with High Point Rendel, Archirodon, Sixco and Martin Professional Middle East - the latter offering both systems integration as well as lighting engineering support, besides supplying the hardware. Focusing on site was taken care of by Imke van Mil and Bob van der Klaauw (Arup) in close collaboration with Martin Professional and Sixco.

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. By designing the road lighting and feature lighting in an integral way, they do not disturb each other and strengthens the overall concept instead.

Van der Heide concludes: “The lighting design of this project was incredibly complex. I had to integrate colour changing technology, dust and waterproof equipment, an advanced control network and special optics into a single holistic solution to realise the original design intent. Besides, this is the project that outlasted everything else I have done… it took thirteen years! Without the tremendous contribution of Martin Professional Middle East and High Point Rendel, this project could not have been done. And the successful finalisation of this project by Arup Lighting and Martin Professional 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.”


Pics: Christian Richters

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