The first Memorial Park for the United Arab Emirates (UAE) celebrating the brave soldiers and other Emiratis serving the Nation has won the 2017 American Architecture Prize - Cultural Architecture category. An artwork by British artist Idris Khan forms the Memorial at the heart of Wahat Al Karama park.
His Highness Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces commissioned the park. Symbolically located between Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and the General Headquarters of the UAE Armed Forces, Wahat Al Karama, which means ‘oasis of dignity’, covers an area of 46,000 square meters.
International art, design and fabrication studio UAP was appointed to commission the Memorial and collaborated on the pavilion. The studio is behind some of the most unique and ground-breaking public realm projects, such as the centrepiece of the ‘King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) Breakwater Beacon’ in Saudi Arabia and most recent project with Ai Weiwei and Public Art Fund called "Good Fences Make Good Neighbors" in New York City.
UAP’s curatorial team short-listed a number of world-renowned international artists that entered the competition, from which the Crown Prince Court selected Idris Khan. Khan’s profound affinity with the local UAE culture, combined with a strong western voice, made his Memorial the winning project.
Artist Idris Khan commented:
“The idea was to create a park for reflection on both loss and remembrance, a spiritual place that conveyed unity and support. I wanted this monument to have positive and hopeful resonance while inspiring curiosity in sculpture and how contemporary art can influence emotions.
“The project allowed me to be ambitious and having been able to create such work gives me great pride.
“It is a place for serenity within a city busy with construction and growth, a major part of a country’s history and landscape that will be absorbed by the cultural awareness of future generations.”
The Memorial comprises 31 aluminium standing tablets, each 23 metres in height. The tablets lean on each other to represent unified strength, power and pride among soldiers, loved ones and their country. With its impressive scale, the Memorial represents the eternal martyr, a place of reassurance and defiance. Its two front tablets stand vertically and are intended to evoke a sense of humility when approached.
The tablets feature a series of Arabic poems and quotes from both the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan and Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The poems and verses encourage the viewer to discover and touch the engravings as they walk through the artwork, creating a personal relationship with the Memorial.
Each tablet was carefully handcrafted by UAP’s design and fabrication team. The 31 tablets are made of a total of 850 cast aluminium panels. UAP’s team used a hand painting technique to achieve a delicate gradient of colour on the surface that captures the light rather than reflecting it.
Daniel Tobin, Founder and Creative Director of UAP, commented:
“We feel privileged to win and most importantly to have had the opportunity to collaborate with an exceptional artist like Idris Khan, to understand and deliver his unique creative vision.
“An integral part of Idris Khan’s practice is a repetitive action of mark-making and erasure. The result is a subtle, intense texture which forms an infinite pool of marks, seeming to appear and disappear. UAP’s team successfully translated the artist’s beautiful and timeless mark-making into 3,000 square metres of cast metal.
“Working closely with Khan as the design developed, and throughout the fabrication process, the team’s creative problem-solving abilities enabled the translation of the monumental vision into a tangible object.”
As part of the commission, UAP oversaw the design and delivery of The Pavilion of Honor, also designed by Idris Khan in collaboration with Brisbane-based architecture firm bureau^proberts and engineering consultancy Robert Bird Group.
The Pavilion of Honour is a circular structure located at the end of the visitor’s journey. In its centre are seven standing glass panels surrounded by a water feature, representing the seven emirates of the UAE. The circular internal wall is cladded with 2,800 aluminium plates made from reclaimed metal from armoured vehicles used in service, which are inscribed with the names of the UAE’s heroes.
Engineering firm AECOM was responsible for the overall design of The Memorial Park.
Project: Wahat Al Karama
Completed: Dec 2016
Monument lead consultant: UAP
Memorial park lead consultant: Aecom
Consultant architect: bureau^proberts
Consultant engineers: Robert Bird Group
Design and build: UAP
Location: Abu Dhabi
UAP collaborates with artists, architects, designers, property developers and local authorities to deliver creative outcomes for the public realm.
Its ground-breaking approach to using materials, experimentation and research in innovative fabrication methods has been the key to its success. Its international team comprises craftsman, curators, designers, metal workers, project managers and artists, all dedicated to revolutionising the perception of public spaces around the world. Established by Daniel and Matthew Tobin in 1993 in Brisbane, Australia, UAP now spans three continents, with key studios and workshops in New York and Shanghai and worldwide satellite offices in Melbourne, Dubai, Singapore, Shenzhen and Detroit.
UAP’s portfolio includes prestigious projects such as Ai Weiwei’s largest city-wide public art exhibition in New York with Public Art Fund, a sculptural staircase developed with Frank Gehry for the UTS Business School in Sydney, the Jürgen Mayer’s installation in Times Square and the lobby at 10 Hudson Yard in New York and Willow Creek, a large scale sculpture by Australian artist Emily Floyd for the Jackalope Hotel in Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula.
UAP is currently working on several international projects, including the curatorial vision and public art program of Queen’s Wharf in Brisbane, an immersive light installation with artist Erwin Redl at the Madison Square Park and one of the late Lawrence Argent’s large scale artwork at Uniwalk, a mixed-use development in north Shenzhen, China.