Spotting 3,500 tonnes of oxidised mild steel should be easy, but when it comes to the Louvre Abu Dhabi construction site nothing is quite as it seems.
“It’s like an iceberg,” says Shehab Taha, the project’s senior construction manager. “You look at the dome when you cross the Saadiyat bridge, but everything is below and you cannot see any of it.”
From a distance, the museum’s canopy already looks like it is hovering above the galleries, but that is because of 118 temporary towers, 500 trusses, 30,000 metres of beams and 17,000 square metres of platforms and scaffolding supporting it until its completion.
In construction terms, this forest of steel is something of a mirage. Once the finished canopy has been lowered on to the four giant steel bearings that will eventually support it, all of this infrastructure will be dismantled and recycled.
“The temporary towers are a construction project in their own right,” Mr Taha explains. “There is close to 5,000 tonnes of steel in the dome. The amount of steel in the temporary works – which will be removed and not used – is close to 3,500 tonnes. It’s like you are building another dome below the dome.”
More in keeping with a shipyard than a museum, the temporary towers cannot be seen from Louvre Abu Dhabi’s perimeter but they can be heard, and like the pipes of some massive organ, each element sounds with its own discordant note.
Overhead, teams of harnessed workers lower roof beams on to trusses with a repeated hollow crash, while somewhere in the bowels of the site unseen workers beat metal with metal, producing a ringing that vibrates through the chest.
The team installing temporary tower 91 seem oblivious to the noise. They are responsible for lowering a metal column the size of a blue whale into position in the heart of the works….
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