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Abu Dhabi’s Grand Mosque

The Grand Mosque on the north least outskirts of Abu Dhabi embodies all the power and contradictions of the UAE.

It is one of the world’s biggest centres of worship able to hold 40,000 worshippers, with the world’s biggest chandeliers, biggest handmade carpet and the world’s biggest dome.

Its use of in situ reinforced concrete pushes that most modern of materials to the limits of its proven life – the dome is 40 m in diameter – while the carved gypsum in the domes interior uses techniques perfected thousands of years ago.

It’s one sign of a genuinely unique project when the client is permanently part of the building. Commissioned by Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nah yan, he suddenly died in 2004, three years into the construction phase.

His body was brought to the site and according to Muslim custom buried there the same night. As a result the simple mausoleum that is now in the grounds beside the main mosque had to be constructed around the grave.

Like a lot of big UAE projects, consultant Halcrow has had to cope with major changes to the design and structure mid way through construction.

Begun in 2001, the 22,000 sq m main structure was only completed at the end of last year and the grounds will not be finished until well into next year.

A joint winner of a British Expertise award last month, it is a landmark project for reinforced concrete, all 210,000 cu m of it.