Abu Dhabi Bridges by Monique Gross

Abu Dhabi, a coastal city on the Arabian Gulf, is made up of a cluster of 200 natural and manmade islands. The bridges that link up larger land masses of Abu Dhabi’s archipelago were designed and built at intervals that trace the rapid trajectory of its urbanization: necessary connection points to expand the city’s development.

Initial infrastructure projects, beginning in the late 1960s, were practical considerations for spanning the natural and man-made waterways with strategic links facilitating transport and commerce between Emirati ports and beyond. Clusters of mixed-use developments multiplied on several islands and it became necessary to extend roadways over desert sands and bridge passageways between the islands. Engineering and material concerns about coastal environment-induced corrosion, seismic stress and maintenance evolved into an ambition for iconic structures associated with renowned names.

Few of the bridges have found an audience of tourists beyond their use as functional infrastructure, despite the form-follows-brand sloganizing of their attributes as “emerging landmarks … across pristine waters”. The landmark Sheikh Zayed Bridge designed by Zaha Hadid is esteemed for its “undulating dunes” and “wave forms” but hasn’t managed to distinguish itself as a photo-op destination.

In the case of Hodariyat suspension bridge, the function remains symbolic as it was built as an access point to an island that is still entirely empty in 2017.

In its role as a physical connector, a surprising crossing came from a temporary truss bridge between Jubayl and Saadiyat island, set up in 2005 while the superstructure of Sheik Khalifa bridge was under construction. This small bridge allowed the Dorcas gazelle to intermingle with the Mountain gazelle, resulting in a hybrid species referred to as the Saadiyat gazelle.

The natural environment, or evacuated land – an emptiness around them, describes the isolation of the bridges from the urban fabric. Yet, while the character and qualities of the bridges may be less visible when driving from one development cluster to another, they become more apparent from certain angles. As a pedestrian – an uncommon perspective in the petrol-fueled city – when passing near or under these imposingly solid forms I’m seduced, captivated, mesmerized by their presence: the dazzling light rebounding from the bridges, glimmering from the water, the dewy morning air shimmering with particles of sand dust.

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