How the Founder’s Memorial was built

Thomas & Adamson talks about the delivery of the Founder’s Memorial project in Abu Dhabi

The UAE government declared 2018 to be the Year of Zayed, as it marks 100 years since the birth of the UAE’s founding father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. In line with the declaration, the country has unveiled several events and initiatives locally and internationally to commemorate the memory of Sheikh Zayed.

One such initiative is the Founder’s Memorial, which was inaugurated on February 26 and fully opened to the public on April 22. It aims to provide visitors with insight into Sheikh Zayed’s life and legacy, while showcasing how he paved the way for the future prosperity and well-being of his people.

Thomas & Adamson (T&A) was originally appointed to work as a cost consultant on the project during the pre-construction phase in 2015. The firm’s scope was then expanded to provide project management services throughout the two-year construction phase. To win the contract, the firm participated in a competitive tendering process alongside five other international consultancies. T&A was ultimately awarded the project based on commercial and technical analysis, following a multi-stage review process which included technical submissions, commercial submissions and interviews.

The Project

Housed within a 30m x 30m x 30m pavilion, the centrepiece of the memorial, known as ‘The Constellation’, is a specially designed public artwork comprising stainless steel geometric shapes precisely arranged using 1,110 tensioned steel cables. The elements coalesce to provide visitors with a 30m-high 3D representation of Sheikh Zayed. The artwork was designed by American sculptor and public artist Ralph Helmick and boasts more than 1,300 geometric shapes of varying size – platonic solids, shimmering tetrahedrons, cubes, octahedrons, dodecahedrons and icosahedrons.

The artwork weighs 250 tonnes, and the steel structure of the roof supporting it weighs 190t. More than 5,745 counterweights hold the suspended shapes in place to form a series of profiles of Sheikh Zayed from different perspectives, both within the memorial’s landscape and from outside, along the Corniche, where the project is located. Illuminated by more than 2,000 lights, the suspended shapes of ‘The Constellation’ shine like stars at night.

The memorial features a walkway that offers a view of ‘The Constellation’, as well as Abu Dhabi’s skyline as it would have been seen through the eyes of the founding father. The Founder’s Memorial is also designed to be a place of gathering for the UAE community, to explore and find moments of peace, while providing detailed insight into the life of Sheikh Zayed.


The Founder’s Memorial is a unique project which had several challenges from a design, procurement and construction perspective. The 30m-high three-dimensional artwork structure was a first-of-its-kind piece of construction with numerous elements, each of which had to be installed to exact X, Y and Z coordinates. This created detailing, fabrication and installation challenges, and a significant amount of coordination between team members across the globe was required. This included entities in Italy, the UK, the US and Australia, in addition to enhanced and extremely detailed QA/QC processes at site level.

“The project was both challenging and exciting for T&A, due to the bespoke nature of the artwork, its very scale, which has never been accomplished before, and the level of precision required to ensure the accuracy of the installation. From the outset of the project on-site, it was incumbent upon us as the project manager to lead by example and abide by the core project values of integrity, honesty, compassion, humanitarianism, wisdom, tolerance, coexistence and equality. Each stage of the process was approached with these values in mind, ensuring the project was delivered to a high standard,” explains Zander Muego, director at T&A.

Technology & Sustainability

Technology played a key part. The site was surveyed by drones prior to the start of construction, with the architectural designs embedded onto the videos to create a life-like fly-through of the finished project. The fly-through video was presented to leadership to ensure they fully understood the design.

The artwork’s 1,350 stars were welded by robots to ensure each one was perfect, while each of the 1,110 stainless steel cables was positioned using lasers. The artist had specified that each of the 1,350 stars had to be within 3mm of his AutoCAD designs, which were achieved on the site.

3D mapping also played a critical part. “The landscape portal’s concrete structure was cast by using polystyrene formwork to obtain its unique shape. After the concrete was cast, we 3D scanned the concrete structure and created a computer model to ensure that natural stone (imported from Oman) was perfectly cut to size, thus reducing wastage and saving time. When the stone arrived (approximately 2,600 pieces of limestone), it fitted perfectly the first time,” Muego remarks.

A large component of the Founder’s Memorial is the memorial park. Its soft landscaping element consists entirely of local species of plants, the majority from Al Ain, the birthplace of Sheikh Zayed. By using species indigenous to the UAE, T&A has ensured water consumption through irrigation will be kept to a minimum.

Approach to Cost Consulting

T&A’s approach focused on identifying and implementing value engineering opportunities throughout the project duration. This included reviewing and challenging the finishing details and material selection, with active engagement from the leadership, ensuring that all details of the project were in line with expectations.

The project team continuously explored new opportunities to re-engineer structural or utilities solutions throughout the procurement and construction stage, challenging both the design and construction methodology proposed. This enabled cost reductions to be achieved, which offset areas of cost increase and ultimately ensured an appropriate balance of project expenditure which represented a best-value solution for the client.

“Every visit to the Founder’s Memorial is an immersive journey of discovery. You will experience a series of uniquely personal encounters with Sheikh Zayed, the man and the leader, exploring his life and legacy, the principles and causes he championed, and the various facets of his visionary leadership. T&A is thrilled to have been involved in a project of this stature and national importance, and the team is proud to have contributed to such an iconic project, thus playing a part in the 2018 Year of Zayed. T&A is also proud to have supported the UAE leadership in realising their vision for the project,” concludes Muego.

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