May 28, 2015

With summer rapidly approaching, Assistant Professor Tyler Sprague recalls last summer’s whirlwind trip to Abu Dhabi

Last summer, I was asked to teach a course in reinforced concrete bridge design as part of the UW Professional and Continuing Education program.  Having taught concrete design many times before, I thought “no big deal”.  I was surprised to learn that the course was to be delivered in person in Abu Dhabi (UAE). The opportunity to travel to the Middle East & dive head first into the unknown was too much to pass up.

Yet I soon discovered the distant Abu Dhabi was in fact closer than I thought.  I remembered a project that I worked on when I was a structural design engineer: the Cleveland Clinic Teaching Hospital in Abu Dhabi.  I also remembered a friend at the firm who had lived in Abu Dhabi to oversee construction of a different project: the Rosewood Hotel.  He recalled living in Abu Dhabi as “similar to Miami”.  Zooming in on Google Maps on iPhones, I navigated Abu Dhabi from a far – locating the airport, my hotel, and the classroom facility.  I located both building projects we had worked on – almost as easily as our own homes in Seattle.  Abu Dhabi became a legible network of highways, waterways.  Images of flashy buildings washed across the screen.

In early June, I kissed my wife and two girls, and folded myself in to economy class for 23 hours: to London, then Abu Dhabi.  Flying in as the sun was setting, the desert city was lit in glowing pattern of infrastructure: geometric, systematic.  I took a taxi to the hotel through the streets/ canyons of the central business district.  At 9:00 at night, the temperature was 95-degrees F.

Every morning, a driver picked me up at the hotel and took me to the classroom facility – a contemporary office building, run by the Abu Dhabi Municipality.  Daily temperatures hit 115-degrees, but the building was air conditioned to a cool 70-degrees.  With marble floors, the modern classroom was equipped with brand new computers, projector, whiteboard, and light controls.  Male students sat to my left, female to my right – all previously educated in undergraduate-engineering programs.  These engineers would be charged with reviewing plans and overseeing the maintenance of Abu Dhabi’s roadway and bridge systems.    From 9 am to 12 noon, we discussed concrete bridge design.  The metric system, engineering principles, and the English language provided all the translation needed for a successful class.  Abu Dhabi largely follows the international transportation infrastructure standard (AASHTO), with a few modifications for the alkaline environment and increased truck size.
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After class time, I had the chance to see more of Abu Dhabi – the glittering works of architecture that punctuate the infrastructure network.  From the Grand Mosque Center (with gleaming white marble), to the Yas Viceroy Hotel (a transparent blue grid draped over a rounded hotel) and the Al Bahar Towers (with adaptive façade systems).  Zaha Hadid’s Sheikh Zayed Bridge curves above and below the roadway, crossing one of the many waterways that infiltrate the desert lands.  I also took a day trip to Dubai to see the Burj Khalifa – the tallest building in the world.  The immense vertical scale of the building seems to mirror the expansive desert horizon extending infinitely out of view.


Before I knew it, five days later, I was back on the flight to Seattle – left to ponder the whirlwind trip that was both familiar and distant.


— Tyler Sprague



Approaching Abu Dhabi


Geometric city lights


Abu Dhabi airport


Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Centre


The nested perspective of approaching the Grand Mosque domes


Gilded Interior of the Grand Mosque dome


Abu Dhabi Streetscape


Exterior view of shopping corridor


Beach view on the Gulf – too hot and alkaline to say more than 15 minutes


Seattle’s Best Coffee at the beach


Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi – I remember those cantilevers!


Adaptable facades of the Al Bahar towers


Approaching Zaha’s Bridge


Zaha Hadid’s Bridge in profile (steel arches above the road deck, concrete below)


Yas Marina Formula One circuit


The Burj Khalifa on approach


The Burj Khalifa from below


Shadow out into the desert


The city of Dubai


Photo at the top