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.
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