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LEFT: Abu Dhabi performing arts centre now, and RIGHT: in 2013 Photo: Zaha Hadid Architects

Just off the coast of Abu Dhabi is a small, sandy atoll. Surrounded by clear turquoise water, turtles and porpoises, this flat, barren little island was once home to nothing more than weekend campers, boat parties and water-skiers. But Saadiyat – which means “island of happiness” – is adjacent to the world’s richest city, and is being given a $27billion makeover in a bid to recast Abu Dhabi as a cultural mecca.

By 2013, the capital of the United Arab Emirates will boast an offshoot of the Louvre, a new Guggenheim museum, a National Museum inspired by the British Museum, a performing arts centre designed by the British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, several art schools, and various pavilions and other cultural franchises that will be able to host temporary exhibitions from around the world. A 10-lane bridge will bring millions of visitors to this meticulously planned development. More than 40 million people travel through the UAE each year; there is a market to be seized.


Jo Tatchell