The Founders Memorial

The Founder’s Memorial is an inner city park designed around an artwork to honour the memory of the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, founder of the United Arab Emirates. The park is a cultural landscape of national significance. The Founder’s Memorial was opened in 2018 to coincide with the 100th anniversary since the birth of Sheikh Zayed.
The Constellation
The centre-piece of the park is a 30m high artwork, The Constellation, by Ralph Helmick. The artwork is a permanent national tribute to the UAE’s founding father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, a transformative leader who championed peace, tolerance, women’s rights and the environment.

The sculpture consists of 1,327 geometric elements attached to 1,110 cables. These elements are varying sizes of the five convex polyhedrons known as platonic solids, “sacred geometries” renowned for their mathematical beauty. These elements shine like stars in the night sky, forming a constellation that expresses the outlines of a portrait of the late Sheikh Zayed, a connection with nature, and wisdom.
The Pavilion
The Pavilion houses the artwork and frames views of the Constellation. The form, materials and detailing of the pavilion is a deliberate understatement, to ensure the focus remains on the art piece. The triangular plan has two open sides to allow views of the artwork from specific viewing zones. The third side is closed with a simple stone façade to screen views of the otherwise busy skyline behind the site which would have been distracting for viewing the artwork. The south facing wall houses a hidden internal staircase leading to the Viewing Gallery, a small room at the same elevation of the eyes in the sculpture. The viewing gallery will offer close up views of the artwork, and an evocative experience of looking through Sheikh Zayed’s “eyes” over Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates.

The Rim Walk Wall
The Rim Walk Wall has two functions. Firstly, the wall, rising up to 8m, creates a noise barrier and ensures the inner area around the artwork is shielded from traffic noise.

Secondly, the walkway along the top of the undulating wall invites visitors to circumvent the artwork, to experience it from different angles and elevations.

The Rim Walk Wall enhances the experience of the Constellation as a sculpture in the round. The profile of the wall capping is rounded to discourage attempts to walk along it, but more importantly, to invite people to lean into the wall as they enjoy views of the artwork and park.

In 2019 the Rim Walk Wall was traversed by Pope Francis during the first Papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula.
The Peaceful Garden
The space enclosed by the Rim Walk Wall is called The Peaceful Garden. This space is a courtyard garden of Ghaf trees, Prosopis cineraria, and other UAE native species trees and plants. Many of these trees were rescued from nearby sites that were at-risk due to development.

Trees are planted closely to encourage taller growth. The tree garden will eventually create a generous open space beneath a green canopy supported by slender vertical trunks.
At the northern end of the garden, a staircase provides access to the park from the busy intersection. The stair is raised to create a “bund” and enclose the space visually, and also provides a barrier to traffic noise. The stair is also a place of informal seating with views directly facing the artwork and raises the ground level to continue the noise buffer provided by the wall.
The Portal is a sculptural opening under the Rim Walk Wall, providing access to the park from the main arrival area and Visitor Centre. The Visitor Centre provides amenities, refreshments, informational displays, and free guided tours hosted by Emirati nationals. Visitors arriving by coach first enter the Visitor Centre, then walk to view the artwork, entering the tree garden via the Portal, a sculpted opening that allows access beneath the elevated walkway.
Native species trees, shrubs and groundcovers were selected to mark Sheikh Zayed’s passion for environmental preservation, local traditions in the use of medicinal plants, and to provide habitat for local fauna within the inner city. The space is now populated by birdsong and butterflies
Detailed effort went into positioning the Pavilion in the best location on site. The structure was oriented to provide the best views of the artwork from the main intersection, and at the same time screen views of the busy skyline behind the site.
Location
Abu Dhabi, UAE
24.4630345, 54.322747
Plot Size
6 ha (14 acre)
Lead Consultant
Verdaus Landscape Architects
Studio Team
Andre Saladaga, Lejumon Rajanibhavan,
Pierre Smit, Laith Wark
(JR Harris & Partners)
Jim Johnston, Frank Nowacki
Project Owner
Ministry of Presidential Affairs
Role
Master Planning
Concept Design
Schematic Design
Detailed Design
Issue for Construction
Building Permit Approval