The Constellation

Submitted by Ralph Helmick

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Client: The Founder’s Memorial and the Ministry of Presidential Affairs

Location: Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Completion date: 2018

Project Team

Artist

Ralph Helmick

Helmick Sculpture

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Mark Johnson

Stage One / UK

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David McNeil

dpa Lighting Consultants

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Matthieu Roure

Meinhardt UK, Ltd.

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Damon Hewlin

Meticulous Design + Architecture

Overview

The Constellation is a monumental unconventional portrait of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan, the Founder of the UAE.
It forms the centerpiece of The Founder’s Memorial Park in central Abu Dhabi.
Both Park and monument were conceived and designed together.
The sculpture is 30M high, 30M deep, and 30M wide and consists of 1,327 geometric shapes attached to 1,110 cables. These elements constitute varying sizes of the five convex polyhedrons known as Platonic solids, “sacred geometries” renowned for their mathematical beauty.
Over 2,000 individually controlled lights illuminate the artwork.

Goals

As a permanent national tribute to Sheikh Zayed, the sculpture honors a transformative and visionary leader who championed peace, tolerance, women’s rights and the environment.
Including a likeness of the founder was neither required nor expected, but his charismatic visage proved irresistible. In a country where the leader’s traditional likeness is ubiquitous, the challenge was to create a new kind of portrait.
Inspired by Sheikh Zayed’s lifelong devotion to nature—and reflecting on his early life in Al Ain prior to a regional electrical grid—the design employs a kind of “active perception” akin to how we see astronomical constellations, where we as viewers help create the image.

Process

The client had no preconceived notions about the memorial, save for it honor the Founder. This permitted an unusual degree of esthetic latitude working with a sophisticated client. Deep collaboration with design professionals, most importantly Verdaus (Dubai landscape architects), Stage One (UK fabricators), dpa (Dubai lighting designers) and Meinhardt (engineering) was integral to the success of the project. The teamwork was profound.