Christo’s The Mastaba – The largest sculpture in the world

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The Mastaba, a project for Abu Dhabi, was conceived in 1977.

The Mastaba of Abu Dhabi (Project for United Arab Emirates), Photo: Wolfgang Volz, © 1979 Christo
The Mastaba of Abu Dhabi (Project for United Arab Emirates), Photo: Wolfgang Volz, © 1979 Christo

It will be the largest sculpture in the world, made from 410,000 multi-colored barrels to form a mosaic of bright sparkling colors, echoing Islamic architecture. The Mastaba is an ancient and familiar shape to the people of the region.

The Mastaba (Project for Abu Dhabi, Al Gharbia, near Oasis of Liwa) Collage 2012, Photo: André Grossmann, © 2012 Christo
The Mastaba (Project for Abu Dhabi, Al Gharbia, near Oasis of Liwa) Collage 2012, Photo: André Grossmann, © 2012 Christo
The Mastaba (Project for United Arab Emirates), Drawing 2009 in two parts, Photo: Wolfgang Volz, © 2009 Christo
The Mastaba (Project for United Arab Emirates), Drawing 2009 in two parts, Photo: Wolfgang Volz, © 2009 Christo
The Mastaba in comparison to the Great Pyramid of Giza (Pyramid of Cheops), Egypt
The Mastaba in comparison to the Great Pyramid of Giza (Pyramid of Cheops), Egypt

The Mastaba will be 150 meters (492 feet) high, 225 meters (738 feet) deep at the 60 degree slanted walls and 300 meters (984 feet) wide at the vertical walls. The top of The Mastaba will be a horizontal surface 126.8 meters (416 feet) wide and 225 meters (738 feet) deep.

The Mastaba (Project for Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates), Drawing 2012 in two parts, Photo: André Grossmann, © 2012 Christo
The Mastaba (Project for Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates), Drawing 2012 in two parts, Photo: André Grossmann, © 2012 Christo
The Mastaba of Abu Dhabi (Project for United Arab Emirates), Photo: André Grossmann, © 1979 Christo
The Mastaba of Abu Dhabi (Project for United Arab Emirates), Photo: André Grossmann, © 1979 Christo

The colors and the positioning of the 55-gallon steel barrels were selected by Christo and Jeanne-Claude in 1979, the year in which the artists visited the Emirate for the first time.

The site of The Mastaba in the United Arab Emirates
The site of The Mastaba in the United Arab Emirates

The proposed area is inland, in Al Gharbia (Western Region) approximately 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of the city of Abu Dhabi, near the oasis of Liwa.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude scouting locations for the site of The Mastaba, October 2007, Photo: Wolfgang Volz, © 2007 Christo
Christo and Jeanne-Claude scouting locations for the site of The Mastaba, October 2007, Photo: Wolfgang Volz, © 2007 Christo

In 2007 and 2008, Christo and Jeanne-Claude contracted professors of engineering from ETH Zürich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich), University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the US, Cambridge University in the UK and Hosei University in Tokyo, Japan, to prepare structural feasibility studies about The Mastaba. All four teams worked independently and did not know of each other.

The proposed site for The Mastaba, Photo: Wolfgang Volz
The proposed site for The Mastaba, Photo: Wolfgang Volz

The artists then hired the German engineering firm, Schlaich Bergermann und Partner, in Stuttgart, to analyze these reports. The Hosei University concept was found to be the most technically sound and innovative. The entire substructure as well as the layer of barrels will be assembled flat on the ground. Ten elevation towers will make it possible to raise the entire structure on rails to its final position in about 3 to 4 days.

Christo during a scale model test at the proposed site of The Mastaba, November 2011, Photo: Wolfgang Volz, © 2011 Christo
Christo during a scale model test at the proposed site of The Mastaba, November 2011, Photo: Wolfgang Volz, © 2011 Christo

In 2012, Christo commissioned Pricewaterhouse Coopers to conduct analyses on the social and economic benefits of The Mastaba.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude looking for a possible site for The Mastaba, February 1982, Photo: Wolfgang Volz © 1982 Christo
Christo and Jeanne-Claude looking for a possible site for The Mastaba, February 1982, Photo: Wolfgang Volz © 1982 Christo

Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s relationship with Abu Dhabi goes back to 1979 when they first visited the Emirate. They have returned many times since, creating a longstanding friendship with the people of Abu Dhabi.

Christo in his studio with a preparatory drawing for The Mastaba, 2012, Photo: Wolfgang Volz, © 2012 Christo
Christo in his studio with a preparatory drawing for The Mastaba, 2012, Photo: Wolfgang Volz, © 2012 Christo

The Mastaba will be Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s only permanent large-scale work.

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