Creating the interior of “The most beautiful building in the world”

Future in Dubai opened its doors in February 2022 after six years of construction. The elliptical shaped building is devoted to major technological innovations. Described as the most ‘beautiful building in the world’, with arabic calligraphy built into its external facade, the museum’s construction was only made possible by the inclusion of composite materials. Philippe Marcovich, President of Sicomin, a leading supplier of bio-based and fire retardant epoxy resins, tells us about the challenges that had to be addressed to create the composite interior of this extraordinary build. This interview has been published in the JEC Composites Magazine N°147.

Creating the interior of “The most beautiful building in the world”

5 minutes, 10 secondes

JEC Composites Magazine: From design to the choice of materials, could we say that the Museum of the Future in Dubai has presented a number of challenges?
Philippe Marcovich, President of Sicomin: “The Museum of the Future interior project with Advanced Fiberglass Industries (AFI) was challenging but hugely rewarding. After all, it has created “The most beautiful building in the world”, and that is never easy. The most difficult requirement was the ASTM E84 Class A fire standard. The authorities in Dubai requested multiple consecutive Class A results to ensure the materials were providing a consistent reaction to fire. As the project developed, AFI were also asked to test the panel laminates to the EN 13501-1 European standard. Fortunately, Sicomin has been developing and testing FR gelcoat and resin systems to these standards for some years, so we were confident that our materials were up to the job. Another challenge from the client side was the need to maintain very precise dimensions for the unique moulded panels. Because of the interior’s double-curved shape and intricate moulded calligraphy, there was very little scope for adjustment of the panel fit and tight tolerances had to be maintained.”

How do the composite materials that you supplied make it possible to overcome the constraints encountered?
Philippe Marcovich: “From the start, we were clear that an epoxy solution was essential, with its extremely low shrinkage allowing accurate and consistent manufacturing to the designed dimensions for the 3m x 3m panels. Having made the decision to use epoxy, the next step was to look at the fire performance. Our intumescent FR gelcoat SGi 128, chemically and mechanically bonded to the SR 1122 FR epoxy resin laminate with a carded glass woven fabric, provides outstanding performance in a fire scenario, building up a thick char layer that insulates and protects the laminate. SGi 128 and SR 1122 produced very little smoke and comfortably achieved ASTM E84 Class A as well as EN13501-1 B – s1 d0. An additional bonus is that SGi 128 is bio-friendly too, being formulated with over 30% carbon from renewable sources. Working with the team at AFI, we were able to provide them with exactly the right resin and hardener combinations for their manufacturing target times and workshop conditions.

Sicomin’s SGi 128 intumescent FR gelcoat comfortably achieved ASTM E84 Class A
(Credit image: Dubai Museum of the Future)

Can you sum up the scope of this project by giving some noteworthy figures (e.g. number of parts produced, dimensions, etc.)?
Philippe Marcovich:
“While not the largest architectural composite project built to date, the Museum of the Future interior project is certainly one of the most outstanding. The torus-shaped Museum’s double-curved interior panels were all completely unique and were decorated with a raised calligraphy design featuring quotes from His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. AFI moulded approximately 230 panels, which were typically around 3m x 3m and produced using an adaptable mould technology from Adapa. The Adapa technology was a first in Dubai – in addition to allowing each unique panel shape to be rapidly configured without the machining of traditional moulds, the technology also massively reduced the waste generated in the moulding process, contributing to the building’s low carbon LEED platinum credentials.”

How did the collaboration with Advanced Fiberglass Industries (AFI, Dubai) unfold, and what expertise did Sicomin bring to the table to implement this project?
Philippe Marcovich:
“We met the AFI team at the CompIC Middle East Conference in 2018. The event was a great opportunity to reinforce the strengths and benefits of our epoxy systems and to really understand the specific needs of the customer for this unique project. At this stage, AFI had already decided to use the Adapa reconfigurable mould solution for the interior panels and we were then able to off er a well-defined manufacturing solution that would also meet their fire performance targets. Material samples and on-site technical support for the first test panels followed very quickly and then the project was basically up and running. We have always said that our FR solutions are available in largescale, industrial volumes and we were able to ramp up and ship multiple containers in line with the project schedule. As mentioned before, the fire testing for any new laminate design can be a challenge and Sicomin technicians were always on hand at AFI to help ensure precise gelcoat thickness and application techniques were maintained to get the very best performance from our materials.”

230 composite panels, each completely unique, created the lobby of the Museum of the Future
(Credit image: Dubai Museum of the Future)

How did the use of composite materials and their processing contribute to achieving the LEED Platinum status for building the museum?
Philippe Marcovich:
“From an overall perspective, well-designed composite solutions can certainly help with a building’s LEED rating, reducing the amount of concrete and cement-based products used and also helping with the thermal efficiency of the structure. For the interior panels, the lightweight composite ceiling developed and manufactured locally by AFI minimized the quantity of materials used and required smaller cranes and a lighter support structure for installation.”

In the automotive industry, hypercars are sometimes used as demonstrators for applications to come in other series vehicles. Do you feel that producing “hyperbuilds” such as the Museum of the Future could be a vector for distributing composite materials to upcoming construction projects that are more routine?
Philippe Marcovich:
“Absolutely! Composite materials are still viewed as novel and perhaps  challenging by the construction industry. The “hyperbuilds” such as the Museum of the Future certainly help generate awareness among architects, designers and engineers about the potential benefits of composites. Here at Sicomin, we have now worked on several “hyperbuild” projects in the Middle East, including the Haramain Railway Stations in Saudi Arabia and the UAE Pavilion at Dubai Expo 2020. These projects present great references for both the performance and scale of structures made possible with epoxy composites. Creating this visibility is a big part of increasing composite adoption in the wider construction market.”

What is your vision for the future of composite materials in the building industry?
Philippe Marcovich:
“We are definitely excited about the future of composite materials in the building industry. From mega-projects and hyperbuilds to more mainstream applications such as composite rebar for concrete and pultruded profiles for windows and doors, the industry is becoming more open to new material technologies. As specialists in both fire retardant and bio-based epoxy systems, we would probably say this is where our vision for the future lies. We would like to see more buildings combining the freedom of design and reduced thermal footprint enabled by composites with the increased bio-content of our latest epoxy products such as the FireGreen 37 resin and SGi 128 gelcoat. Using these materials, we can now off er FR solutions for the construction industry that have a 30% plant-based carbon content.”

This interview has been published in the JEC Composites Magazine N°147.

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