Award-winning French architect Jean Nouvel surprised the world with an architectural gem in the Qatari desert. The National Museum of Qatar is a source of pride for this great Arab nation. The Persian Gulf has evolved into one of the most attractive tourist areas in the Arab world. The rulers of the Gulf States have invested vast resources in spectacular cultural destinations, which attract locals and foreigners alike to its lovely desert landscapes.
Consistent with the region’s modernization policy, Emir Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, who abdicated in favor of his son Tamim, ordered the construction of a new building to house the National Museum of Qatar. The original museum opened its doors in 1975, on the grounds of the former Royal Palace, which was constructed during the early years of the 20th century by decree of Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani.
The objectives of having a magnificent National Museum in this oil-rich state are: protecting Qatari traditions, promoting cultural expression, and highlighting the county’s valuable historical heritage as they chronicle the evolution of Qatari society. The ambitious project was entrusted to the famous French architect Jean Nouvel, whose innovative proposal fulfilled the high expectations of the Qatari authorities. Nouvel’s design is, simply put, an architectural marvel that stands out for its functionality, social relevance and exquisite aesthetics that perfectly reflects and interprets the environment where the building will be located.
For this particular project, the architect’s design vocabulary was informed by the “desert rose,” local semi-precious stones formed by the crystallization of gypsum below superficial layers of sand in the desert. The crystals that make up these stones are usually grouped into numerous circular discs, which create singular patterns similar to the petals of a rose. For the new Qatari museum, Nouvel is building huge, intertwined reinforced concrete panels that simulate the form of a desert rose. This morphological aspect is not only reproduced on the outside of the building but also in its interior, where the layout evokes the caravanserais (desert lodging) that gave shelter to travelers on their long journeys through the arid and desolate landscape that characterizes the region. The sand color and polished finish of the architecture harmoniously blend and echo the desert environment where it is located.
The giant discs serve as walls, floors, roofs or terraces, and depending on their spatial orientation, they give shape to large enclosed spaces or generous outdoor areas with overhangs to protect visitors from the sun and heat. The huge circular prefabricated structures have a thermal insulator for the preservation of the artworks housed in the building. Inside, the walls will serve as huge screens where audiovisual works will be displayed in high definition.
The museum boasts more than 280,000 square feet of galleries devoted to its permanent collection, about 70,000 square feet dedicated to traveling exhibitions, a 220-seat auditorium, a reception area, TV studio, two cafés, a restaurant and, of course, a boutique where visitors can buy gifts and souvenirs.
The magnificent Qatari institution also has a research center to study local traditions, culture, and the national heritage, a restoration laboratory, a processing lab, and a cutting-edge storage area. And if all this were not enough, the Museum is surrounded by almost four million square feet of gardens featuring the country’s fauna and flora.
This wonderful project has been under development since 2010 and officially opened its doors March 28, 2019. On your next visit to the Persian Gulf, you will be able to admire the spectacular architecture of the new National Museum of Qatar, where luxury, art, tradition, and avant-garde architecture harmoniously come together to delight and enlighten all visitors about the vibrant history and culture of this great Arab nation. ■