Jean Nouvel’s National Museum of Qatar, Architecture of Light and Emotion

Jean Nouvel, the Pritzker Prize-winning French starchitect, is designing several important buildings in the Arabian Gulf — including the Louvre Abu Dhabi on Saadiyat Island and the signature skyscraper Doha Tower, with an outer skin resembling the Arabian latticework called mashrabiya.

In May 2013, Nouvel presented on his projects in dialogue with architect Todd Reisz, with a particular focus on the striking new National Museum of Qatar, slated to open in December 2014, according to the Qatar Museums Authority.

Originally Nouvel had proposed the National Museum of Qatar to be underground, but re-designed it with a “desert rose” pattern.

“It’s now more symbolic in direct view with the desert, with a crystallisation pattern that creates orthography of scale,” he said. “The walls become a symbol of modernity, with the whole building monochrome as if it’s in and out of the sand, and belongs to the ground.”

“My creations give geometry of light printed on the ground, with a tower like the minaret, and shadows on gliders [that] are part of the Arabian soul.” -Jean Nouvel, via DAF.

The centrepiece of the site is the former Qatar National Museum, which before being opened in 1975 was the Amiri Palace. It was built in 1918 by Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani, and the restoration led to an Agha Khan Award in 1980.

“It’s necessary to keep its nobleness,” Nouvel said of the former Amiri Palace. “All around there is an homage of a territory and strong contrast. There’s a caravanserai all around. Dive into the ground, and the desert rose frames the Royal Palace.”

Inside, visitors will discover a unique experience on exhibits about the desert, sea and the current global site of Qatar with ethnographic artifacts.

Doha Tower

Jean Nouvel’s Doha Tower, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

“It’s not only showing pieces of fabric, pots and camel saddles,” Nouvel quipped. “Here you arrive at a stream, and move like water in a torrent, with a dynamic visit and a new way to experience spaces and the structure. I want people to go to places — from the museum they can take a boat, car or helicopter trips to the desert, islands and all places in Qatar.”

Nouvel emphasised that his designs use technology to create emotion, from the Institute of the Arab World in Paris to Doha Tower.

“My creations give geometry of light printed on the ground,” Nouvel said, “with a tower like the minaret, and shadows on gliders [that] are part of the Arabian soul.”

Playing off his Torre Agbar in Barcelona, Doha Tower has an outer skin, and a helmet that resembles a 10th century Arabian book, he said. The Council on Tall Building and Urban Habitat named it the “Best Tall Building Worldwide” in 2012.

“A tower has to be seen from very far, it’s not something to be cloned,” Nouvel said. “It has to have a strong character, and a key is to reflect the history and geography. You see this (Doha Tower) alone, it could be an Arabian country — the permanent protection here couldn’t be in London.” -30-

Abu Dhabi: Saadiyat Island Museums by 2017, Etihad Towers Wins Awards, Beirut’s Martyr’s Square

Big news — most of the Saadiyat Island museums are back on! After construction was put on hold for several years, there are now set dates: Jean Nouvel’s $500 million Louvre in 2015, Lord Norman Foster’s Zayed National Museum in 2016 and Frank Gehry’s $800 million Guggenheim in 2017. No word on NYU-AD’s new campus, Tadao Ano’s maritime museum or Zaha Hadid’s performing arts center (New York Times).

The Louvre Abu Dhabi, seen here in 2010. / Image via TDIC and NYT.

Meanwhile the emirate’s Executive Council approved funding for a ton of new projects, including Saadiyat Island, expanding the International Airport and Khalifa Port, and building industrial areas in the Western Region and an auto city in Abu Dhabi. Most of the spending is on domestic projects, like housing, hospitals, schools and roads — plus Abu Dhabi’s metro and tram system (The National).

We had reported that the city’s metro is supposed to open in 2016, but that seems ambitious, and an updated timeline is scheduled for this year. The first phase of Etihad Rail — to transport sulphur from Ruwais — is funded with a $1 billion loan (The National).

The 'At 300' observation deck being fitted-out at Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi. / Image via Construction Week.

The airport continues to expand — passengers up 14 percent to 12 million, cargo up 10 percent (The National) and Al Bateen Beach is scheduled to open in March (The National).

The $1 billion Etihad Towers in Jumeirah by DBI Design was named the World’s Leading New Hotel by the World Travel Awards, and will have an observation deck at 300 meters high (Construction Week: first and second articles).

To improve sustainability, Abu Dhabi should look into banning plastic bags like many global cities have done (Atlantic Cities). Plus lecture at the Sorbonne-AD lecture on Arabic’s contributions to the French language (Zawya).

Elsewhere in the region…

The Bourj, early 1900's. / Image via Global Urbanist.

Fascinating three-part series on Beirut’s reconstruction over the past 20 years. Intriguingly, Martyr’s Square’s current form — of an open, public space — is a maidan, a traditional feature of Arabian cities. While the reconstruction is admirable — the downtown looks like 1920’s Paris — it’s also become a polarizing space, for the urban elite (Global Urbanist: First, Second and Third). As Cairo’s Tahrir Square and Manama’s Pearl Roundabout showed, these public squares are often flashpoints for democratic protests (Design Observer).

Watch out Dubai — Avesta is looking to Baku, the capital of oil-rich Azerbaijan, in building a 1,050 supertower on a chain of artificial islands in the Caspian Sea
(Arabian Business). Madinah, Saudia Arabia is to be redeveloped by MMM with improving its green space (Arab News), Atkins finished Oman’s $1 billion Medical City master plan (Arabian Business) and in Kazakhstan, Almaty’s new metro looks beautiful (Atlantic Cities).

Finally, a fascinating photo series on American Muslims (NYT Lens Blog)