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-

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eL Seed’s Calligraffiti Project in Doha Brings Art to Public

Tunisian-French street artist eL Seed is bringing art to the public of Doha, in his calligraffiti project on Salwa Road — one of the largest graffiti projects in the world.

eL Seed is working with a handful of community artists to decorate 52 walls on Salwa Road, totalling 730 metres of a riff on Arabic calligraphy painted in “Wild Style” graffiti — creating a unique art form called “calligraffiti”.

In April 2013, he discussed the project and public art with Rami El Samahy, architect and CMUQ professor, and architect Tim Makower, at the Doha Architecture Forum talk “Making the City Public.”

“We wanted to create a community project with the city, and bring art to people,” said eL Seed, whose Salwa Road project was commissioned by the Qatar Museums Authority and the Public Works Authority (Ashgal), which has a 5-part video series on YouTube. “Though I was commissioned, this is a community project, it’s their choice of colour and what to write.”

Some calligraphy writings are from Qatar’s national anthem, including such quotes as “Travel the high road; Travel by the guiding light of the Prophets” and “Doves they be at times of peace, Warriors they are at times of sacrifice,” according to Time Out Doha.

eL Seed has launched to international fame over the past year, as he stunningly decorated the Jara Mosque minaret in his hometown of Gabés, Tunisia, sparking conversation over the role of Arabic graffiti, public art and democracy. The project is being profiled in the upcoming film “Tacapes”.

eL Seed with sketches for his Salwa Road project in Doha, Qatar. / Courtesy eL Seed in Doha.

“At QMA, and in public art, we really try to bring the newest form, and we try to relate what we do to the Arab culture and to the company culture,” said Khalid Ali, project manager, QMA, in the first video. “So to have an artist like eL Seed to come here and do 52 panels, it’s huge.”

Despite Doha’s world-class museums, public art is mostly monuments in roundabouts — and even those are vanishing due to street straightening.

But can graffiti done on a highway underpass really be considered “public art”?

“Highway art is normal, like in Paris,” eL Seed said. “Even at 120 kph, you can see the art. For the mural, we created a ‘liquid alphabet,’ which moves with the viewer.”

Graffiti artist eL Seed says 90 percent of his work is improv freestyle while he’s painting, here at Salwa Road in Doha, Qatar. / Image courtesy eL Seed in Doha.

Addressing the tension between commissions and freestyle painting, eL Seed said: “I’m honoured to travel the world for commissions, but you lose the essence of your work if it’s only commissions. To keep subversive, I take a spray can and paint where I want to go. On Salwa Road, when I’m painting it’s like improv, 90 percent is freestyle.”

eL Seed criticised the street artists in the region who do not address the local social context, and the perceptions of audience members who asked about the link between graffiti and the underprivileged.

“A graffiti artist is does not have to be underprivileged,” eL Seed said, calling it a “Westernised mindset.” He added: “We all have the idea that graffiti is by the underprivileged, but for example in France, it’s by the well-off white people who are fighting the system. Would a legal wall (like New York’s 5 Pointz NYC) be a solution here?”

As eL Seed’s Doha project finishes up, does he have any plans to paint the town? “I’ve been spotting a lot of lost walls,” he said, “and I can’t leave with only Salwa Road.” -30-