Jean Nouvel's Design for the National Museum of Qatar Print
Thursday, 25 March 2010 12:31

A great effort is currently being exhorted to transform the small state of Qatar into a hub of culture and communications for the Gulf region. The Qatar Museums Authority (QMA) has just announced its plans for the new National Museum of Qatar, as expressed in an evocative design by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel.Nouvel_qatar_museum-08
National Museum of Qatar, North View
Image by Artefactory, © Ateliers Jean Nouvel

Nouvel's concept wanted to embody the pride and traditions of Qatar’s people while offering international visitors a dialogue about rapid change and modernization. The National Museum of Qatar will be the setting for an ambitious program in which entire walls become cinematic displays, “sonorous cocoons” shelter oral-history presentations and hand-held mobile devices guide visitors through thematic displays of the collection’s treasures. Though built around an historic structure, the Fariq Al Salatah Palace, which had served as a museum of heritage since 1975, the National Museum of Qatar is conceived and designed as a thoroughly new institution, in keeping with the high aspirations that animate QMA.

Nouvel_qatar_museum-02National Museum of Qatar, 3-D Model
Image by Artefactory, © Ateliers Jean Nouvel

Jean Nouvel’s design manifests both the active, dynamic aspect of the Museum’s program and its crystallization of the Qatari identity, in a building that, like a desert rose, appears to grow out of the ground and be one with it. Prominently located on a 1.5 million-square-foot site at the south end of Doha’s Corniche, where it will be the first monument seen by travelers arriving from the airport, the building takes the form of a ring of low-lying, interlocking pavilions, which encircle a large courtyard area and encompass 430,000 square feet of indoor space.

In its organization, the building suggests the image of a caravanserai—the traditional enclosed resting place that supported the flow of commerce, information and people across desert trade routes—and so gives concrete expression to the identity of a nation in movement. The tilting, interpenetrating disks that define the pavilions’ floors, walls and roofs, clad on the exterior in sand-colored concrete, suggest the bladelike petals of the desert rose, a mineral formation of crystallized sand found in the briny layer just beneath the desert’s surface.

Nouvel_qatar_museum-03

National Museum of Qatar, West View from Doha Bay
Image by Artefactory, © Ateliers Jean Nouvel

The National Museum of Qatar building will provide 86,000 square feet of permanent gallery space, 21,500 square feet of temporary gallery space, a 220-seat auditorium, a 70-seat food forum / TV studio, two cafés, a restaurant and a museum shop. Separate facilities are provided for school groups and special guests. Staff facilities include a heritage research center, restoration laboratories, staff offices and collection processing and storage areas. The Museum will be surrounded by a 1.2 million-square-foot landscaped park that interprets a Qatari desert landscape.

Inspired by the desert rose, the interlocking disks that compose the building—some of them standing more or less upright and acting as support elements, others lying more or less horizontal—are of varying curvature and diameter. The disks are made of steel truss structures assembled in a hub-and-spoke arrangement and are clad in glass fiber reinforced concrete panels. Columns concealed within the vertical disks carry the loads of the horizontal disks to the ground.

Glazed facades fill the voids between disks. Perimeter mullions are recessed into the ceiling, floor and walls, giving the glazing a frameless appearance when viewed from the outside. Deep disk-shaped sun-breaker elements filter incoming sunlight.
Nouvel_qatar_museum-04National Museum of Qatar, View of Historic Palace
Image by Artefactory, © Ateliers Jean Nouvel

Like the exterior, the interior is a landscape of interlocking disks. Floors are sand-colored polished concrete, while the vertical disk walls are clad in “stuc-pierre,” a traditional gypsum- and lime-blended plaster formulated to imitate stone.

Thermal buffer zones within the disk cavities will reduce cooling loads, while the deep overhangs of the disks will create cool, shady areas for outdoor promenades and protect the interior from light and heat. Steel and concrete, the main materials of the building, will be locally sourced and/or fabricated. The landscaping will feature sparse native vegetation with low water consumption. Through these and other sustainability measures, the Museum is working to achieve a USGBC LEED Silver rating.

The Museum’s gardens are specifically designed for the intense climate of Qatar. Plantings will include native grasses and indigenous plants, such as pomegranate trees, date palms, herbs and the Sidra tree, the national tree of Qatar. Landscaping will feature sand dunes and stepped garden architecture to create sitting areas and spaces for the Museum’s programs of tours and garden lectures.
Nouvel_qatar_museum-06 National Museum of Qatar, South View
Image by Artefactory, © Ateliers Jean Nouvel


Exhibitions and Collections


A tour of the Museum will take visitors through a loop of galleries that address three major, interrelated themes. These are the natural history of the Qatar peninsula, with its flora and fauna that have adapted to this intense environment of sand and sea; the social and cultural history of Qatar, with its traditions, values and stories that spring from the close, age-old interaction between the people and the natural world; and the history of Qatar as a nation, from the 18th century to the dynamic present.

The displays and installations that explore these themes will integrate exciting and involving audiovisual displays, some of them realized on an architectural scale, with carefully selected treasures from the Museum’s collections. These collections currently consist of approximately 8,000 objects and include archeological artifacts, architectural elements, heritage household and traveling objects, textiles and costumes, jewelry, decorative arts, books and historical documents. The earliest items date from the end of the last Ice Age (about 8000 BC). The Bronze Age (about 2000 – 1200 BC) is represented, as are the Hellenistic and early Islamic periods. The Museum also has examples of weapons and other objects from the period of the tribal wars and more contemporary decorative objects used for everyday living.
Nouvel_qatar_museum-07National Museum of Qatar, North View
Image by Artefactory, © Ateliers Jean Nouvel


Commenting on the project, Jean Nouvel points at the relationship between the project and Qatar’s social and geographical background.

"Qatar is a young nation in the Persian Gulf, a peninsula, a tongue surrounded by water where the desert reaches into the sea.

The Qatari descend from a nomadic Arabian people who settled in this maritime desert.

Some became fishermen, others hunted for pearls. Some looked to the nation's hidden treasures, the resources that lay beneath the sand or under the sea. Others, inspired by their country's central location in the Gulf, began to talk, to communicate, to reach out. The impulse for this metamorphosis came from Doha. A glance at photographs of Doha in the 1950s and 1960s, compared with today, is sufficient to understand how much this part of the world has changed. From a little village, it has become a capital. What could be more natural, then, than the desire to testify, to talk about identification, about the evolving identity of this country as it reveals itself on the sensitive paper of history? And what could be more logical than to give concrete expression to this identification process in a National Museum of Qatar that will relate the physical, human and economic geography of the country, together with its history?

One place was symbolically destined to fulfill this role: the historic home of the Al Thani family in Doha; a modest, noble, simple palace from where this twentieth-century adventure began. It stands at the city's southern entrance, the busiest urban gateway as it also welcomes visitors arriving from the airport.
Nouvel_qatar_museum-05The architectural study which initially was coupled with the programmatic study, brought to light the underlying paradox of this project: to show what is hidden, to reveal a fading image, to anchor the ephemeral, to put the unspoken into words, to reveal a history which has not had the time to leave a mental imprint; a history that is a present in flight, an energy in action. The National Museum of Qatar is proof patent of how intense this energy is. Of course it will be home to the traditional geological and archaeological artefacts; of course tents, saddles and the dishes will bear witness to nomadic life; of course there will be fishermen's utensils, boats and nets. Most importantly, though, it will spark an awareness that could only otherwise be encountered, experienced, after months spent in the desert, in pursuit of the two particularities that elude our grasp except when the whims of time and nature allow. Everything in this museum works to make the visitor feel the desert and the sea. The museum's architecture and structure symbolize the mysteries of the desert's concretions and crystallisations, suggesting the interlocking pattern of the blade-like petals of the desert rose.
Nouvel_qatar_museum-01National Museum of Qatar, View of Caravanserai Courtyard
Image by Artefactory, © Ateliers Jean Nouvel

A nomadic people builds its capital city and talks about it through this emblematic monument built with the most contemporary construction tools (steel, glass and fibre concrete), and will communicate through high-definition cinema, incorporating visitors' movements into its museography: this museum is a modern-day caravanserai. From there you leave for the desert and you return from it bringing back treasured images that remain forever engraved on your memory. This is more than just a metaphor. The National Museum of Qatar will become Qatar's voice of culture, delivering a message about the metamorphosis of modernity and the beauty that happens when the desert meets the sea."

Jean Nouvel


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Last Updated on Friday, 26 March 2010 08:28