French architect Jean Nouvel, recipient of the Pritzker and Aga Khan awards and an art museum architect of renown thanks to his daring endeavors and fresh ideas, is a westerner who avoids industrial cold lights and approaches natural light with the love of an esterner – a rarity amongst architects.
To understand his style, one must first take a look at the Arabic World Institute in Paris, which opened its doors in 1987 and became one of the city’s cultural icons. The most striking aspect of this structure is its south facade, which is entirely covered in Mashrabiya. A Mashrabiya is a type of latticed dome which is used in Arabic and Islamic architecture and which prevents outsiders from seeing into the house through the window.
Another iconic building in Paris designed by Jean Nouvel is the Cartier Foundation building, which hosts contemporary art exhibitions and which opened in 1994. With its transparent walls, the building is bathed in a different colour at every hour, and its striking architecture creates light effects in the interior whilst the plants decorating the rooms move the imagination.
Another work which made Jean Nouvel a star architect is the Musée du quai Branly (Branley Quay Museum), a monumental building dedicated to primitive art. Situated on the banks of the River Seine just next to the Eiffel Tower, the museum is entirely surrounded by light and trees, the signature style of the architect. As well as these impressive works, Nouvel’s most celebrated creation to date is the Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum, which opened its doors last year.
The new center of Cultural Attractions
The main building of the Louvre in Paris was in fact not purpose-built as a museum; it is a 13th- century palace. The Louvre Abu Dhabi however, a contemporary work, clearly reflecting today’s understanding of musicology as well as ideas suited for the geographical region it is located in. The building offers a fantastic opportunity to observe the ever-changing relationship between the sun and the sea; its ceilings and huge, dramatic dome which reflects the light in different shapes mean that the architecture of the building is just as much worth a view as the artworks housed within.
The road to opening the museum contained within this architectural masterpiece was not smooth, however. In accordance with the agreement signed between France and the UAE in March 2007, in October 2007 the French parliament approved the plans for the New Louvre Museum to be opened in Abu Dhabi. However, the ensuing process was fraught with obstacles. A public campaign was started in France to prevent the building of the museum in Abu Dhabi.
Construction for the Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum began in 2009 and continued uninterruptedly despite slowing down in 2012. It was opened to visitors on November 8, 2017, with a sold-out opening ceremony. Interest in the museum did not decrease at all within the past year, the Louvre Abu Dhabi was dubbed “the new center of cultural attractions”, and Time magazine included the museum in its list of 12 must-see places in the world in 2018.
The huge latticed dome, which Jean Nouvel describes as “designed to give the effect of sunlight filtering through the leaves of date trees in an oasis,” both protects visitors from the scorching sun and provides the museum space with natural light, and it is the most striking architectural feature of the museum. Supported by four main columns, weighing 7500 tonnes (nearly as much as the Eiffel Tower itself!), and with a diameter of 180 meters, the dome is comprised of interlocking eight-layer steel and aluminum sheets. The layers of the dome are responsive to every movement of the sun within the course of a day, and the outpouring of light creates a cinematic effect as well as a source of attraction. There are 7850 star-shaped geometrical patterns etched onto the layers of the dome in different sizes.
There are 23 chronologically ordered permanent galleries on the 9 200 sq. meter exhibition space. The exhibitions feature exquisite artworks from various eras of global art history and various regions. This also highlights the connections between the East and the West. The museum contains many artworks worth seeing. Thousands of years old archeological treasures of the Middle East, and masterpieces which left their mark on art history, such as Leonardo da Vinci’s “La Belle Ferronnière”, Jacques-Louis David’s “Napoleon Crossing the Alps”, and Vincent van Gogh’s 1887 “Self Portrait” make this museum like no other.
Ai Weiwei’s “Light Fountain”, a sculpture made of steel and crystal, Alberto Giacometti’s sculpture “Seated Woman II”, and “Red Rock”, a painting by Paul Cezanne, are other popular artworks in the museum. Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci’s painting “Salvator Mundi (Saviour of the World)” which set the record as the most expensive artwork in the world when it was purchased by the museum for 450 million USD still awaits its exhibition day. Osman Hamdi Bey’s painting “A Young Emir Studying” is also exhibited at the museum.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi is the first museum to be opened within the designated culture and arts area worth billions of dollars on the Saadiyat (Felicity) Island. Many other buildings for cultural and artistic institutions are also being planned. When the construction of the area is complete, it will be a huge complex comprised of the largest cultural centres in the world. In this way, valuable buildings created by famous architects recognised for their iconic architectural style will garner as much attention as the artworks displayed within them. We’ll be able to see how Abu Dhabi’s skyline changes when the Zayed National Museum, designed by Norman Foster; the Middle East’s first Guggenheim Museum, designed by Frank Gehry; the Abu Dhabi Performing Arts Centre containing traces of Zaha Hadid’s genious, and the Naval Museum designed by Tadao Ando are all complete.