AGENCE FRANCE-MUSEUMS

The Architectural Project

Copyright Ateliers Jean Nouvel

"I wanted this building to mirror a protected territory that belongs to the Arab world and this geography." Jean Nouvel outlined the Louvre Abu Dhabi universal museum’s personality by seeking inspiration in the place and setting, the history of geometry and the fundamentals of Middle-Eastern architecture: "I enjoy adapting architecture’s ever-recurring themes (...) twisting them, reinterpreting them with a new approach."


Jean Nouvel, who was selected to design this museum, also drew inspiration from the Saadiyat site’s distinctive features - a virgin island in a lagoon between the sand and the sea, between the light and the shadows. His project will treat future museum visitors to an intense architectural and museum experience serving as a dialogue between cultures.
The parasol-like 180m-diameter white dome covers two-thirds of the museum city. It bears the hallmarks of a mosque, a mausoleum, a caravanserai, a medressa, and its own distinctive features: it leans on four posts and opens out onto the water making a virtuoso and eminently modern statement. It takes a sharp drop but nestles the city and steeps it in light none the less.
Jean Nouvel has encapsulated a dialogue between architectural heritage and sensory experience into an intense and foundational rapport between light and shadow, and the matching hot and cool temperatures.
"A microclimate emerged from the sensations that great Arab architecture has explored countess times: controlling light and geometry (...) structuring shadows, opening up trails to discovery."
"It is a city on a peninsula jutting out onto the lagoon using the shadows on the water to create a microclimate with the wind blowing under the dome."

That is how the dome cross-fertilises free inspiration from the mashrabiya, one of the components handed down by tradition that has steeped eastern decorative arts as much as provided traditional air-conditioning systems. A seemingly random but carefully designed sequence of geometric holes lets light in and tempers the museums halls and areas while shading visitor paths to control the temperature without blocking out natural light.
The "rain of light" from the dome is reminiscent of the trellises casting their shadows on walls, canopies and reeds, sprinkling light across city alleys and souks, and of the leaves that sprinkle sunlight under palm groves. This scattered shade is moving and tactile, and opens up the building to "toying with the random to provide as much light as each area needs." In the same way, the area mirroring the water at the dome entrance shimmers light across the buildings’ "skin". This constantly wavering presence reflects the prominent role that water surfaces play in Arab architecture. At night, on the contrary, this site will be "an oasis of light under a spangled dome."
A sizeable portion of the museum complex will be sheltered and cosseted in shadows by this system that was freely inspired by buried cities and eastern city prototypes. The urban design and geometry are practically spontaneous, and a medina of rooms, like a neighbourhood within a city, encompasses about 30 buildings along a promenade. They will be 4 to 10m high, the facades will all be different, and a choice of openings will lead to different passages. This museum city outlines a space that plays on the interaction between the inside and the outside. It is changing, varied, poetic, intriguing and brimming with trails to explore - with light as the visitor’s guide.

"Architecture is about harnessing the will, desire and skills that a handful of people can pool to modify space at a given point in time. Architecture is never something you create alone. You always create it somewhere, on one person or several people’s request, but always for everyone to enjoy."