Adaptable Abu Dhabi
The art of diversifying the emirate’s economy
When you are given a blank canvas, you can set your imagination free, ”reads a phrase from the video at“The Saadiyat Story ”exhibition at Abu Dhabi’s Manarat Al Saadiyat museum. Scenes flash by of Emirati architects and landscapers hard at work developing Saadiyat Island, followed by clips of traditional musicians performing in contemporary venues, and idyllic images of baby turtles crawling across pristine sand with luxury beach resorts in the background. The message is clear – Abu Dhabi has big plans for the future, but not to the detriment of its ancient culture and diverse environment alongside the Arabian Gulf.
Though there have been significant delays to starting construction, the design of the emirate’s three major upcoming museums – all of which will be located in Saadiyat’s cultural district – reflect this ethos too. The Jean Nouvel-designed Louvre Abu Dhabi will have a domed roof with traditional Arabic patterns cut into it, allowing scattered light into the space below – the hotly anticipated gallery is due to open its doors in 2015.
The five steely towers that protrude from the Norman Fosterdesigned Zayed National museum – each one curved to mimic a falcon’s wing – will represent the five pillars of Sheikh Zayed’s vision for his country, and will be surrounded by a lush park, a testament to the late president’s passion for preserving the natural landscape. The venue will present exhibitions about Emirati culture, and will open in 2016.
Lastly, the Guggenheim has been designed by Frank Gehry and is modeled on barajeel (Arabian wind towers), echoing the cooling systems of traditional housing. A surreal-looking structure composed of irregular silver and gold shapes, it is set to have its grand opening in 2017.
The heavy investment in art and culture on Saadiyat is part of Abu Dhabi’s push to attract a greater number of tourists. “We are definitely seeing a positive shift towards culturally inclined travelers who are looking for high-end experiences, ”says Jasem Al Darmaki, deputy director-general of the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (tcaabudhabi.ae/en). “The cultural segment has a defining role to play when it comes to sustainability.”
Although the names “Louvre” and “Guggenheim ”have been taken, these museums will not just be extensions of the Parisian and NewYork institutions, but galleries in their own right with their own collections that they have sourced. The reason these brands were adopted was to indicate the caliber of the international artwork they will house and, hopefully, to mark Abu Dhabi out as a must-visit destination.
While there are teams of curators in both Abu Dhabi and Paris working on acquiring a permanent collection for the UAE’s Louvre, it’s the Emirati team that has the final say. It’s also a firm priority to make sure that Emiratis are staffing and leading the museum