The Louvre at Abu Dhabi
Sen Kapadia dwells upon the design of the newly-constructed Louvre in Abu Dhabi and how the structure lends itself to the elements of nature to create an interplay of dancing light and shadows
The Louvre in Abu Dhabi is quietly approached with a white trellised walkway and glimpses of a grand saucer hovering over white cubes scattered for various galleries and their ancillary facilities. This neo-modern sprawling ensemble presents an exhilarating experience of the place — the ultimate culmination of any architectural expedition. Central to this structure are spattered scoops of mellow light filtering from the multilayered roof in a new play of illumination and shade that perhaps echo a traditional bazaar. With a diameter of 180 metres, the dome is a distinct element of the Museum. Comprising a massive grid of 85 large steel puzzle-like parts, it is layered with four sheets of cladding on top and four below. Together it creates an intricately latticed roof that filters the harsh desert sunlight to create an interplay of dancing light and shadows. Engineered with precision, this is one of the most innovative and complex projects undertaken in recent times. Abu Dhabi is slowly emerging as a sister city to Dubai. Slow growth has led to the planning of cultural institutions, congregational places and an enriched topography, whereas Dubai has built dense vertical urbanism in a short period. Its unnatural expansion lacks any value-added living. Dubai has the tallest skyscraper, the longest airport, and the biggest mall — all as tourist attractions. With a great body unlike
any other, it lacks mind and soul that could have given it a character. Abu Dhabi is different. It has initiated cultural institutions as its central focus. With this new museum, the cultural arena of the Middle East is provided an exposure to the contemporary expressions of other societies. There will be works from Gehry, Fosters and others, to consolidate its cultural emphasis. This is not just another building with a view of the ocean. This is the architecture that weaves the Gulf waters in its folds and creates a balance between the natural and built oppositions. From the modest entrance, you are led from various interconnected galleries with glimpses of the complex ceiling receiving its quota of natural light and occasional views of lagoons of blue water. After continually viewing artworks in twelve dark galleries, the audience encounters the central court, and experiences the layered metal roof above along with a colony of white cuboid buildings. This central belly, wide and high, is open on each end. The mellow sunlight pours in as rain of light and provides a unique sensation of space. While many new museums crave for attention with their forced complexities, Jean Nouvel’s Louvre holds its dignity by this grand gesture with calmness. Modern architecture has regained a palpable moment where his Mondrianesque aesthetics, coupled with with the absence of colour, is endearing to all visitors. Here is the choice point, where you break journey as a relief to ‘midway anxiety’ relaxation from an intense art or museum encounter, or for a lunch break, or maybe a slight prelude before your onward journey. This unique central belly’s effectiveness in crowd management is less apparent than its magical capacity to effortlessly divert the mind towards modernism.
This spread: the dome of the Louvre in Abu Dhabi designed by Ateliers Jean Nouvel comprises four external layers that are separated from the four internal ones by a steel frame, five metres high and made of 10,000 components pre-assembled into 85 supersized elements. The underside of the dome is Nouvel’s homage to traditional Arab architecture and its typical way of treating light