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

Domus - - CONTENTS - By Sen Ka­pa­dia

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

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