Na­tional Mu­seum of Qatar, by Ate­liers Jean Nou­vel


Ten years in the mak­ing, the Na­tional Mu­seum of Qatar (NMOQ) by Ate­liers Jean Nou­vel is in­tended as an im­por­tant new dis­play case for the coun­try’s his­tory, ar­chae­ol­ogy and con­tem­po­rary cul­ture. The mas­sive struc­ture houses 11 in­ter­linked gal­leries, with vis­i­tors taken on a wind­ing 1.5km route from pre­his­tory through to the present day and be­yond.

The new build­ing’s dom­i­nant fea­ture is its roof, a mul­ti­fac­eted sculp­ture in­spired in part by ‘desert roses’, clus­ters of in­ter­lock­ing crys­tals that emerge out of the sand to form strik­ing, bloom-like out­crops. Nou­vel de­scribes how the con­cept was cre­ated in 3D from the out­set, rather than through his con­ven­tional sketch-driven ap­proach. ‘To for­malise a rose was very dif­fi­cult,’ he says, ‘so the whole pro­ject was done in soft­ware.’ Once the client, the in­flu­en­tial Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Ha­mad bin Khal­ifa Al Thani, chair­per­son of Qatar Mu­se­ums, had ap­proved the de­sign, the task of shap­ing the im­mensely com­plex struc­ture was done in col­lab­o­ra­tion with en­gi­neers Arup in Lon­don.

The NMOQ’S form com­prises some 539 discs, rang­ing from 14m to 87m across, mir­ror­ing what Nou­vel calls the ‘minia­ture ar­chi­tec­tural events’ of the gyp­sum crys­tal for­ma­tions. ‘With its great curved discs, in­ter­sec­tions and can­tilevered an­gles, the mu­seum is a to­tal­ity, at once ar­chi­tec­tural, spa­tial and sen­sory,’ the ar­chi­tect writes. And at 33,618 sq m, it is also sub­stan­tial. Home to thou­sands of arte­facts and doc­u­ments, as well as spe­cially com­mis­sioned site­spe­cific pieces by artists from Qatar, France, Iraq and Syria, it is set to be the jewel in Doha’s mu­seum dis­trict.

The mu­seum is clad with faceted pan­els of fi­br­ere­in­forced con­crete, 76,000 in all. These add an­other layer of geo­met­ric com­plex­ity to the discs, break­ing up their sur­faces and bring­ing a more in­ti­mate feel to the clus­ters of canopies and court­yards they cre­ate.

Nou­vel points out that the ‘con­tex­tual ap­proach’ to the build­ing’s de­sign takes cen­turies of desert liv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and gives it a con­tem­po­rary twist. As if to un­der­line the evo­lu­tion of ar­chi­tec­tural form, the NMOQ’S spec­tac­u­lar roofscape stands along­side the re­stored Palace of Sheikh Ab­dul­lah bin Jas­sim Al Thani, once home to Qatar’s royal fam­ily and the lo­ca­tion of the orig­i­nal Na­tional Mu­seum.

In Qatar, Ate­liers Jean Nou­vel has once again gone for scale, per­haps even trump­ing the mighty dome of the Lou­vre Abu Dhabi. As pre­sum­ably in­tended, the NMOQ si­mul­ta­ne­ously evokes her­itage, place and moder­nity.

The build­ing’s roof com­prises 539 discs of dif­fer­ent sizes and was de­signed to em­brace the re­stored his­toric palace that pre­vi­ously housed part of the mu­seum’s col­lec­tions

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