The Louvre Abu Dhabi is now officially open to the public, displaying geometry and Grace in a one-of-a-kind museum

Designed by Pritzker Prize winning French architect Jean Nouvel, the museum complex is created to embody a city in the desert, feature a promenade of white cubic volumes that make up its gallery spaces, and comes almost entirely covered by a geometric dome spanning 180m.
Surrounded by water, the architectural elements of the museum seem to strike a conversation between various forms of nature – like sky, land and sea.
A series of white buildings draw inspiration from the traditional ‘medina’ and low-lying Arab settlements. In total, the complex features 55 individual buildings, including 23 galleries that house the museum’s permanent collection and temporary exhibitions. The façades of the buildings are made up of 3,900 panels of ultra-high-performance concrete (UHPC) that allows for various elements, such as wiring, to be stored inside its walls.
Specially commissioned installations are displayed in the semi-outdoor areas of the museum city, shaded by the vast dome which Nouvel called a ‘symbol of Arabian architecture’.
The dome itself consists of eight different layers: four outer layers clad in stainless steel and four inner layers clad in aluminium. The two sets are separated by a steel frame measuring five metres in height. The frame is made of 10,000 structural components pre-assembled into 85 super-sized elements, each weighing up to 50 tonnes.
Featuring a complex geometric design, the star-shaped pattern is repeated at various sizes and angles in the eight superimposed layers. Each ray of light must penetrate the eight layers before appearing. The result is a cinematic effect called the ‘rain of light’ – visual markers of the sun’s path progression throughout the day. At night, it forms 7,850 stars visible from both inside and out, creating a ‘sky within a sky’.
“The dome becomes a link that determines public territory,” Nouvel explained. “It’s a place where we can stay and enjoy, as well as a place that protects us from the sun. I knew that I had to create something that will play with geometry and light. It’s a cosmic object.”
Nouvel also spoke about the importance of context in the architectural language of the Lourve Abu Dhabi.“I’m a contextual architect,” he disclosed. “I can’t imagine a programme like this existing if it does not belong to the local culture. A lot of today’s architecture doesn’t have roots, but that’s not irreversible. This museum had to have roots.”
He added that he designed the complex to resonate more with a neighbourhood than a building – a neighbourhood that reflects a traditional Arab city. “Some people might think it’s a way of copying what exists, but it isn’t. It’s using elements from a time. I’m not here to reproduce a medina,” he explained. “You can’t reproduce what already exists.”
The dome is supported by only four permanent piers, each 110m apart. These are hidden within the museum buildings to give the impression that the dome is floating.
The interior exhibition spaces, comprising museum galleries, temporary exhibition spaces and a children’s museum, make up 8,600sq-m.
Also designed by Jean Nouvel are the floors, walls and ceiling surfaces of the museum galleries, which reinforce the palatial dimensions of Louvre Abu Dhabi.
The floor paving is made up of stone modules framed in bronze. Throughout the galleries, the choice of stone responds to the period of the artworks on show. The walls provide hanging flexibility: all subsidiary equipment may be concealed within special wall slots.
Filtered natural light can be present in all the galleries, either from lateral windows with views on to the surrounding environment or through Zenithal lighting. This involves the use of glass mirrors to capture sunlight and direct it into the gallery spaces while also scattering rays to avoid glare.
The display cases were specifically designed by Meyvaert in Ghent Belgium for Louvre Abu Dhabi. They incorporate state-of-the art materials and have been designed to adapt flexibly to the rotation of artworks on display.
In addition to the museum, Nouvel was also involved in the museum’s exhibition programme.
The idea of “being on a journey” is present throughout the interior spaces of the galleries, where names of countries and cities adorn the floors in native languages, indicative of visitors arriving on the shore of Abu Dhabi to begin a path of discovery into various civilisations.
The idea is that visitors arrive at the beginning of the gallery space like sailors arriving on the shore of Abu Dhabi, explained Jean-Francios Charnier, scientific director of Agence France-Museums.
“The geometrical lines on the walls and the floor of the galleries reference maritime charts that helped sailors navigate their journey at sea. Visually, the lines also connect with the structure of the dome as well as being a reflection of geometry that references mathematics in Islamic art and connects with the symbolism of location,” he said.
The restaurant is made up of modular compartments. The intricate interior design takes inspiration from Arabic patterns, which have been engraved into Corian panels. The furniture complements the light-filled interiors and panoramic views of the sea. Seven bespoke chandeliers hang above seven VIP tables.
Jean Nouvel’s design for the museum café is inspired by the Op Art (optical art) movement of the 1960s. From certain positions, the café seems entirely monochrome (white); from others, the interiors are full of colour – like an abstracted reflection of the local maritime environment and port, opposite the museum. The floors, walls, ceilings and furniture are designed specifically for the site by Ateliers Jean Nouvel.
Nouvel explained that the museum also takes on the feeling of a giant palace. “Everything is organised in such a way that you feel like you’re in a huge apartment, a huge palace – the palace of the Louvre,” he observed.
Nouvel also commented on the role of architecture in inventing and exploring history and context, where buildings are no longer designed to be locally-based. “Architecture is a way to enlarge the world, to make the world more complex. If you do the same thing everywhere, everywhere in the world will be the same.
“You have to preserve the pleasure of travelling, the pleasure of history, the threads of stories, the attitudes, traditions towards nature, and history which has marked cities with the monuments that are already present.
“All places have the right to artistic exploration that allows them to build and evolve. It should be forbidden to build a place if there are no proposals at the level of invention and exploration,” he maintained.

Author : by Aidan Imanova

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