6. Louvre Abu Dhabi (2017) by Jean Nouvel (Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates)
If the past decade can be viewed as a modern Arab Renaissance for the oil-rich nation of United Arab Emirates, then the Louvre Abu Dhabi is most certainly the centerpiece of this movement. Completed in 2017, the estimated $650 million building located in Abu Dhabi is, if nothing else, a milestone for a city that, as of the 1950s, didn’t have paved roads, electricity, or running water.
The 258,333-square-foot structure, which was designed by Jean Nouvel, features a stainless-steel and aluminum dome that’s been cut and layered to dazzling affect. When the intense Middle Eastern sun beats down on the dome, light beams come through in the form of star-shaped patterns. It took eight years of construction for the stars to align in this building, which is the largest art museum in the Arabian Peninsula.
Unlike the National Museum of Qatar (which was highly nationalistic and built two years later, some 355 miles away by car), the Louvre Abu Dhabi promotes the impressive array of Western art spread throughout 23 galleries that are either owned by or on loan to the UAE (including an 1877 Van Gogh self-portrait, Monet’s 1877 painting of the Saint-Lazare railroad station, Jacques-Louis David’s famous portrait of Napoleon crossing the Alps on a white horse, and Mondrian’s 1922 Composition With Blue, Red, Yellow and Black).
7. National Museum of Qatar (2019) by Jean Nouvel (Doha, Qatar)
Designed by Pritzker Prize laureate Jean Nouvel, the museum was inspired by the desert rose – a crystal structure formed by sand, salt water and wind that naturally occurs in the Gulf state – and the unique architecture is intended to reflect the deep connection of the once nomadic people of Qatar with the desert, flora and fauna of the country.
Characterised by large convex disks, intersections and cantilevering canopies, the museum’s form is spatial and sensual, providing shade and refuge for visitors.
Inside, volumes of great expression emerge, with room sequences of both crouching and cathedral-like heights, sometimes evoking the intimacy of nomadic tents, sometimes the vastness of the firmament. Daylight filters in through gaps, apertures and spandrels in carefully selected locations, as the powerful, harsh sunlight of the region had to be tamed to fulfil conservation-related requirements. The natural light reveals the spatial room shapes, yet maintains a respectful distance to the mostly sensitive exhibits.
The exhibition itself takes the visitor on a 2.7km-long course that spans across the geological history in the Qatari peninsula’s distant past, introduces its flora and fauna, and illustrates the country’s rapid development from a loose affiliation of nomadic tribes and pearl divers of the past towards the technology savvy and affluent society of the present. Throughout, it focuses on archaeological findings and craftsmanship, as well as recent economic and political developments, while commissioned artworks from renowned local and international artists are also on display.