A cultural context for the National Museum of Qatar by Jean Nouvel
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A cultural context for the National Museum of Qatar by Jean Nouvel

Ateliers Jean Nouvel designs a sculptural edifice for the new National Museum of Qatar, imbibing a sensitive approach to heritage architecture, modernism and its people.

by Meghna Mehta Jun 02, 2019

A museum that respects historic context while creating an impactful exemplar for the modern day region that it represents, the New National Museum of Qatar stands tall defining the country’s development and evolution over the years, through decades of leaderships, social and cultural evolvement and being an important epicentre for its people, history and future growth. The National Museum of Qatar (NMoQ) opened to the public on 28 March 2019, imparting an unparalleled immersive experience for its people housed in a new architectural masterpiece by Jean Nouvel.

The Museum’s winding, kilometer and a half long gallery path is an intriguing journey through a series of unique, encompassing environments, each of which tells its part of the story of Qatar through a special combination of architectural space, music, poetry, oral histories, evocative aromas, archaeological and heritage objects, commissioned artworks, monumentally-scaled art films, and more. Together, the eleven permanent galleries take visitors from the formation of the Qatar peninsula millions of years ago to the nation’s exciting and diverse present. Giving voice to its rich heritage and culture and expressing the aspirations of its people, NMoQ aims to serve as a hub for discovery, creativity, and community engagement, providing diverse educational opportunities for Qatar and advancing the country’s cultural vision on the global stage.

  • The new National Museum of Qatar designed by Ateliers Jean Nouvel Image Credit: Iwan Baan
  • The Formation of the Qatar Peninsula gallery Image Credit: Danica Kus
  • Overall View of the Museum with the Site Image Credit: Ateliers Jean Nouvel
  • The new National Museum of Qatar designed by Ateliers Jean Nouvel Image Credit: Iwan Baan

The Chairperson of Qatar Museums said, “The opening of the National Museum of Qatar is a source of immense pride for our country, and an exceptional moment for engaging with people from around the world.” Sheikha Amna bint Abdulaziz bin Jassim Al Thani, Director of the museum added, “After more than a decade of planning, we are deeply gratified to welcome the people of Qatar and our international visitors to this exciting, multi-layered, experiential museum. We have created galleries full of movement, sound, and color in order to engage our public fully, with their senses and emotions as well as their intellects, and have assembled creative and authentic content that is so rich that people will discover something new with each visit. It is now time for the discoveries to begin.”

The 52,000 sqm (560,000 sqft) museum embraces at its center, the restored historic palace of Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani, son of the founder of modern Qatar. A building that in former times was both the home of the royal family and the seat of the government, subsequently became the site of the original National Museum, and is now the culminating exhibit in the sweeping succession of gallery experiences.

In designing the building for the new museum alongside historic context for a modern day Qatar, Jean Nouvel drew inspiration from the desert rose, a flower-like formation that occurs naturally in the Gulf region when minerals crystallise in the crumbly soil just below the surface of a shallow salt basin. Described by Nouvel as, “…the first architectural structure that nature itself creates,” the desert rose became the model for the museum’s complex structure of large interlocking disks of different diameters and curvatures, some vertical and constituting supports, others horizontal and resting on other disks which surround the historic palace like a necklace. A central court, the Baraha, sits within the ring of galleries and serves as a gathering space for outdoor cultural events. On the outside, the museum’s sand-colored concrete harmonises with the desert environment, so that the building appears to grow out of the ground and be one with it. Inside, the structure of interlocking disks continues, creating an extraordinary variety of irregularly shaped volumes.

  • View of the restored historic Palace of Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani together with close-up view of the new National Museum of Qatar designed by Ateliers Jean Nouvel Photo Credit: Iwan Baan
  • Masterplan Image Credit: Ateliers Jean Nouvel
  • The new National Museum of Qatar designed by Ateliers Jean Nouvel Image Credit: Iwan Baan
  • Sketch of Intersecting Disks Image Credit: Ateliers Jean Nouvel

Nouvel says, “To imagine a desert rose as a basis for design was a very advanced idea, even a utopian one. To construct a building with great curved disks, intersections, and cantilevered angles—the kind of shapes made by a desert rose—we had to meet enormous technical challenges. This building is at the cutting edge of technology, like Qatar itself. As a result, it is a total object: an experience that is at once architectural, spatial, and sensory, with spaces inside that exist nowhere else.”

The cantilevered disks, which provide natural shade, are among the elements of the design that have enabled NMoQ to become the first museum to receive both LEED Gold certification and a four-star sustainability rating from the Global Sustainability Assessment System.

Internally, the museum narrates the Story of Qatar through encompassing experiences – it is organised in three chapters, ‘Beginnings’, ‘Life in Qatar’ and ‘The Modern History of Qatar’ - spread across eleven galleries, which take visitors from the geological period long before the peninsula was inhabited through to the enigma of present day. Passing through the galleries, visitors are caught in the experience of the formation of Qatar’s natural habitat, the heritage of life in the desert and on the coast, the political development of modern Qatar, the discovery of oil, and country’s multifaceted relationships today with the larger world.

The permanent gallery route culminates in the very heart of Qatari national identity, the restored palace of a respected Sheikh. Built in 1906, this palace is significant as a national symbol and is one of the best-loved Qatar landmarks. Following a painstaking restoration project over a period of more than three years, it now forms the final highlight of a visit to the NMoQ.

The experiences created by the museum began being planned more than a decade ago and involved convening a series of meetings with members of the public inviting hundreds of Qataris to share their stories and material. Out of these various interactions came a richness of information that became the essence of the new institution.

  • First Floor Plan with Museography Image Credit: Ateliers Jean Nouvel
  • North View Rendering Image Credit: Ateliers Jean Nouvel
  • Life on the Coast – Nafas/Breathe dir. by Mira Nair Image Credit: Danica Kus
  • Close-up view of the interlocking disks of the new National Museum of Qatar designed by Ateliers Jean Nouvel Image Credit: Iwan Baan

An inaugural temporary exhibition, ‘Making Doha 1950-2030’, is on view till August 30, 2019 curated by Rem Koolhaas and Samir Bantal of OMA/AMO, and Fatma Al Sehlawi and the Qatar based research team from Atlas Bookstore, designed by a team from OMA/AMO. Through seventy years of archival material, the exhibition charts Doha’s architectural transition from organic growth to more modern and deliberate planning practices and how they affected the global discipline of architecture, in a story told in four chapters.The floorplan of this exhibition is designed as a timeline, with key moments punctuating the visitors’ passage along the narrative.

Finally, on the 900 m long lagoon, the landscaped park surrounding the museum, lies one of the largest installations ever conceived by French artist Jean-Michel Othoniel. Titled ALFA, it comprises 114 individual black fountains, shaped to resemble Arabic calligraphy or the tall reeds that calligraphers use to make their pens.

The 112,000 sqm (28-acre) public park that surrounds the museum has been designed by landscape architect Michel Desvignes, and features family-friendly interactive learning environments, walkways, and a lagoon and is landscaped exclusively with drought-resistant native vegetation encouraging education and community engagement.

  • 3D Model of the Museum Image Credit: Ateliers Jean Nouvel
  • The new National Museum of Qatar designed by Ateliers Jean Nouvel Image Credit: Iwan Baan
  • The new National Museum of Qatar designed by Ateliers Jean Nouvel with ALFA Image Credit: Courtesy of Othoniel Studio / Martin Argyroglo

A culinary experience layers over the historic and cultural values offered here. While Café 875 overlooks the main lobby, the Desert Rose café is located midway through the permanent galleries’ route, and the Jiwan Restaurant offers panoramic views of the sea. There is also a 213-seat auditorium, which is located next to the main public lobby. No less than in the rest of the museum, multiple artworks and installations become a part of these spaces too, including the main-lobby which incorporates Kan Ya Ma Kaan, a sculptural wall installation by Qatari artist Bouthayna Al Muftah.

The National museum of Qatar connects the history of the region, cultural institutions, education, technology, modern methodologies and heritage and creates the conditions for them to thrive and flourish.

  • Axonometric View Image Credit: Ateliers Jean Nouvel
  • 3D Rendering Image Credit: Ateliers Jean Nouvel
  • Close-up view of the interlocking disks of the new National Museum of Qatar designed by Ateliers Jean Nouvel Image Credit: Iwan Baan
  • The new National Museum of Qatar designed by Ateliers Jean Nouvel with ALFA Image Credit: Iwan Baan
  • The new National Museum of Qatar designed by Ateliers Jean Nouvel Image Credit: Iwan Baan
  • The new National Museum of Qatar designed by Ateliers Jean Nouvel Image Credit: Iwan Baan
  • Motherland, Sheikh Hassan Al Thani Image Credit: Danica Kus
  • Core Chronology in The Archaeology of Qatar gallery Image Credit: Danica Kus
  • Life in Al Barr (Desert) gallery showing the Bait Al Shar (tent) and Abderrahmane Sissako film in the background. Image Credit: Danica Kus
  • Life on the Coast gallery – Al Zubarah exhibits and film dir. by Abderrahmane Sissako Image Credit: Danica Kus

Project Details:

Official Name of the Project: National Museum of Qatar
Location: Al Corniche Street, Doha, Qatar
Site Area: 1,43,145 sqm
Area Covered by the Building: 33,618 sqm
Usable Floor Area: 30,064 sqm
Gross Floor Area: 52 167 sqm
Architect: Ateliers Jean Nouvel (Paris, FR)
Project Leader: Philippe Charpiot, Nikola Radovanovic, Daniela Fortuna, Toshihiro Kubota, Eric Stephany
Project Team: Claire Bufflier, Daniela Fortuna, Georges Groppas, Maximilien Montanaro, Valle Pinero, Ghita Berradia, Claire Bufflier, Michel Calzada, Bernard Duprat, Daniela Fortuna, Georges Groppas, Narjis Lemrini, Aroa Lujan, Maximilien Montanaro, Jose Monteiro, Marian Moravek, Samuel Nageotte, Juliana Park, Edouard Perves, Paul Pires Da Fonte, Matthieu Puyaubreau, Magdalena Sartori, Anna Voeller, Marilena Cadau, Adrien Chauveau, Victoria D’alisa, Yaêlle Devaux, Daniela Fortuna, Hakan Aldogan, Maja Kwasniewska, Maximilien Montanaro, Benoit Pailloux, Pablo Alvarenga, Valentin Bernard, Victoria D’alisa, Yann Heckler, Benoit Pailloux, Ana Taborda, Kiyomi Suzuki, Laura Collins, Khadija Djellouli, Miguel Reyes, Anthony Thevenon
Museography: Renaud Pierard (Renaud Pierard Studio), Sabrina Letourneur, Philippe Charpiot, Kirsi Marjamaki-Mas, Julie Parmentier, Giulia Felice, Lucia Giudice, Françoisxavier Foillard, Alvaro Lopez, Geraldine Leydier, Valle Pinero, Francisco Silva, Floriane Abello, Jennifer Kandel, Sophie Laromiguiere, Tanguy Nguyen, Daniele Pasin, Anita Peboeck, Jim Rhone, Antoine Wendling, Pierre Edelman
Interior Design: Sabrina Letourneur, Assistant Interior Designer: Floriane Abello, Sophie Laromiguiere, Daniele Pasin
Landscape: Michel Desvigne, Ana Marti-Baron
Computer Generated Images: Eric Anton (Artefactory), Keely Colcleugh, Mizuho Kishi, Yann Heckler, Sebastien Rageul
Graphic Design: Marie Maillard, Eugénie Robert
Cost Consultant: MDA Consulting & Northcroft
Engineers: ARUP London

Consultants:

Museography: Renaud Pierard
Facades: Bcs & Ingphi
Lighting Design: L'observatoire International / Hervé Descottes
Interior Lighting: Scherler
Acoustics: Avel Acoustique
Signage: Pentagram-London
Specifications: Atlas
Landscape Engineering: Aecom
Bim Management: Gehry Technology
Museographic Lighting: Licht-Kunstlicht
Museographic Multimedia: Ducks Scéno - Labeyrie & Associés, Immersive
Landscape Electricity: Scherler Sa
Landscape Civil Engineer: B+S Sa
Film Consultant: Pierre Edelman
Architect of Record: Qdc
Roads Design: Aecom & Parsons
Heritage Consultant: Mohammed Ali Abdulla

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About Author

Meghna Mehta

Meghna Mehta

An architect by education and a journalist by passion, Mehta pursued a crossroad between her two interests. Having completed an M.Arch from CEPT University in Ahmedabad, she has worked in the field of architectural journalism for over 5 years. Besides content generation for STIR, she continues to teach in architectural schools in Mumbai.

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