Heritage meets innovation at the National Museum of Qatar in Doha
by Meghna MehtaSep 07, 2019
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Meghna MehtaPublished on : 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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