Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum is the latest Jean Nouvel‘s gem in the United Arab Emirates capital.
Designed by Pritzker-prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is a massive art and civilizations museum in the United Arab Emirates. The museum includes a permanent and a temporary gallery enriched by loans from notable French museums including Musee du Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, and Centre Pompidou.
With over 8,000 square meters of galleries, it’s known as the largest museum in the Arabian Peninsula. The exhibitions host a variety of artifacts, sculptures, and paintings that tell fascinating stories from different civilizations and eras.
Louvre Abu Dhabi – About the Museum and Architecture
It is, without doubt, a jaw-dropping structure architecturally. The dome itself is a work of art, consisting of 7850 overlapping geometrical stars that vary in size. Structurally, the dome is composed of eight layers to create a perforated roof structure. The roof filters sunlight and lets it into the spaces below, thus creating an amazing effect of the shower of light.
The dome is 180 meters wide and rising to a height of 30 meters at its apex. This 7,000-tonne steel and aluminum canopy covers 55 buildings and looks like a spaceship floating on the water of the sea. It resembles a “little city protected by cupola” as Jean Nouvel said in one of his interviews.
The roof structure provides also a unique microclimate. The mix of the breeze coming from the sea, pools between the galleries, and the rain of light coming from the filtered sun rays create a mesmerizing effect.
By choosing the Louvre, the emirate of Abu Dhabi not only sealed a partnership with the world’s most visited and well-known museum but also selected one which, from its very inception, had a vocation to reach out to the world, to the essence of mankind, through the contemplation of works of art.– Jacques Chirac, former French President
In Louvre Abu Dhabi, I also wanted to play with the climate. I made a microclimate for the comfort of the people. I wanted to make a place where you come, and come back again and have the desire to come very often.– Jean Nouvel, the Artchitect
About Architect Jean Nouvel
Jean Nouvel is a prestigious French architect born in 1945 who studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He was awarded many prominent prizes during his career such as the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, the Wolf Prize in Arts in 2005, and the Pritzker Prize in 2008.
In 1981, Nouvel achieved international fame for the Institut du Monde Arabe (Arab World Institute) building in Paris when he won the design competition for this project.
Of the many phrases that might be used to describe the career of architect Jean Nouvel, foremost are those that emphasize his courageous pursuit of new ideas and his challenge of accepted norms in order to stretch the boundaries of the field. […] The jury acknowledged the ‘persistence, imagination, exuberance, and, above all, an insatiable urge for creative experimentation’ as qualities abundant in Nouvel’s work.– The jury of the Pritzker Prize
The first thing that struck me was the relation of Arab architecture with geometry. I wanted to work on this perception of geometry often linked with abstraction often coming from Islamic tradition. You can’t talk about this architecture without talking about and connecting geometry and light.
Also crucial to Arab architecture is in every scenario – you find a relation to water.-Jean Nouvel, the Architect
During some of Jean Nouvel’s interviews about the museum, he mentions that the dome has also a symbolic shape. It’s a symbol of spirituality. He wanted to incorporate the essence of spirituality – the impact of spirituality, and how space makes you feel.
Moreover, Nouvel mentions that this project is a meeting point at the scale of the cultural world, not the local world.
Louvre Abu Dhabi – Exhibition
Ten permanent galleries occupy over 2/3rds of the museum space while two temporary exhibition spaces flow through other areas. The exhibitions host a selection of approximately 600 international masterpieces.
The museum tells many stories of humanity, from ancient civilizations to the present day. The exhibitions also explore the dynamic concept of universalism in the 21st century. Once you visit, you’ll find that the focus is what humanity shares, rather than the things that divide us. It celebrates the beauty that connects all humanity by the universal language of art.
Aya Alyassin is studying architecture at Damascus University, Faculty of Architecture in Syria.
By the young age of five, Aya had fallen in love with architecture when she visited the pyramids of Giza in Egypt. At that moment she stood completely still, fully absorbed, and perplexed at the enormous size of the pyramids.
Aya and I connected on Instagram over our common passion for architecture. After her visit to Louvre Abu Dhabi, we decided to collaborate on this article. As we chatted, I asked Aya a few curious questions I had for her. Dear reader, enjoy her delightful answers.
What drew you to study architecture?
Ever since I was 5 years old, I was fascinated by art, music, nature, and I had a love for creating things. But what made me pursue architecture started back in middle school. My uncle was working on his graduation project as an architect. I was enamored by his work and loved sitting by him for hours watching what he was crafting! I understood that to be an architect is to be an inventor and an artist.
Inventing art (buildings) that changes through time, and creating feelings inside others while experiencing your work – that is just perfect for me!
How did you Experience Louvre Abu Dhabi’s Architecture?
I had two different but complementary experiences. Those were the courtyard experience and the inside galleries experience.
Once I entered the courtyard I was filled with emotion. Standing there drove my soul into a different place. I felt that I was standing still and stars were moving around me. I was taken aback by the stunning impression of light and shadows.
For me, architecture is an art that flows in time, just like music.
Being under the dome developed the feeling of time, the impression of the light spots that are moving around. They were appearing then disappearing in a rhythmic way. To me, they symbolized existence and eternity, which fits perfectly with the idea of a museum.
The white walls, floor, and water are bathed in sunlight. They reflect or are muted in some spots while being bright and direct in others. When this literal and metaphorical reflection and illumination are combined, the effect is exhilarating.
It reminded me what Louis Kahn once said – “I sense a threshold light to silence, silence to light – an ambiance of inspiration, in which the desire to be, to express, crosses with the possible light to silence, silence to light crosses in the sanctuary of art”.
Also fitting to my experience was the quote from le Corbusier – “Architecture is the masterly, correct, and magnificent play of masses brought together in light, our eyes are made to see forms in light: light and shade reveal these forms”.
The way the 55 buildings are organized leads you to explore without needing a map. The curation and placement of the exhibits tell the story itself. I also adore the use of stained glass in some places, where the roof projects the right lighting for every piece which gave fascinating impressions. What left an impression on me as a result, in the last gallery was Ai Weiwei’s Fountain of the Light sculpture.
Ai Weiwei’s chandelier-like Fountain of Light in the middle of the room reaches up to one of Jean Nouvel’s skylights (such a way to clarify the connection between the art and the museum’s architecture).
It’s a twisting steel structure containing a mesmerizing 32,400 glass crystals. The Fountain of Light is based on a Russian work by Vladimir Tatlin, a 1,300-foot-high structure that was not built named the 1919 Monument to the Third International.
Useful Tips – What Would You Like to Share With Our Readers?
The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 am – 6:30 pm and is closed on Mondays.
The last chance to get inside is at 5:30 pm.
You can book tickets online for 60 Dhs and kids under 18 enter for free.
You can get there by bus, taxi, and there are also abundant parking lots.
There is a gallery for kids too, with projectors and cool new technologies.
What to See
I highly recommend going for a walk under the dome and meditating under the rain of light. Also don’t forget to check out the amazing masterworks by Manet, Caillebotte, Van Gogh, Whistler, and Monet, Delacroix, Hokusai, Mondrian, and Picasso. Finally, the Leaves of Light sculpture in the courtyard is a must-see.
The Leaves of Light is an extraordinary sculpture by the Italian artist Guiseppe Penone. The material is bronze cast with mirrors in its branches. The sculpture is poetically reaching up towards the light that’s filtered by the dome. This magnificent sculpture is a symbol of life that takes its inspiration from the light.
Parting Words from Editor-In-Chief, Zest & Curiosity
For me personally, the best thing that happened when I created Zest & Curiosity is forming this wonderful community of art, architecture, culture, and travel lovers. With each collaboration my heart is full and I learn something new. I hope you enjoyed this wonderful post about Louvre in Abu Dhabi just as much as I enjoyed working with Aya.
Through her eyes, our conversations, and her photography, in these times when we can’t travel, it felt almost like I was there. I am very grateful for this experience. Thank you, Aya!
The Founder and Editor-in-Chief
Zest & Curiosity
All photos are by Aya Alyassin, curated by Tijana.