The Louvre, Abu Dhabi, is a museum on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, UAE. It is designed as a city, with numerous buildings, under a large, all-encompassing canopy-like dome that unifies it literally ‘under one roof. It functions on an agreement between France and the UAE that allows the museum to use Louvre’s name until 2037. This partnership combines the UAE’s bold vision of cultural progression and openness with France’s expertise in art. Seventeen of France’s most renowned cultural institutions-‘Agence-France-Museums’- coordinate the art loan to this museum and provide management expertise (Architecture | Louvre Abu Dhabi, no date).
Art | Louvre Abu Dhabi
In conjunction with the Musee du Louvre and the Abu Dhabi authorities, the artworks selected for display at the Louvre Abu Dhabi are based on historical importance, provenance, condition of the work, and a curatorial narrative in narrating stories of cultural connections that span diverse histories, and regions from the beginning of the Palaeolithic era to present day.
For the equivalent of 1.15 billion USD, the museum has temporarily leased the Louvre, allowing it to borrow artworks from the Louvre and other French state art institutions like Musee d’Orsay, Centre Pompidou, and the Bibliotheque Nationale, among others. The museum can capitalise on this illustrious association for 30 years while simultaneously developing its permanent collection of global art (Cotter, 2017).
The Louvre Abu Dhabi currently hosts works of the masters. It has a gallery devoted to Modern art, featuring works of Pablo Picasso, Rene Magritte, and Miro, along with the kinetic art of Jean Tinguely. It features Rembrandt van Rijn’s ‘Head of a Young Man, with clasped hands: Study of the figure of Christ, ca. 1648-56 oil and oak panel 25.3 x 20.1cm and ‘La Belle Ferronniere,’ by Leonardo da Vinci, among other work by world-renowned master artists.
Architect Jean Nouvel designs the Louvre Abu Dhabi. The Louvre Abu Dhabi is built at the centre of a new urban quarter of UAE’s capital city. It is a ‘symphony of concrete, water, and the subtle play of reflected light. The design was inspired by the region’s rich architectural traditions and the museum’s unique location where the sky meets the sands and the waters of the Arabian Gulf.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi is surrounded by water, where visitors arrive by land or by sea. The complex is designed as a mini city with 55 buildings, of which 23 are galleries. The built language is architecturally built to resemble the scale of low-rise homes in the region. The entire city is unified by a single, large silvery dome. ‘Along the exterior walkways, visitors can take a break, contemplate art and enjoy the ever-changing relationship between the sun, sea, and architecture (Architecture | Louvre Abu Dhabi, no date).
The main design feature of Jean Nouvel’s vision is the huge dome that appears to float above the mini museum city. It is designed to look weightless- like a canopy that unifies the entire city and helps read it as a cohesive unit.
The form of the dome is an abstraction of the ‘cupola’ from Arabic architecture. The dome is a complex, almost filigree-like, geometric structure. It is designed with eight layers, each having cutouts of star patterns derived from regional traditions. The different layers have different scales and angles of cutouts. The four outer layers are clad in stainless steel, while the five inner ones are clad in aluminium, separated by a 5m high steel frame. The frame is made from about 10,000 structural components and weighs as much as 50 tons (Louvre Abu Dhabi / Ateliers Jean Nouvel, 2017).
Experience of the Museum City
As seen below, the dome structure is porous and open to the sky but densely layered to create an experience. With the sun’s movement, lights filter into the museum city through the complex perforations in the roof dome. This creates a stunning effect known as the ‘rain of light. The filtered light inspires this effect through palm fronds, ubiquitous in Abu Dhabi.
The dome completely covers the white-walled, flat-roofed box-like-looking buildings in the museum city. These are galleries, auditoria, cafes, and so on. Their scale is reminiscent of traditional-style Emirati homes seen in regional villages (Cotter, 2017).
In addition to being an experiential and visual treat, the dome reduces the energy consumption of the buildings below by considerably shading them. It is also designed in accordance with sustainability requirements and has achieved ‘Silver LEED’ and ‘Three Pearl Estidama’ Design Ratings.
Louvre Abu Dhabi also enjoys passive water and energy consumption through efficient heating, HVAC, and lighting systems. The materials used- stone floor and wall cladding- keep the museum city cool for longer as the day heats up.
Vision for the future | Louvre Abu Dhabi
The Museum City of Louvre Abu Dhabi is part of the UAE government’s larger scheme. It includes developing the island, connected by a bridge to the mainland, as a cultural district with hotels, condos, and other museums, including an Abu Dhabi Guggenheim (Cotter, 2017). Saadiyat has been created as a destination for a global leisured class.
Architecture | Louvre Abu Dhabi (no date). Available at: https://www.louvreabudhabi.ae/en/about-us/architecture (Accessed: 11 December 2022).
Cotter, H. (2017) ‘Louvre Abu Dhabi, an Arabic-Galactic Wonder, Revises Art History – The New York Times’, New York Times, 28 November. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/28/arts/design/louvre-abu-dhabi-united-arab-emirates-review.html (Accessed: 11 December 2022).
Louvre Abu Dhabi/ Ateliers Jean Nouvel (2017) ArchDaily.