The Saadiyat Cultural District has been bubbling away on the back-burner for a while. We hear the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, the Zayed National Museum and the Maritime Museum are going to be moving in, but the one grabbing all the headlines is the Louvre Abu Dhabi. If everything falls to plan, it should be ready by the end of this year.
Construction workers have been hard at work, building what can best be described as an architectural masterpiece. Built on reclaimed land, the Louvre Abu Dhabi will create an illusion of being afloat at sea. Curious about what to expect, Time Out decided to find out more.
What’s the inspiration behind the building’s magnificent architecture?
Traditional Arabic architecture provided Pritzker-prize winning architect Jean Nouvel the creative insight he needed to build this "museum city" on the sea. The design is a seamless collaboration between traditional local culture and modern construction techniques. Fifty five individual buildings will stand together under the main dome. Each will be filled with interior exhibitions.
The ceiling dome, which has become a talking point for everyone who has driven by the museum’s construction site, is a significant symbol in the Arab world. In addition to its aesthetic appeal, the dome will also shelter visitors from the summer heat, thereby reducing the building’s energy consumption.
Amazing stuff. That must be one massive dome then?
The base of the dome spans 180 meters in diameter and will shade most of the museum. Its complex pattern will allow streams of light to come through, before getting bounced around between its eight layers and finally trickling through to the exhibits below. The architects call this effect the "rain of light", because of the illusion of light dripping down inside that it will create. The elegant structure may look light and airy, but don’t worry, it isn’t about to take flight out to sea.
What’s the layout plan of the museum?
Apart from the various galleries and exhibition halls, the Louvre Abu Dhabi will also include a children’s museum, an open plaza, a café and a restaurant. So, when you plan to visit, make sure you schedule a whole day to walk around, as there will definitely be plenty to see.
What artwork will we see on display?
A team of highly-experienced curators has been labouring over the museum’s collection, pulling in art work from all corners of the world. When museum doors do open later this year, on display will be the museum’s permanent collection, and about 300 additional artworks on loan from 13 French institutions, including the Musee d’Orsay et de l’Orangerie, Chateau de Versailles and the Musee du Louvre itself.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi’s collection will span human history, with a special focus on shared human experiences. Spending a day at the museum will be like taking a historical journey through time, studying themes like culture and religion, and examining the birth of civilisations and the first great empires before moving on to more contemporary themes like globalisation.
Is there anything at the museum that's especially for children or students?
You bet. A museum is like a playground for a child’s inquisitive mind. On display is a children’s museum with works that have been specially curated for young ones. The museum will also serve as a way of introducing kids to art collections, art techniques and approaches, while also teaching them art appreciation. Temporary exhibitions and workshops will be set up to keep young visitors coming back.
What's the best way to manoeuvre through all of this?
Multimedia guides and animated apps will help visitors navigate the various levels of the museum, while packing in tons of historical information to help them learn more about the exhibits in each corner. Signage in Arabic, English and French will steer visitors around the main galleries.
Introductory panels at each main gallery will help set important historical and social context for the exhibits inside. Sensorial stations will give visitors an opportunity to experience artworks through braille, textured panels and, in what is a unique feature, even replicas of objects that they can touch.
What else can we expect to see?
The Louvre Abu Dhabi has also been organising diverse public programmes, including workshops, talks and concerts since 2009, to engage audiences from all backgrounds, interests and age groups. These have helped people understand the significance of individual works. You should definitely catch a few of these.
How green and energy efficient will the museum be?
The main focus of the museum’s design is to create a comfortable micro-climate using intelligent architectural techniques. These include:
● The dome canopy that will keep temperatures under control, shielding visitors from the hot sun.
● Traditional architecture techniques which are based on sustainable principles.
● Using efficient HVAC systems, lighting and sanitary fittings.
● Implementing passive water and energy conservation techniques.
● Using light-coloured and reflective materials.
● Constantly monitoring the consumption of resources like water and energy through meters, to ensure there isn’t an excessive use of either.
An underground service tunnel will connect the Louvre Abu Dhabi, Zayed National Museum and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.