Qatar is a young nation in the Persian Gulf, a peninsula, a tongue surrounded by water where the desert reaches into the sea.
The Qatari descend from a nomadic Arabian people who settled in this maritime desert.
Some became fishermen, others hunted for pearls. Some looked to the nation’s hidden treasures, the resources that lay beneath the sand or under the sea. Others, inspired by their country’s central location in the Gulf, began to talk, to communicate, to reach out. The impulse for this metamorphosis came from Doha. A glance at photographs of Doha in the 1950s and 1960s, compared with today, is sufficient to understand how much this part of the world has changed. From a little village, it has become a capital. What could be more natural, then, than the desire to testify, to talk about identification, about the evolving identity of this country as it reveals itself on the sensitive paper of history? And what could be more logical than to give concrete expression to this identification process in a National Museum of Qatar that will relate the physical, human and economic geography of the country, together with its history?
One place was symbolically destined to fulfill this role: the cradle of the Al Thani family in Doha; a modest, noble, simple palace from where this twentieth-century adventure began. It stands at the city’s southern entrance, the busiest urban gateway as it also welcomes visitors arriving from the airport.
The architectural study which initially was coupled with the programmatic study, brought to light the underlying paradox of this project: to show what is hidden, to reveal a fading image, to anchor the ephemeral, to put the unspoken into words, to reveal a history which has not had the time to leave a mental imprint; a history that is a present in flight, an energy in action. The National Museum of Qatar is proof patent of how intense this energy is. Of course it will be home to the traditional geological and archaeological artifacts; of course tents, saddles and the dishes will bear witness to nomadic life; of course there will be fishermen’s utensils, boats and nets. Most importantly, though, it will spark an awareness that could only otherwise be encountered, experienced, after months spent in the desert, in pursuit of the particularities that elude our grasp except when the whims of Time and Nature allow. Or by taking an helicopter or 4WD to discover the contrasts and stretches of beach of the Qatari peninsula. Everything in this museum works to make the visitor feel the desert and the sea. The museum’s architecture and structure symbolize the mysteries of the desert’s concretions and crystallizations, suggesting the interlocking pattern of the bladelike petals of the desert rose.
A nomadic people builds its capital city and talks about it through this emblematic monument built with the most contemporary construction tools (steel, glass and fiber concrete), and will communicate through high-definition cinema, incorporating visitors’ movements into its museography : this museum is a modern-day caravanserai. From there you leave for the desert and you return from it bringing back treasures: images that remain forever engraved on your memory.
Architectural Statement: The Desert Rose
The National Museum of Qatar emerges from a desert that has ventured all the way to the sea. On the site, the Royal Palace of Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani rises up, a twentieth-century landmark of major heritage value to Qatar.
The National Museum is dedicated to the history of Qatar. Symbolically, its architecture evokes the desert, its silent and eternal dimension, but also the spirit of modernity and daring that have come along and shaken up what seemed unshakeable. So it’s the contradictions in that history that I’ve sought to evoke here.
Qatar is also about the peoples who settled along the seaboard, setting up these coastal towns that became ports of call for passing nomads as much as local fishermen and pearl divers. And so the native fauna and flora, and the nomadic peoples and their long-held traditions, are the very first features of the history of Qatar.
Three economic miracles occurred to shake up this overwhelming tranquillity. The first, dating from Roman times, was associated with pearl fishing and the pearl trade. The second, in the aftermath of the Second World War, was the amazing discovery of oil, followed twenty years later by the discovery of another treasure: gas. The desert peninsula of Qatar and its people suddenly saw enormous, dazzling change and the country turned into a real crossroads, alluring and open, and attracting visitors from far and wide.
The building I designed needed to reflect these three different stories. The first, which covers a long period, is the story of the peninsula and its inhabitants. The second is an exploration of the coastal and desert lifestyles as well as the pearling industry, and third covers the spectacular acceleration that gave the kingdom – in just a few decades – the power and prosperity we associate with it today. Because of its economic power, Qatar has become a world leader in fields as diverse as education, communications, and energy technology.
The desert rose, a flower-like aggregate of mineral crystals occurring only in arid coastal regions, is the first architectural structure that nature itself creates, through wind, sea spray and sand acting together over millennia. It’s surprisingly complex and poetic.
Taking the desert rose as a starting point turned out to be a very progressive, not to say utopian, idea. I say ‘utopian’ because, to construct a building 350 metres long, with its great big inward-curving disks, and its intersections and cantilevered elements – all the things that conjure up a desert rose – we had to meet enormous technical challenges. This building is at the cutting-edge of technology, like Qatar itself.
The museography that grew out of this specific history and these specific considerations provides an experience that’s architectural, spatial and sensory all at once. Inside, you find spaces that don’t exist anywhere else in the world since it’s the interlocking of all these disks that forms the building, inside and out. The result is a construction made of geometric spaces.
I owe my love of things that aren’t quite vertical to one of my teachers and mentors, Claude Parent, with whom I worked a great deal. A number of floors are on an incline. You walk under them, you walk up, and you become aware that there are hardly any vertical lines anywhere. Looking more closely, you can find a few elements that appear to be vertical but, in reality, are not. You only get the impression they are because that’s the natural scheme of things.
The museum occupies a vast area. From the moment you step inside you’re struck by the relationship between the form and the scale, between the theme and the different eras dealt with… between the small desert rose that comes down to us from out of the mists of time and this outsize creation. As for the desert, it’s always there, even if it has morphed into something else completely.
As you walk through the different volumes, you never know what’s coming next in terms of the architecture. The idea was to create contrasts, spring surprises. You might, for instance, go from one room closed-off pretty high up by a slanting disk to another room with a much lower intersection. This produces something dynamic, tension.
As in a lot of other museums, the circuit forms a loop. The complete tour takes about two hours and ends in discovery of the old Royal Palace, which has been restored. From certain points, you can access the Baraha. Following the time-honoured template, this is a central courtyard surrounded by buildings where travellers would come and unload their merchandise.
The Baraha gives an idea of the scale of the Royal Palace. It’s a sheltered space, with the museum built around it. Thanks to disks tilted at different angles, it also offers shade. This space can accommodate outdoor events, performances, theatre pieces, events connected to the exhibitions. The Baraha is also connected to the outdoor spaces of the old palace. From there, you can stroll along a promenade at the water’s edge.
I wanted to create a structure that evoked the local geography and, in keeping with the tradition of the place, to ensure that it offers maximum protection from the sun.
The building is extremely energy efficient. The disks that make up its structure are heavy and form a sort of cushioned barrier that acts as a sunscreen. When the sun hits the building from east or west, the disks cast long protective shadows. The building doesn’t have a lot of openings, and the few windows it does have are set back so that they’re always out of reach of the sun. The interior spaces can be air conditioned more economically as a result.
The skin of the building is made of high-performance glass fibre-reinforced concrete that’s the same sandy beige colour inside and outside the building.
As for the museography, I have worked in close collaboration with the National Museum to launch the opening with a series of films that provide glimpses of different aspects of Qatar and its history. Made by filmmakers and video artists handpicked for their talent as creators of evocative poetic images, these films are sensitive testaments to past eras. They will never be shown anywhere else, as they’ve been made specifically for the museum and formatted to fit the shape and scale of the walls they’re screened on. The films translate the way the architecture is tailored to the expression of a museography specifically designed to evoke the scale and power of the land and history of Qatar, from time immemorial to the present moment.
DOHA - NATIONAL MUSEUM OF QATAR
Location: Al Corniche Street, Doha, QATAR
Client: Qatar Museums (QM) (Doha,Qatar)
Client Representative: ASTAD / Qatar Petroleum (QP) (Doha, Qatar)
Contract: Architecture & museography
Jean NOUVEL – Ateliers Jean Nouvel (Paris, FR)
Management Area Manager & Project Director: Hafid RAKEM
General Manager: Eric MARIA (EMA)
Project Delivery Manager (Studies): Brian WAIT
Studies and Construction:
Lead Architects: Philippe CHARPIOT, Nikola RADOVANOVIC
QAQC Manager (Design and construction stages): Daniela Fortuna
Concept Design: Toshihiro KUBOTA, Eric STEPHANY
• Public Reception Areas - Public reception areas and lobbies occupying approximately 3 000 m² on two levels.
• Permanent and Temporary Exhibit Galleries - A 1700 m² temporary gallery and 7 000 m² of permanent galleries forming a ring around a central courtyard.
• Auditorium - A 213-seat auditorium located adjacent to the main public lobby.
• Restoration Laboratories - Two restoration/conservation laboratories located in the basement and on the second floor.
• Administrative Offices - Administrative offices and conference rooms for approximately 150 staff.
• Food service Areas - Two cafes located adjacent to the lobby and within the permanent galleries. One panoramic restaurant and kitchen located on the top floor.
• School Group facilities - A school drop off and orientation area located adjacent to the main public lobby.
• VIP facilities - A VIP drop off and reception area located adjacent to the main public lobby.
• Support facilities - Includes toilets for visitors and staff, support staff offices, storage areas, loading areas and technical rooms.
• Public Park - A public park covering 11.5 hectares including concrete dunes, planted areas, kiosks and an artificial lagoon.
• Parking and roads - Located within the park area. Includes roadways and parking areas for staff, visitors, buses, excursion vehicles, and emergency and delivery vehicles.
The Museum in numbers
Site area 143 145 m² (the whole site is 660 meters long x 330 meters width)
Area covered by building 33 618 m² (the building is 330 meters long x 170 meters width)
Landscaped area 112 000 m²
Gross floor area: 52 167 m²
Exterior cladding area 110 000 m²
Usable floor area 30 064 m²
Permanent exhibition spaces 7000 m²
Temporary exhibition spaces 1700 m²
The Galleries in numbers
11 interlinked galleries forming a 1.5 km visitor’s path
Nearly 3000 m² of projected Art Films created specially for the Museum, requiring 120 4K specially designed video-projectors
Creation of 1876 models (sycamore architectural models, fauna and flora replicas, reconstitutions)
The Construction in numbers
Number of Foundations Piles 1892 units
Tons of Steelwork
• Concrete Reinforcement 8189 Tons
• Structural Steelwork (discs) 17612 Tons
• Infrastructure : 21173 m3
• Superstructure : 18881 m3
• Total : 40054 m3
FRC Cladding area : 115 000 m2
Number of FRC Cladding Elements 76 000 Nos
Number of Disks Elements 539 Nos
Kilometer of Cladding Joints Length 232 Km
Smallest Disk Size 14 m
Largest Disk Size 87 m
Duration of studies and construction works
Beginning of studies January 2008
Project validation May 2008
Development Studies up to Tender May 2008 – Dec 2010
Museography Studies September 2011 – June 2017
Preliminary works on Site February 2010 – May 2012
(Demolition, levelling, excavations, piling)
Building Construction September 2011 - May 2018
FF&E June 2015 – March 2018
Museography works September 2017 – March 2019
INTERIOR DESIGN BY KOICHI TAKADA ARCHITECTS
Located on a 1.5 million-square-foot site at the south end of Doha’s Corniche, the National Museum of Qatar will be the first monument visible to travellers arriving from the airport. The exterior of the National Museum of Qatar was designed by French architect and Pritzker prize winner, Jean Nouvel. The forms and materials used by Koichi Takada Architects aim to respect and complement Jean Nouvel’s architecture.
Principal Architect, Koichi Takada, explains, “Talking to H.E. Sheikha Al Mayassa and to the Qatar Museums Authority (QMA) has opened my eyes to a culturally rich way of life, which has inspired me. They passionately talked about the iconic nature of Dahl Al Misfir (Cave of Light), located in the heart of Qatar, and introduced me to the ritual of majlis floor dining, a bit like my favourite childhood memory of Japanese tatami floor dining. Designing the interiors of the National Museum of Qatar was an opportunity to create a unique experience for visitors to immerse in Qatar’s cultural heritage; the traditional and historical past, and its development into a modern state as the cultural hub of the Middle East.”
The interior design concept “desert-scapes” was carefully curated to create a local cultural experience for visitors, while bowing to Jean Nouvel’s architectural masterpiece:
“The architecture is a representation of the desert rose mineral formation; a connection to nature. Each interior space offers a fragment of the Qatari history, that aims to enhance and fulfil both, a cultural and memorable experience for museum visitors.”
The design of the Interiors by Koichi Takada Architects in the National Museum of Qatar is a Narrative of the Qatari history. The designs are an embodiment of the Qatari history, the beginnings of the trade, nomadic lifestyle and beautiful natural environment. Through many conversations with the local Qatari people, the designs evolved to translate a story into a visual design and memorable experience.
The Dahl Al Misfir (Cave of Light), located in the heart of Qatar, is a beautiful underground sanctuary formed largely from fibrous gypsum crystals that give off a faint, moon-like, phosphorescent glow. Gypsum can appear in formations of clusters, such as the famous ‘desert rose’, but can also crystallize in other forms of fluorescent and translucent shapes, interacting with light and transforming the space, evolving through the day.
The timber walls of the museum shops were inspired by Dahl Al Misfir. Its organic architecture echoes Koichi Takada’s vision of bringing nature back into architecture, establishing relationships that connect people and nature through design. Using a cutting-edge 3D modelling software, Koichi Takada Architects achieved a design of curves and surfaces that words fail to describe.
Imagine putting together the 40,000 wooden pieces of a three-dimensional puzzle? Each wooden piece, CNC-cut in Italy, is entirely unique so it could only fit with its exact complementary piece. They were assembled by hand in Doha by Italian master carpenter, Claudio Devoto and his team of artisans.
The intensity of the design and craftsmanship pays homage to Jean Nouvel's desert rose inspired architecture and celebrates the natural Qatari heritage of the desert-scape.
The Café 875 was inspired by traditional Qatari gold jewellery, particularly the medallion rings. ‘875’ represents a grade of fineness or purity of gold. It is very rare to come across, and it is only available in the Arab world.
The interior of the Café offers two out of four medallions for visitors to experience the unique Majilis, a traditional setting from the Qatari Bedouin nomadic lifestyle and enduring hospitality. The other two medallions accommodate visitors with more familiar contemporary café seating. The fabric takes on a circular pattern for the banquette seats and blends the traditional black and white stripes of the Al Sadu weaving heritage, gradually fading, symbolising the transition into a modern Qatar.
Café 875 is located on the mezzanine floor over the main lobby and was designed to ‘hide’ from your sightline so that it does not physically overwhelm the arrival experience intended by Jean Nouvel. Not to be seen from the lobby, the wooden profiles of medallions are angled to follow the ceiling of architecturally impressive interlocking disks flying over the main lobby and the café.
The medallions were also designed with a special up-lighting effect that evokes the allure of 875 gold. Each medallion is designed to cast a ring of light onto the architectural ceiling and intended to attract visitors to come up to the mezzanine and discover the ‘invisible’ café.
Desert Rose Café
The Desert Rose Café is located on the ground floor under the large structure and opens to both the lagoon (at the Corniche side) and to the Caravanserai courtyard. The café is an oasis of Desert Rose formations, offering a perfect mid-way resting spot for visitors to break the journey through the galleries. The design of Desert Rose Café is a direct reference to the impressive urban scale of Jean Nouvel’s architecture, re-imagined at a human scale, just like the naturally occurring Desert Rose mineral formation that pops out as a crystallizing jewel from an otherwise vast and endless desert.
The Desert Rose Café is hidden under a large architectural disk, with a low ceiling, it almost feels like coming into a cave. The subtle ambient floor lighting is designed among interlocking discs of the banquette seating, taking away the visitor’s focus from the otherwise compressed nature of this space. The lighting concept gives a soft glow just like the beautiful dusk light in the desert and smoothens the intensity of the strong natural daylight, ensuring visitors a respite like an oasis in the desert and a comfortable transition into the on-going journey.
The design of the Jiwan Restaurant, located on the fourth floor at the top of the museum, has stunning panoramic views over the aquamarine water of Doha Bay. The design of the restaurant embodies Qatar’s unique landscape of the ‘inland sea’ or Khor Al Adaid – desert meets sea. The design draws inspiration from the unique Qatari nature and geography where the sea comes deep into the heart of the desert. Jiwan is named after the Qatari word for the “perfect pearl”, rose-tinted white, completely round with a lustre so pure that it comes alive with radiance.
The restaurant takes inspiration from the Qatari Bedouin heritage and rich traditions linked to activities by the sea – fishing, pearl diving, and sailing old wooden dhows. The colours and textures of the carpet fade from the colour of the desert sand beaches to the light turquoise water, whereas the heart of the restaurant turns into the deepest aquamarine blue. The Jiwan Restaurant’s ceiling features are inspired by traditional fishing nets. Over four million pearl-like crystal beads are suspended from the ceiling, gently dancing with the air or when guests move around. The subtle movement above creates an experience for guests as if they were diving under the water.
The outdoor terrace of Jiwan restaurant enjoys the most impressive views over Doha Bay. From this point you can also look over the desert-rose-inspired architecture by Jean Nouvel and the newly restored Palace of Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al-Thani, which itself represents the heart of Qatari national identity. Small dining pods are inspired by the sand dunes of the inland sea or Khor Al Adaid, offering guests the best vantage point to catch the softly fading light of dusk and sunsets over the sea.
Koichi Takada concludes, “The National Museum of Qatar will be the next ‘Bilbao Effect’ and Jean Nouvel’s masterful design is a seeker of architectural magic. The museums desert rose inspired space is a mirage within which visitors will lose a sense of time wandering between the past and future. The National Museum of Qatar will give a voice to Qatar’s cultural heritage whilst celebrating its future identity.”
Qatar is a young nation in the Persian Gulf, a peninsula, a tongue surrounded by water where the desert reaches into the sea. The Qatari descend from a nomadic Arabian people who settled in this maritime desert. Some became fishermen, others hunted for pearls. Some looked to the nation’s hidden treasures, the resources that lay beneath the sand or under the sea. Others, inspired by their country’s central location in the Gulf, began to talk, to communicate, to reach out. The...
- Year 2019
- Work finished in 2019
- Status Completed works
- Type Museums