Culture

Qatar Is Becoming an Art Powerhouse and Its New National Museum Proves It

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The Jean Nouvel–designed museum is a new status symbol for one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

Eighteen years of development, $400-plus million dollars in construction, a footprint of 560,000 square feet, nearly one mile of gallery space—a lot of significant numbers tell the story of Dohas new National Museum of Qatar. Officially opened on March 28, the striking complex set between the downtown skyscrapers and Doha Bay was designed by renowned French architect Jean Nouvel, who just two years ago revealed the glittering new home of the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

For his latest project, though, the Pritzker Prize winner went even bigger—as befits Qatar, which is now the wealthiest country per capita in the world (as evidenced by everything from the countrys over-the-top national airline to the gold stadium it has planned for World Cup 2020).

Tasked with creating a multi-layered, experiential museum that engages its visitors and invigorates the senses, Nouvel sought inspiration in the “desert rose,” a flower-like formation that occurs when minerals crystalize in the soil just below the surface of a salt basin. Its “the first architectural structure that nature itself creates,” Nouvel has noted.

To bring to life these intricate formations, the visionary crafted a series of 539 large, interlocking white disks of varying sizes and shapes, some set horizontally to form waterside viewpoints, others slightly tilted or cantilevered on another circle to provide natural shade in the desert heat. All are strewn around a restored landmark 1906 palace (now the culmination point of the galleries) and a central courtyard that will host cultural events. Its all the result of “enormous technical challenges,” says Nouvel, adding that “this building is at the cutting edge of technology, like Qatar itself.”

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