Inspired by the mineral formation known as a ‘desert rose’, the National Museum of Qatar designed by Ateliers Jean Nouvel has opened in Doha. The fluid, futuristic form gives rise to a celebration of Qatar’s future while facilitating respect and remembrance of its past through the historical objects it contains. A further nod to Qatari traditions, the museum was constructed around the original palace of former Emir of Qatar Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani, one of Doha’s most recognizable landmarks.

Part of the museum’s conceptual dialogue between past and future, the palace was fully restored as a central exhibit. Hallmarks of historical local architecture, such as distinctly pointed arches, contrast the ultra-contemporary intersecting discs that form the façade of the new building. The palace and Jean Nouvel’s design are rendered the exact same shade of sandy ivory, creating a harmonious aesthetic across old and new.

Surrounded by both desert and sea, Jean Nouvel wanted visitors to feel emersed in the geography of Qatar, adding further nuance to the historic, nomadic artifacts on display. A ‘desert rose’ mineral form is a literal product of sand meeting sea, with blade-like petals of crystallized sand forming in the briny layer just below the desert’s surface. A steel frame and glass-fibre reinforced concrete form Nouvel’s ‘petal’ discs, interlocking across the 1.5km site. The construction is a truly technical feat, an achievement which in itself reflects Qatar’s progressive status regarding technology and culture.

A central courtyard is shaded partially by protruding sections of the disc shell, which also protect the interiors from direct sun. Frameless windows look out toward the courtyard, gardens and Doha Bay. Covering over 21,000sqm, the museum is pretty comprehensive, with permanent and temporary exhibition galleries, a 220-seat auditorium, a 70-seat forum, heritage research centre, and conservation labs. 11 galleries are composed in an elliptical circuit, and take visitors on an experiential journey that covers Qatar’s past, present, and future.


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[Images courtesy of National Museum of Qatar and Ateliers Jean Nouvel. Photography by Iwan Baan.]


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