This year in March, the highly anticipated and impressive the National Museum of Qatar opened in Doha.
What to expect
Now the National Museum of Qatar attract attention of visitor, professionals from different fields, photographers….
Located at the south end of Doha’s Corniche it will be the first monument visible for travelers arriving from the airport. For visitors The Museum tells the story of Qatar and its people from earliest times to today, bringing to life the peninsula’s natural history, giving voice to Qatar’s rich heritage and culture, and expressing a vibrant community’s aspirations for the future. The National Museum of Qatar is with a route extending over 1.5 kilometres, set out chronologically, beginning with the period before the peninsula was inhabited by humans, and continuing up to the present day. From the entrance the route passes through a succession of impressive multi-shaped spaces until it reaches the painstakingly restored Palace of Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani.
The museum visit follows an elliptical circuit that gently rises and falls, evoking the natural undulations of the landscape. Large openings offer glimpses of the Baraha, the museum’s gardens and Doha Bay.
What is the National Museum of Qatar today?
Qatar Museum has located this new institution at the heart of a public realm that is shaped as a key civic quarter for Doha – one that connects the National Museum with cherished institutions including the Museum of Islamic Art and Qatar Museums’ Gallery Al Riwaq.
Located on a prominent 147,425 m² site, the new museum offers approximately 52,000 m² of enclosed space, including 7,000 m² for the permanent collections, 1,700 m² for temporary exhibitions. These spaces form an elliptical circuit around a central courtyard. Public reception areas and lobbies occupy approximately 3,000 m² over two levels. The 213-seat auditorium is located next to the main public lobby.
The museum has two cafés, one next to the lobby, one in the middle of the permanent collections. The top floor has a panoramic restaurant and kitchen. The two museum shops are available for visitors.
Staff facilities include conservation laboratories, staff offices, and collections management and storage areas. Two restoration/conservation laboratories are located in the basement and on the second floor. Administrative offices and conference rooms are designed for approximately 150 staff. Separate facilities are provided for school groups and VIPs. A VIP drop-off and reception area are located next to the main public lobby. A school drop-off and orientation area are located next to the main public lobby, and there is a dedicated room for schools and learning activities.
Support Facilities include toilets for visitors and staff, baby-change facilities, prayer rooms, support-staff offices, storage areas, loading areas and service rooms.
The museum is surrounded by a 112,000 m² landscaped park that reinterprets the landscapes of Qatar. A public park alternates concrete dunes and planted areas and includes kiosks and an artificial lagoon.
Magnificent architecture of The Desert Rose
The National Museum of Qatar was designed by the award-winning French architect and Pritzker prize winner, Jean Nouvel. The museum’s building is with magnificent architectural design. It seems to grow out of the landscape like a desert rose.
But the building design is inspired by a mineral formation commonly found in the deserts of the Gulf region. The ‘desert rose’ is a rock formed when minerals crystallize in the crumbly soil just below the surface of a shallow salt basin. The desert-rose form evokes the culture and climate of Qatar. It emerges from the ground and merges with it.
The system of interlocking disks reminiscent of the desert rose, surround the renovated Palace of Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim as integral part of the Museum. It incorporates exhibition spaces that fan out in an elliptical circuit around a central court, the Baraha, where outdoor cultural events are staged. The shadows created by overhanging elements allow visitors to stroll around outside at the same time as protecting the interior from light and heat. The sand-colored concrete cladding is in harmony with the local environment.
Materials and construction
The building is composed of large interlocking disks (Number of disks: 539), spherical in section, and of different diameters and varying curvatures (Smallest disk diameter: 14 m, largest disk diameter: 87 m ) .Some disks are ‘horizontal’ and rest on other disks. The ‘vertical’ disks constitute the building’s support and transfer the loads of the horizontal planes to the base. The building is clad in ultra-high-performance glass fiber-reinforced concrete (UHPC) panels approximately 2m² each, fixed to a steel frame that spans an insulated waterproof superstructure. The voids between disks are filled with glass panels, whose frames are recessed into the ceilings, floors and walls, making the panels look frameless. UHPC floor cladding area is 115,000 m2 .Mullions divide the larger glass walls into units that can easily be manufactured and transported. Discoid visors stop the sun coming in.
Like the exterior, the interior is a landscape of interlocking disks. The finishes are neutral and monochromatic. The floors are sand-coloured polished concrete with tiny mineral aggregates.
The vertical walls are coated in stuc-pierre, or stone stucco, a traditional gypsum and lime-blended plaster that provides a stone look. Ceilings are covered in a microporous acoustic plaster sprayed on mineral wool.
In Architectural Statement Jean Nouvel provides explanation about his architecture of the National Museum of Qatar:
"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."
The design is geared to the local climate. Cantilevered elements provide areas of passive shade. Buffer zones in the spaces between the disks create thermal mass, reducing cooling loads. The heating and cooling systems used in the building are state-of-the-art. Steel and concrete, the main materials used, are locally sourced and/or made. The landscaped park features only drought-resistant native vegetation. These and other sustainability measures have qualified the NMoQ for a USGBC LEED Gold rating and GSAS 4 Stars.
The museum with a heart
The National Museum of Qatar (NMoQ) tells the story about Qatar history on a new and interactive way.
This story is explained in three overarching chapters—Beginnings, Life in Qatar, and The Modern History of Qatar (will be opened in second phase)—divided into eleven sections/ galleries. The permanent exhibitions, focusing on the environmental, cultural and political history of Qatar – from time immemorial to the present moment.
Along the museum path the story is told with a grand cinematic atmosphere created by a series of eight art films produced specifically for NMoQ by noted international filmmakers in association with the Doha Film Institute. These massive movie projections map the surfaces of the curving and flowing walls of the galleries.
They are projected on the interior walls of the museum using a vast array of projectors and video servers designed and manufactured specifically for the needs of the museum. Close to 3,000 m² of projection surfaces for screening films, including 120 custom 4K and 8K video projectors.
With this approach galleries are not quiet museum spaces, but they are full of movement, sound, colour.
Layered interpretation in the galleries enables visitors to research at the level they choose. The visit end in the old historic palace, which has now been restored to its original state. Conservation was carried out by Ziegert Roswag Seiler (ZRS) , the specialist German architectural restoration firm. The works included considerable underpinning of the historic foundations using a raft of micro-piles, conservation of the historic masonry fabric, replacement of badly carbonated concrete elements with new glass fibre reinforced trass-lime elements and the consolidation and in-situ repair of delicate carved gypsum ornaments.
The restored Old Palace ensemble sets a new standard for monument conservation both in Qatar and within the Gulf region by combining cutting-edge structural engineering solutions with a respectful approach to the conservation of traditional material and techniques.
Now The palace that in former times was both the home of the Royal Family and the seat of government will be used for programmes and events, as well as being integral to the museum visit.
Within the main museum galleries, there are six intergenerational learning spaces for families, with exhibits designed by Dutch designers Opera Amsterdam, as well as the play areas in the park.
Interiors that complement architecture
The National Museum of Qatar interiors are designed by Koichi Takada Architects . Their scope including Museum Shops, Desert Rose Café, Cafe 875 and Jiwan Restaurant. 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, cultural and memorable experience for museum visitors.
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.
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 visual design and memorable experience.
Gift Shop and Children’s Gift Shop
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 memorable curves and surfaces
The interiors are constructed from 40,000 wooden pieces, which form 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 main gift shop stock a large collection of well-designed, exclusive gifts, many of which draw their inspiration from the history, heritage and culture of Qatar. IN-Q Enterprises, which operate the gift shops, have worked in collaboration with local artists and designers to develop authentic and original merchandise. The children’s gift shop offer a diverse range of locally designed souvenirs and gift items, including educational toys, books, puzzles and games.
Café 875 is located on the mezzanine floor over the main lobby and was designed to ‘hide’ from the visitors’ sightline so that it does not physically overwhelm the arrival experience.
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 wooden profiles of the seating medallions are angled to follow the ceiling of architecturally impressive interlocking discs 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, intended to attract visitors to come up to the mezzanine and discover the ‘invisible’ café.
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.
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, , recreating the interlocking disc design on a smaller- 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 Desert Rose Café is operated by Chef Nouf Al Marri, one of the best chefs in Qatar specialized in Qatari cuisine.
The Jiwan Restaurant is under construction and will be open for operations later this year.
The museum is surrounded by a 112,000-square-metre public park with gentle landscaping, a broad 900-metre-long artificial lagoon, gardens with large green areas, paths and walkways, designed by French landscape architect Michel Desvignes.
The park reinterprets Qatari landscapes, with alternating low dunes, flooded crops and gardens inspired by sabkhas and oases. It includes a heritage garden of traditional plants and large grassy areas. All the abundant plantings, including many large trees, are of native species. There are eleven varieties of date palm. As well as new trees, an existing stand of large sidra trees has been carefully preserved. This local tree is especially close to the hearts of the Qatari people who regard it as symbolic of their country. All the smaller plants in the park are desert species, including shrubs, herbs and grasses. Everything relates to the land and history of Qatar, and reveals a remarkable diversity given the desert location of the country.
The park tells the story of Qatar and how its people lived in and cultivated the harsh environment and reveals a remarkable diversity given the desert location of the country.
A 430-car parking area is seamlessly integrated into the park. The parking area includes roadways and parking bays for staff, visitors, buses, tourist coaches, and emergency and delivery vehicles.
Visitors to the museum are able to wander freely through the gardens, which at cooler times will also provide a delightful setting for picnics. At night, the building is gently glow in the landscape, lit by Hervé Descottes of the French company L’Observatoire International
There are three specially created outdoor children’s play areas The Cave of Wonders, Adventure Ship Playground, Oil Refinery Playground which will open as part of later phases of the project.
Designed this way the park provides a natural, truly Qatari setting for the museum.
Artworks as a key element within the design of the landscape
Site-specific commissioned works of art selected by Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Chairperson of Qatar Museums, form a key element within the design of the landscape and gardens. The artworks are by local and international artists: Hassan, Aisha Nasser Al-Sowaidi, Roch Vandromme, Jean-Michel Othoniel, and more.
These works include:
- Within the Baraha visitors will encounter the sculpture Flag of Glory by Iraqi artist Ahmed Al Bahrani, which embodies the story behind the Qatari annual national day celebrations in the image of a group of hands united in holding the Qatar flag.
- Standing outside near the historic Palace is another commissioned artwork: a sculptural group by French artist Roch Vandromme, On Their Way, which evokes the long history of nomadic lifestyle and trade through the figures of four camels.
- Simone Fattal’s sculpture Gates to the Sea, located in the walkway toward the entrance to the museum, is inspired by petroglyphs found at Al Jassasiya. The work represents the overlap of time between the past and the present.
- A monumental installation by the noted French artist Jean-Michel Othoniel, ALFA, consisting of 114 individual fountains set within the lagoon. The largest project ever conceived by Othoniel, the fountains echo the sense of movement that is so much a part of the flowing architecture of the building and its contents. There are no vertical streams of water; rather, the references in the way the water rises and falls are to the fluid forms of Arabic calligraphy.
Jean-Michel Othoniel explanes his work this way:
"For the National Museum of Qatar, in dialogue with Jean Nouvel’s architecture, I created a monumental installation of 114 fountain sculptures. ALFA covers the entire surface of the gigantic lagoon that measures 8800m2, and is by far the biggest of all the monumental projects I have ever created, five times larger than my artwork permanently installed at Versailles in 2015. The lagoon is located between the National Museum of Qatar and the Persian Gulf, at the entrance o the city of Doha. This unique situation gives amazing visibility to this public artwork from the Corniche, the museum and the sea. The 114 sculptures arise like majestic black reeds along the 900-meter-long shores of the lagoon designed by Jean Nouvel. Walking around the lagoon, the viewer will discover, from various angles, silhouettes reflected on the water that evoke the beauty of Arabic calligraphy. At moments the sculptures are also transformed into fountains, launching arabesques of water toward the sky, hugging the curves of the museum’s architecture echoing the shape of desert roses."
"In designing this project, I discovered the richness of the art of writing in Arabic culture, and reinterpreted abstractly certain letters in the Arabic alphabet. I acquired great freedom in my ink drawings with the complicity of a professional calligrapher. While I was creating nine groups of letters, he helped me to avoid forming actual words in order for the work to remain abstract, letters themselves being one of culture’s very foundations. During our conversations, I also learned that the traditional calligraphy tool is made from a simple, carved reed. I created this installation in situ in keeping with the scale of the architecture and the landscape, in order to accentuate the importance of wild reeds, fragile elements of nature, as essential tools for cultural transmission."
At moments the sculptures transform into fountains, launching arabesques of water toward the sky, hugging the curves of the museum’s architecture.
When looking from a particular side, the sculptures look like gigantic reeds in the water. The calligrapher uses natural reeds he sculpts to shape his qalam and then plunge it in the ink to draw the letters. That is the reason why Othoniel wanted his sculptures to be as black as ink. Rising from the water of the lagoon, the sculptures evoke natural reeds with their reflections on the water.
When looking from another side, the sculptures evoke calligraphies in the space, an homage to the Arabic language and the writing. Here is an example of a letter Othoniel took his inspiration from in the Arabic alphabet, to turn into one of his fountain sculptures for ALFA.