Inspired by the past, to lead the future

Not vertical lines, but intersections between disks and faceted surfaces like those of a desert rose. In Doha, designed by Jean Nouvel, the National Museum of Qatar connects past and future to tell the story of a country

National Museum of Qatar - Design Ateliers Jean Nouvel - Photo © Iwan Baan
National Museum of Qatar - Design Ateliers Jean Nouvel - Photo © Iwan Baan

Client: Qatar Museums
Architecture: Jean Nouvel (Ateliers Jean Nouvel)
Landscape design: Michel Desvigne
Landscape engineering: Aecom
Engineers: Arup London
Architect of record: QDC
Roads design: Aecom & Parsons
Museography: Renaud Pierard
Scenography: Ducks Scéno (Michel Cova)
Facades: BCS & Ingphi
Lighting design: Licht Kunst Licht, L’Observatoire International Hervé Descottes, Scherler
Acoustics: Avel Acoustique
Signage: Pentagram-London
Museographic multimedia: Ducks Scéno, Labeyrie & associés, Immersive
Film consultant: Pierre Edelman
Heritage consultant: Mohammed Ali Abdulla
Photo credits: Iwan Baan, Danica O. Kus

“The desert rose is the first architectural structure created by nature itself, through the action of wind, water and sand, across thousands of years,” says the French architect Jean Nouvel, who to achieve this effect has faced many technical and technological challenges. On an area of 33,618 square meters, the museum rises from the desert along an elliptical pathway of 11 galleries, starting from the Palace of Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani.

National Museum of Qatar - Design Ateliers Jean Nouvel - Photo © Iwan Baan

The history of Qatar is marked by three fundamental events. The first, dating back to Roman times, had to do with pearl fishing and trade; the second, after World War II, was linked to the discovery of petroleum; this was followed twenty years later by the discovery of natural gas reserves. The National Museum of Qatar (NMoQ) reflects these three moments, narrating the history of the peninsula and its inhabitants in the various pavilions, the lifestyles of the coast and desert, the pearl industry and the power of a country that is a leader in the fields of education, communication and energy technologies.

National Museum of Qatar - Design Ateliers Jean Nouvel - Photo © Iwan Baan

The building, with a length of 350 meters, is composed of 539 disks of reinforced concrete clad in sand-colored fiberglass, of different diameters (14 to 87 meters), which intersect to create overhanging portions and fascinating games of light and shadow. Walking through the rooms one realizes that there are no vertical lines.

This love of oblique surfaces springs from the collaboration between Jean Nouvel and Claude Parent, the French architect and theorist, a forceful believer in oblique lines, who urged a total disruption of the spatial coordinates of more traditional architecture. Which is precisely what happens inside the NMoQ, where the many oblique surfaces produce a tension that grows throughout the itinerary lasting about two hours and terminating at the restored royal palace, from which one reaches the courtyard, called Baraha.

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The spaces for permanent exhibits (7,000 square meters) alternate with others used for temporary shows (1,700 square meters), as well as an auditorium with 213 seats, and various workshops for restoration and conservation. The museum also contains areas for offices, two cafes and a panoramic restaurant. The complex suggests the structure of a caravanserai, with an inner courtyard that can host outdoor events, performances and exhibitions.

Shady spaces are ensured by the ‘petals’ of the rose that provide protection from the torrid climate. The internal structure also comes to grips with the climate, meaning that there are few openings, and the rare windows are set back to prevent direct exposure to the sun’s rays. Thanks to these measures, the internal air condition is more economical.

The entire site is surrounded by a park that embodies the typical Qatar landscape, with dunes, gardens that take their cue from the sabkha (saline sandflats), artificial lagoons and oases. Besides the local plants and trees, there is a historical garden with traditional species, large grassy areas and a parking lot for 430 cars, perfectly inserted in the park.