The capital of UAE, Abu Dhabi, has just taken its first step towards realising its Saadiyat Island project (meaning island of dreams in Arabic). Recently it announced the completion of a 5,000 bed accommodation on the island. But this is not for visitors of the entertainment complex island. It is for its workers who are going to build the project. The number of beds will increase up to 20,000 by next year.
Just a few days after this announcement, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed al-Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince, shook hands on 26th May to officially start the desert Louvre project. Jean Nouvel the architect who designed Abu Dhabi Louvre also made a special trip to attend the ceremony. This new Louvre is projected to be open in 2013.
But in reality the deal dates back to March 2007, when France signed the agreement with Abu Dhabi to build 26,000 m2 large Louvre Abu Dhabi in the ambitious Saadiyat project. In many ways it is a lucrative business deal for France. Its 30-year “Louvre” licence and artworks loan for half to two years will cost Abu Dhabi 48 billion yen.
Some claim that the Louvre is franchising or making a branch in the oil rich capital, or that France is now selling off its national legacy. After the deal was made, there was a petition signed by 5,100 museum experts, archaeologists and art historians insisting that "museums are not for sale."
Despite the petition, the next step in the deal was made in January 2008. The Agence France-Muséums – an agency managing Musée d’Orsay, the Georges Pompidou Centre and many more including Louvre – signed a contract to oversee the project.
Bruno Maquart, the Chief Executive Officer of Agence France-Muséums, said in an interview with SHIFT: “As for any new project, it seems natural that some reactions emerge. We wish to be judged by the critics when the museum will be achieved. At that time, we truly expect the French and international reaction to be very supportive and enthusiastic about the museum of the Louvre Abu Dhabi.”
Maquart also denies the Louvre Abu Dhabi will be just a branch of the Louvre in France. “The Louvre Abu Dhabi will be unique.” He defines this project is very innovative one. Louvre Abu Dhabi will be the museum of classic art but his definition of the museum is far beyond it. “The Louvre Abu Dhabi will be a ‘universal museum’ spanning different geographical areas and different historical artistic periods from ancient to contemporary arts, with the use of the latest technologies and methods available.”
Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière, Board Chairman of the Agence France- Muséums and Eminent Patron of the Louvre, explained in interview with SHIFT that the 10.8-billion yen project was an “exceptional challenge”.
He said the main difficulty was “to link Eastern and Western cultures; to cross historical and geographic boundaries”. Louvre Abu Dhabi is designed by Pritzker laureate French architect Jean Nouvel. The world famous French architect has already made his notable contribution to link the East and the West 20 years ago by designing Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris.
His new challenge in the Middle East has its design concept on the cupola, a dome. He said in a statement that it was a major sign of Arab architecture and also a form common to all civilizations. The dome is made of “a web of different patterns interlaced into a translucent ceiling which lets a diffuse, magical light come through in the best tradition of great Arabian architecture,” he said. This web patterned dome also conceived as a global link of culture by Nouvel.
This dome will be located in the island of Saadiyat with its extraordinary landscape of desert and sea. Separated from the shore by a lagoon and surrounded by floating gardens, the museum seems to hover just above the water’s surface.
The cupola seems a massive building at a glance. “Louvre Abu Dhabi has been influenced by elementary observation,” Nouvel explained in a statement. The double-layered 180 metre dome was created to house a "micro-city", said Nouvel. “This micro-city requires a micro-climate that tells visitors they have entered a different world,” he said. He describes it as an “archipelago in the sea protected by a parasol” with a calm and complex atmosphere. “Humans are fragile for a temperature change, works of art too,” he added.
This “museum micro-city” resonates with both the classical past that is the focus of the art objects and cultural artefacts and the Islamic cultural context in which it is situated. Nouvel’s concept is that he wants it to belong to a country, with its history and geography, without in being a mere tasteless translation.
The future vision of Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the president of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Abu Dhabi, is for Abu Dhabi to become "a cultural asset for the world" and a "beacon for cultural experience and exchange". The two countries working together will not only lead to the creation of a historic museum, but will also put Abu Dhabi on the map as a crossroads of Western and Middle Eastern culture, as per the president's vision.
If you feel 2013 is too long to wait, you can visit pre-opening event “Talking Art: Louvre Abu Dhabi” in Emirates Palace before July 2nd. At the event, you can take a virtual tour of this amazing architectural project and also enjoy 29 art pieces which are on loan from the Louvre Paris. In order to ensure the widest possible audience, admission is free for the event.
Text: Mamiko Kawakami