Jean Nouvel, the Pritzker Prize-winning architect behind the newly opened Louvre Abu Dhabi, commented on the vital role context played in the architecture of the museum.
Louvre Abu Dhabi, which is located in the cultural district on Saadiyat Island, is made up of 55 white cubic volumes which house various galleries. These volumes are distributed along a promenade of what appears to be a mini-city (or ‘medina’), surrounded by water and almost entirely covered by a geometric dome that spans 180 metres and is made up of 8,000 overlapping metal stars.
During a press conference held prior to the official opening of the museum, Nouvel spoke about the importance context played in informing the architectural language of the ‘museum city’.
“I am a contextual architect”, he explained. “I cannot imagine that a programme like this exists, if it does not belong to the local culture.
“A lot of architecture today has no roots but that is not something that is irreversible. This museum had to have roots.”
He added that he designed the complex to resonate more with a neighbourhood than a building; a neighbourhood that reflects a traditional Arab city.
“Some people might think it is a way of copying what exists but it is not. It is using elements from a time. I am not here to reproduce a medina,” he explained. “You cannot reproduce what already exists.”
Speaking to designMENA, Nouvel commented on the role of architecture and its duty to invent and explore history and context, where buildings are no longer designed to be nowhere.
“Architecture is a way to enlarge the world, to make the world more complex. If you do the same thing everywhere, everywhere in the world will be the same.
“You have to preserve the pleasure of travelling, the pleasure of history, the threads of stories, the attitudes, traditions towards nature, and history which has marked cities with the monuments that are already present.
“All places have the right to artistic exploration that allows them to build and evolve. It should be forbidden to build a place if there are no proposals at the level of invention and exploration,” he said.
The museum’s dome consists of eight different layers: four outer layers clad in stainless steel and four inner layers clad in aluminium separated by a steel frame five metres high.
“The dome becomes a link that determines public territory,” Nouvel explained. “It is a place where we can stay and enjoy and it is also a place that protects us from the sun.”
The design of the dome also allowed for Nouvel to explore various elements of light. Featuring a complex geometric design, the pattern is repeated at various sizes and angles in the eight superimposed layers.
Each ray of light must penetrate the eight layers before appearing, then disappearing. The result is a cinematic effect as the sun’s path progresses throughout the day. At night, it forms 7,850 stars visible from both inside and out, an effect called the ‘rain of light’.
During a tour of the complex, Nouvel explained that the force of the sun acts as a projector that travels around the dome, while the sun rays penetrate the gaps in the architecture like lace.
“I knew that I had to create something that will play with geometry and light. It is a cosmic object,” Nouvel said.
At night, the night sky shines through the perforations of the dome, acting as a “sky within a sky”.