Paris: Sunshine and starlight will dance over visitors to the Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum when it opens in November, filtering through a huge dome that appears to hover over land and sea.
The aery dome, held aloft with four massive but invisible structures, has an earthly weight of 7,500 tonnes — 200 tonnes more than the iron structure of the Eiffel Tower. It is a defining feature of the new museum on Saadiyat Island, a salty flood plain of the Arabian Gulf, which sits half in the water, half on land.
Jean Nouvel, the renowned French architect behind the project, said he wanted to build the museum “in relation to the country it’s in,” using innovative techniques to capture the sands, the sea, the horizons of the “enormous sky” and the culture of Abu Dhabi, which serves as capital of the UAE.
“I’m a contextual architect ... buildings should know where they are,” Nouvel said as he showed off the final mock-up in the Paris atelier where the project was born.
Nouvel was visibly proud of the engineering and artistic feats behind the museum which, with its 55 buildings scattered around the dome, was built to resemble an Arab village.
With the Louvre name on the Abu Dhabi museum, the outcome had to be grand — even though the Louvre Museum makes clear this is neither a branch nor an annex. Instead, it is a joint venture between the UAE and France, with the UAE paying the Louvre for use of its name for 30 years.
Art works from the Louvre and other French museums will make up half the collection of 600 works distributed over some 6,400 square metres in galleries around the site.
But it is what Nouvel calls the “rain of light” from the dome that is the focal point of his creation. The splashes of light are designed to skip about the museum interior, changing shape and place as the sun rises and sets.
Inspired by the sunlight glinting through palm trees and shadows cast by fronds, Nouvel’s architectural and engineering team devised a system of interlocking geometrical shapes — on eight layers of cladding within the dome — to produce openings for sunlight to peek inside and fall in ever-changing patterns throughout the museum.
“It is the apparition of these spots (of light) that gives a consciousness of time, of the passage of time, of eternity,” Nouvel said at a recent meeting with the Anglo-American Press Association in Paris.
The dome, which measures 180 metres (590 feet) in diameter, also creates a micro-climate that helps protect visitors and art works from the blazing sun, along with the stone floor and vistas of water.