Nouvel Under the Sun

Nouvel's National Museum in Doha, Qatar. (Courtesy Ateliers Jean Nouvel)

Fresh from landing the commission for the Serpentine Gallery’s annual summer pavilion in London, French architect Jean Nouvel was in New York yesterday for the official unveiling of the new National Museum in Doha, Qatar. Designed as a ring of low-lying, interlocking pavilions encircling a large courtyard, the 430,000-square-foot structure is created from sand-colored disks that define floors, walls, and roofs, almost as if growing out of the desert landscape.

The inspiration for this poetic construction was the desert rose, a formation of crystallized mineral petals found in the briny layers just beneath the desert surface. “It is a kind of architecture in itself already,” Nouvel told AN at the project launch at the Museum of Modern Art. “It surprises you, it is a mystery that nature can create such a thing–and I like architecture that is mysterious, that makes you wonder.”

The bladelike petals became the starting point for a monumental building that unfolds “in a rhythm of asymmetry,” according to Nouvel. The disks are of varying curvature and diameter, made of steel and clad in glass fiber reinforced concrete panels. Columns concealed within the vertical disks carry the loads of the horizontal members, while glazed facades fill the voids between them.

Built for the Qatar Museums Authority, the museum will address three major themes in its exhibits: the natural history of the Qatar peninsula, the country’s social and cultural history, and the history of Qatar as a nation. Within the 12 permanent gallery spaces, exhibits will feature architectural artifacts, jewelry, and costumes, as well as displays about the modern oil industry and the region’s rapid urbanization.

The new pavilion, which Nouvel also described as a modern-day caravanserai, will adjoin the Amiri Palace, a historic structure that has served as a museum of heritage since 1975. A landscaped park that interprets the Qatari desert landscape will surround the ensemble. Groundbreaking is set for this spring, with completion scheduled for 2013.

When AN asked which of his current projects has inspired him the most, Nouvel hesitated, saying he has many “babies in his belly.” However, the Qatar museum appeared to be the front-runner. “This project is very exciting, because it fits exactly here and now,” Nouvel said. “It’s ici, et maintenant.

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