All climates like exceptions. Warmer when it is cold. Cooler in the tropics. People do not resist thermal shock well. Nor do works of art. Such elementary observations have influenced Louvre Abu Dhabi. It wishes to create a welcoming world serenely combining light and shadow, reflection and calm. It wishes to belong to a country, to its history, to its geography without becoming a flat translation, the pleonasm that results in boredom and convention. It also aims at emphasizing the fascination generated by rare encounters.
It is rather unusual to find a built archipelago in the sea. It is even more uncommon to see that it is protected by a parasol creating a rain of light.
The possibility of accessing the museum by boat or finding a pontoon to reach it by foot from the shore is equally extraordinary, before being welcomed like a much-awaited visitor willing to see unique collections, linger in tempting bookstores, or taste local teas, coffees and delicacies.
It is both a calm and complex place. A contrast amongst a series of museums that cultivate their differences and their authenticities.
It is a project founded on a major symbol of Arab architecture: the dome. But here, with its evident shift from tradition, the dome is a modern proposal.
A double dome 180 metres in diameter, offering horizontal, perfectly radiating geometry, a randomly perforated woven material, providing shade punctuated by bursts of sun. The dome gleams in the Abu Dhabi sunshine. At night, this protected landscape is an oasis of light under a starry dome.
Louvre Abu Dhabi becomes the final destination of an urban promenade, a garden on the coast, a cool haven, a shelter of light during the day and evening, its aesthetic consistent with its role as a sanctuary for the most precious works of art.
Pritzker-prize winning architect Jean Nouvel sought inspiration for the concept of Louvre Abu Dhabi in traditional Arabic architectural culture, and designed Louvre Abu Dhabi as a ‘museum city’ in the sea. Its contrasting series of white buildings take inspiration from the medina and low-lying Arab settlements. In total, 55 individual but connected buildings, including 26 galleries, make up this museum city. The façades of the buildings are made up of 3,900 panels of ultra-high performance fibre concrete (UHPC).
The museum design is a collaboration between traditional design and modern construction techniques. The tranquil environment encourages visitors to enjoy the ever-changing relationship between the sun and the dome and between sea, buildings and land.
A vast dome, 180 metres in diameter, covers the majority of the museum city. This impressive structure is visible from the sea, the surrounding areas and Abu Dhabi city centre. Constructed by Waagner Biro (specialists in steel structures), the 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 frame is made of 10,000 structural components pre-assembled into 85 super-sized elements, each weighing on average 50 tonnes.
The dome’s complex pattern is the result of a highly studied geometric design. The pattern is repeated at various sizes and angles in the eight superimposed layers. Each ray of light penetrates the eight layers before appearing or disappearing. The result is a cinematic ‘Rain of Light’ effect as the sun’s path progresses throughout the day. At night, it forms 7,850 stars visible from both inside and out. This ‘Rain of Light’ effect has been the subject of many models and mock ups over the years and is one of the defining features of the concept.
The dome is supported by four permanent piers, each 110 metres apart, hidden within the museum buildings to give the impression that the dome is floating. The interior dome elevation is 29 metres from the ground floor to the underside of the cladding. The highest point of the dome is 40 metres above sea level and 36 metres above ground floor level.
Louvre Abu Dhabi’s complex engineering concept has made it one of the most innovative and challenging museum projects built in recent times.
The construction of the museum took place from 2013 to 2017.
Interior exhibition spaces
The interior exhibition spaces, comprising museum galleries, temporary exhibition spaces and Children’s Museum, make up 8,600 square metres, with permanent galleries covering approximately 6,400 square metres.
The two-storey Children’s Museum lays out around 200 square metres for Louvre Abu Dhabi’s youngest visitors.
Specially designed by Jean Nouvel, the floors, walls and ceiling surfaces of the museum galleries re-enforce the palatial dimensions of Louvre Abu Dhabi. The floor paving is made of stone modules framed in bronze: throughout the galleries, the choice of stone responds to the period of the artworks on show. The walls provide hanging flexibility: all subsidiary equipment may be concealed within special wall slots.
Filtered natural light can be present in all the galleries, either from lateral windows with views onto the surrounding environment or through zenithal lighting. This involves the use of glass mirrors to capture sunlight and direct it into the gallery spaces while also scattering rays to avoid glare. There are 17 glass ceilings within the museum galleries. Each is made up of 18 different types of glass panels. In total, there are over 25,000 individual pieces of glass. These glass ceilings incorporate both natural and artificial lighting to provide an optimal lighting system for the artworks on display.
The display cases were also specifically constructed by Meyvaert in Ghent, Belgium for Louvre Abu Dhabi. They incorporate state-of-the art materials and have been designed to adapt flexibly to the rotation artworks on display.
To meet stringent environmental control requirements within the museum galleries, the design team developed a system which cannot deviate by more than one degree from 21 degrees centigrade or 5% humidity range. This guarantees exceptionally stable environmental conditions for artworks and visitors. Fire detection and suppression systems within the galleries require special measures in order to avoid damage to the artwork.
Designed by Jean Nouvel, the restaurant at Louvre Abu Dhabi is made up of modular compartments. The intricate interior design takes inspiration from Arabic patterns, which have been engraved into Corian panels. The furniture, also designed by Jean Nouvel, complements the light-filled interiors and panoramic views of the sea. Bespoke chandeliers, designed by Jean Nouvel and manufactured by Mobilier national, hang over the seven VIP tables. The restaurant is expected to open in 2018.
Jean Nouvel’s design for the museum café is inspired by the Op Art (optical art) movement of the 1960s. From certain angles, the café seems entirely monochrome (white); from others, the café interiors are full of colour, like an abstracted reflection of the local maritime environment and port opposite the museum. The floors, walls, ceilings and furniture have been designed specifically for the site by Jean Nouvel.
Jean Nouvel has designed a furniture series for the Louvre Abu Dhabi, known as the ‘Louvre Abu Dhabi Line’. Manufactured by Poltrona Frau, the furniture can be found in the public spaces, the exhibition galleries and VIP areas of the museum. The furniture is based on a modular system that can be adapted to the proportions of the space. Contrasting with the white buildings, the black leather furniture is both rigorous and ergonomic.
Philippe Apeloig collaborated with Ateliers Jean Nouvel to design the signage of the museum. Text is in three languages, Arabic, English and French, and implemented in both Arabic and Roman script. Lebanese typographer Kristyan Sarkis created a bespoke Arabic typeface, Louvre Abu Dhabi Arabic, especially for the museum. This new typeface combines the classic Naskh style of Arabic calligraphy with Apeloig’s existing Colvert Arabic font. For the Roman alphabet texts, Apeloig chose Frutiger LT typeface due to its clarity and readability for signage. The design of the pictograms responds to the museum’s architecture, particularly the abstract shapes created by the ‘rain of light’ filtering through the dome's eight layers. Each pictogram is a combination of several of these shapes, creating silhouettes and objects.
The dome protects the buildings and outdoor plaza from the sun, improves comfort for visitors and reduces energy consumption. This allows visitors to circulate outdoors year-round in a self-regulated ‘micro-climate’. Low-profile but effective passive energy systems naturally enhance the cooling of the buildings and optimise water usage. The design team employed passive design techniques to improve sheltered outside conditions under the dome.
Passive design techniques use the natural form of buildings and inherent properties of materials to improve climatic conditions. The techniques incorporated in the design include:
-Solar shading effect of dome roof and self-shading of buildings;
-Optimised roof perforations to allow daylight without excess solar gain;
-Exposed thermal mass such as stone floor and cladding that can benefit from night time cooling;
-Light-coloured and reflective materials.
Other modern environmental technologies include:
-Highly insulated and air-tight building envelope;
-Highly efficient heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, lighting and sanitary fittings.
Together, these techniques achieve the following benefits:
-42% reduction in solar gain;
-27.2% reduction in energy use;
-27% reduction in water use.
Energy and water metering ensures resource efficiency, while leak detection flags any unintended water use.
Louvre Abu Dhabi’s design is targeting a LEED Silver rating and has achieved a 3 pearl Estidama Design Rating.
Flooding of the site
At the beginning of the construction process, the museum was built within a dry dock which created a new, temporary coastline on the south-west corner of Saadiyat Island, backfilled using sand pumped from the sea bed.
503,000 cubic metres of sand were excavated and 4,500 piles were installed to form the museum’s foundations. This task was completed in 2010.
From 2016, selected pumps were shut down to begin the process of integrating the sea with the site. The final stage involved pumping seawater within the temporary walls around Louvre Abu Dhabi, raising the water level to match the sea level, followed by the removal of the hydraulic cut-off wall and the final construction of permanent marine defences.
This process took approximately eight weeks to complete.
Wave breaking and storm proofing
Louvre Abu Dhabi is protected from the open sea by approximately 280 marine piles as well as concrete breakwaters, tidal pools and a specially designed ‘wearing wall’ system.
The museum’s wearing wall is made from precast units of ultra-high-performance concrete. Each unit is four metres high and weighs about 10 tonnes. The special concrete material protects the museum from the effects of waves and enables the units to resist outward bending forces, including receding tides.
The pedestrian plaza is set at four metres above mean sea level. It is equipped with closed balustrades to protect visitors from wave action during severe storms.