The first emanation of the Qatar National Museum opened in 1975 in a restored early 20th century palace, originally built for then ruler Sheikh Abdullah Al-Thani.
The former museum’s building will be integrated in the huge and futuristic new National Museum, being constructed on a large compound surrounding the original venue. It will be Qatar’s largest new museum project for the years to come and maybe the Gulf’s largest.
It is expected to open in 2014. Its 40,000 square meter exhibition space will be dedicated to Qatar’s national heritage,which may seem a lot of space.
The museum’s architect, Jean Nouvel, explained in a video documentary for the NY Times: “The museum must speak of the identity of Qatar. The Qataris were nomads; they lived with very little belongings. What I like is these tents, these few objects on the ground, these immense landscapes in which they lived. The challenge is to translate the beauty of their origins. These nomads who stopped at the edge of the water found unsuspected resources that led them to a type of modernity that is somewhat harsh. Because the natural gas or oil, and all the industrial riches that came are expressed in ways that are opposite to Qatar’s origins. The challenge will be to show how the new way of life here also has a very strong identity, which is still taking shape today.”
In the shape of tents opening on all sides, of dunes in the desert landscape, of the petals of a desert rose, and still creating an autonomous coherent structure, Nouvel perhaps succeeds even better than was the case with the once groundbreaking Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris. If there may be some questions about the building being over-sized or not in relation to the amount of contents to exhibit, it can be safely stated that the building itself is a transformation of the themes it will represent.
Moreover, the museum’s construction aims at helping it to be environmentally sustainable by making as much as possible use of regional traditional methods of air conditioning, the open tent, and airtowers. This is a principle Nouvel will also apply for the Louvre Abu Dhabi.
Remarkably, with all these national museum projects in a relatively small part of world with a lot of common interests, one might wonder whether there should not be more coordination between the various institutions, but at least at staff level this does not seem to be the case.