Poster Magazine

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Perched on a tip of land that juts out into the sea on Saadiyat Island, Jean Nouvel’s Louvre Abu Dhabi has the appearance of a hovering spacecraft that has arrived from a distant universe. Its armour-like domed roof, measuring 180m in diameter, is made up of eight interlocking layers of aluminium and stainless steel that as you get closer, reveal themselves to be made up of a framework of star shapes – 7,850 to be precise, each one unique.

The museum, which has been under construction since 2006, is the first building opening on Abu Dhabi’s ambitious Saadiyatt Island – a £20 billion cultural hub that when complete, will include five major museums and galleries including a Guggenheim by Frank Gehry, a performing arts centre by Zaha Hadid, a Maritime Museum by Tadao Ando, and a National Museum by Foster + Partners. Nouvel admits that ‘all have been delayed at different times and different periods over the past few years’, including his, which suffered a three-year delay caused by the global financial crisis. Underneath its dominating dome a series of white concrete cubes house the museum’s various galleries and functions while a series of steps and walkways form the public space. Sea surrounds and infiltrates the museum, creating a sort of traditional Falaj canal that forms emerald pools and rivers around the white cube buildings.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi is what Nouvel refers to as ‘a total design’, as the project offered his studio the chance to build not only the shell, but also the interiors, furniture and all the details in between. The entrance lobby, bright white with sharp angles and various ceiling heights, is not particularly grand. A series of strategically placed large windows frame views of the building’s various internal pools, waterways and courtyards, while curvy, ribbed, black leather seating – also designed by Nouvel – furnishes the space. ‘I wanted to create something a little like a Chesterfield,’ says Nouvel of the leather-upholstered pieces that were made in Italy by Poltrona Frau. ‘Very simple, sober and solid. You can sit and work on them. As a designer I am always seeking simplicity, that is my way.’

It is only when leaving the enclosed lobby space and stepping into the building’s open centre, eyes drawn upwards by its mesmerizing domed ceiling, that it really takes your breath away. The contrast is sharp and unexpected. Here in its centre, dappled sunlight filters through the dome’s layers to create what Nouvel likes to refer to as ‘a rain of light’ that changes quickly throughout the day as the intense sun tracks overhead. It provides a significant amount of shade – just 1.8 per cent of the light from the sky gets through. A cool breeze flows in under the dome, which curves down to the horizon, revealing a strip of turquoise sea all around.

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