Louvre Abu Dhabi
Ateliers Jean Nouvel
Museum City of the Light and Water
Hala WARDÉ(partner architect, principal of HW architecture) ×SPACE
SPACE: The most impressive feature is the enormous, beautiful dome. What is the size, thickness and weight of this dome, which looks as if it is floating in the air? At both ends of a truss structure, triangular and rectangular steel plates overlap on top of each other and end up creating a beautiful pattern for the dome. Please tell us about the background to how this form was brought into the world as well as about its structural system in detail.
Hala WARDÉ (Hala): The project is founded on a major symbol of Arabic architecture: the dome. But here, with its evident shift from tradition, it becomes a modern proposal. With a diameter of 180 meters and supported on only four points, the dome covers the majority of the ‘museum city’ and becomes an iconic structure visible from the sea, the surrounding areas and Abu Dhabi.
To respond to your question on the key dome with several figures:
The dome weighs 7,500 tonnes made up of the steel structure (5,200 tonnes); the inner and outer cladding and perimeter rim (2,000 tonnes); and gratings, walkways, mesh and miscellaneous items (300 tonnes). The steel frame is made of 10,000 structural components pre-assembled into 85 super-sized elements, each weighing on average 50 tonnes. 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.
The dome consists of eight different layers: four outer layers clad in stainless steel and four inner layers clad in aluminum, separated by a steel frame five metres high. The total width is 7 metres. The dome’s pattern is the result of a highly studied geometric design. Jean Nouvel wanted the dome to be based on a complex but visible geometry. The pattern is repeated at various sizes and angles throughout the eight superimposed layers. In total, 7,850 ‘stars’ make up this interwoven constellation. 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. The sand and dust in the air is what creates the ‘rain of light’ effect, as the dust particles bring to life the rays of sunshine as they penetrate the dome’s layers.
The museum will be like a city within a lagoon, using the shadows and water to create this microclimate effect that will allow visitors to walk in comfort in the exterior spaces under the dome. The Louvre Abu Dhabi becomes an urban promenade surrounded by water, a garden on the coast, and a refuge for the visitors.
SPACE: Built inside the building located in a desert area, the water space creates beautiful scenery of light and water. We heard that this internal water space has another special role apart from presenting a stunning atmosphere. Please tell us about it.
Hala: The inclusion of water within the museum city was always an integral part of Jean Nouvel’s design. Low-profile but efficient passive energy systems naturally enhance the cooling of the buildings and optimize water usage. The design team employed these passive design techniques to improve sheltered outside conditions under the dome, providing a welcoming environment of local comfort and reducing building energy consumption. The museum will be like a city within a lagoon, using the shadows and water to create this microclimate effect that will allow visitors to walk in comfort in the exterior spaces under the dome. The Louvre Abu Dhabi becomes an urban promenade surrounded by water, a garden on the coast, and a refuge for the visitors.
SPACE: The museum was not designed as a single gigantic space but rather as a combination of 55 buildings that are transformed into a town. Is this inspired by the traditional villages of Abu Dhabi? What was the reason to propose such a spatial composition when designing a museum in which exhibition often takes the central position? And on what basis were those 55 spaces arranged?
Hala: It is the very notion of a museum which is conceived not as a ‘safe-box’ building displaying artwork, but as a meeting place, like an agora. We elaborated the concept like an urban plan, with a museum city made up of 55 individual but connected buildings (26 of which form the museum galleries). The idea was to create the impression that the museum could have always been there, like a hidden archeological site coming to the surface. Low-lying Arab settlements were an inspiration, like the ones found in several Arab cities.
The spatial composition of the buildings that make up the museum galleries was designed as a journey, as a circuit that is both separated from the rest of the museum but also integrated within the urban setting of the museum city. The collection is presented chronologically and divided into four wings, which tell the universal story of humanity from pre-history to the contemporary. The passages provide views to the exterior so that the visitor remains connected to the outside world and does not become disorientated as can often be the case in enclosed galleries.
SPACE: Probably, the most important task in exhibition space design was to control the outside temperature, which easily and frequently exceeds 40 degrees celsius and humidity. How are the 55 exhibition spaces adapting themselves to their extreme environment? We can see skylights and windows there. Don’t they hinder control of the thermal environment?
Hala: The organisation of the buildings into a microcosm of an urban environment through simple geometric forms has limited fenestration and optimised roof perforation, which allows daylight penetration with reduced heat gain in the buildings. The building envelope is highly insulated and airtight, cladded with white ultra-high performance fibre concrete which creates, together with the stone floor, an exposed thermal mass that can benefit from night-time cooling.
A ‘safe-box’ building displaying artwork, but as a meeting place, like an agora. The architect elaborated the concept like an urban plan, with a museum city made up of 55 individual but connected buildings.
SPACE: We know the project took 10 years until its completion. What made the project take so long? And what was the most difficult thing you had to deal with while leading this project?
Hala: A decade is not an unusual amount of time for a project of this scale and technical ingenuity to be designed and built. The complex architectural and engineering concept has made it one of the most innovative museum projects built in recent years.
Certain key construction moments were very challenging for the team. First there was the de-watering of the site to allow for the construction of the museum. Then, once construction began we had to work in tandem with the museum city being built below whilst the dome was being built above at the same time, essentially creating two construction sites. Once the site was far enough advanced, the sea was let back in, which was another important construction stage.
Here is a technical explanation of the ‘flooding’ of the site:
The museum was essentially built on a dry dock and once the major construction works had been completed it was time to let the sea return. So the flooding of the site was the moment when the water pumps were gradually turned off to allow the water into the site at a controlled rate of 15cm per day. Once it was determined that there were no major issues, all the pumps were turned off and the sea rose around the museum city to return it to its natural surroundings.
And here is a technical explanation for the lowering of the dome, another key construction moment:
The dome was lowered on to its four permanent piers in October 2014. In order to do this, the dome first had to first be lifted 38cm off the 120 temporary towers used to build the dome structure. This was done using 32 hydraulic jacks. Then, over a ten day period, the dome was lowered into its final resting position on the permanent piers.
The inclusion of water within the museum city was always an integral part of Jean Nouvel’s design. Low-profile but efficient passive energy systems naturally enhance the cooling of the buildings and optimise water usage.
A decade is not an unusual amount of time for a project of this scale and technical ingenuity to be designed and built. The complex architectural and engineering concept has made it one of the most innovative museum projects built in recent years.
Ateliers Jean Nouvel (AJN) is a world-renowned design firm that gathers a multicultural team of 140 persons from more than twenty countries. AJN combines the disciplines of architecture, urban planning, interior design, landscape design, graphic design, and product design into a single integrated practice. AJN’s diverse, world spanning portfolio includes museums, concert halls, conference centers, theaters, hotels, residential buildings, office buildings, commercial centres, and private residences.
Architect: Ateliers Jean Nouvel
Partner architect: Hala WARDÉ (HW architecture)
Location: Unnamed Road, Abou Dabi, Émirats arabes unis
Programme: ermanent exhibition galleries, temporary exhibition galleries, children’s museum, auditorium, storage, conservation building, restoration workshops, public spaces, administration building, restaurant, café, boutique
Site area: 97,000㎡
Museum buildings: Total – 55 individual buildings / Permanent galleries – 26 individual buildings
All gallery spaces: 8,600㎡
Permanent galleries: 6,400㎡
Children’s museum: 200㎡
Auditorium: 420㎡ / 250 seats
Exterior finishing: 3,900 panels (20m² average format) made of ultra-high performance fibre concrete (UHPC).
Artistic commissions: Giuseppe PENONE, Jenny HOLZER
Project leader:Architecture&Interior design&Museography – Jean-François BOURDET, Anna UGOLINI / Design – Sabrina LETOURNEUR, Frédéric IMBERT / Construction – Damien FARAUT, Athina FARAUT
Senior architects:Rolando RODRIGUEZ-LEAL, Mireia SALA FONT, Anne TRABAND, Michal TREDER, Natalia WRZASK
Architects: Concept phase – Raphaël RENARD, Reda SLAOUI, Youssef TOHME, Qiang ZOU / Design development phase – Roula AKIKI, Alessandro BALDUCCI, Camille DAUTY, Mark DAVIS, Stacy EISENBERG, Marion FOUCAULT, Steven FUHRMAN, Virginie HECKLE, Stéphanie MENEM, Miguel REYES, Reda SLAOUI, Kathryn STUTTS, Jordi VINYALS, Sébastien YEOU / Construction – Mariam ABUEBEID, Sara AL SAWI, Kelly ANASTASSIOU, Donna ASHRAF, Daniella DE ALMEIDA, Fay EL MUTWALLI, Steven FUHRMAN, Maryam HOSNY, Zaina KHAYYAT, Stéphanie MENEM, Youmna NAJJAR, Miguel REYES
Interior design: Floriane ABELLO, Lucas DUMON, Isabella GARBAGNATI, Jaiyao HUANG, Tanguy NGUYEN, François ZAB
Computer renderings: Artefactory (Eric ANTON), Jugulta LE CLERRE (HW), Clément OUDIN, Raphaël RENARD (AJN)
Graphic design: Rafaëlle ISHKINAZI, Marie MAILLARD, Léo GRUNSTEIN, Clovis VALLOIS
Engineer: Concept design – ARUP / Schematic design – BuroHappold, Transsolar / Façade – Andrew SNALUNE / Construction – BuroHappold
Consultants: Museography – Renaud PIERARD (AJN) / Graphic design – Philippe APELOIG, Kristian SARKIS / Lighting Design – 8’18”/ Scenography, multimedia – dUCKS scéno / Landscape – Michel DESVIGNE, Jean-Claude HARDY / Interior Design – Eric NESPOULOUS (JND) / Acoustics – Studio DAP / Cost Consultant – MDA Consulting / Seismic – Setec
Models: Jean-Louis COURTOIS
Concept design period: 2006 – 2007
Design development period: 2007 – 2012
Construction period: 2013 – 2017
Client: TDIC (Tourism Development & Investment Company)
edited by Park Gyehyun | photographed by Roland Halbe (unless otherwise indicated) | materials provided by Ateliers Jean Nouvel, Brunswick Group