National Museum of Qatar opens: Instant architectural icon

A pile of smashed crockery. A spilled packet of crisps. An overturned cookie jar. The wags have been busy with their wacky descriptions of Atelier Jean Nouvel's extraordinary design for the National Museum of Qatar which, after many delays, has finally opened to the public in the eponymous Persian Gulf nation.

Architectural Digest, however, reckons Nouvel's design "… nails a tough mission: to balance, superlative for superlative, I.M. Pei's pyramidal Museum of Islamic Art, down the road. Not to mention Nouvel's own Louvre satellite next door in Abu Dhabi."

Those who take design similarly seriously would most likely agree that the building – inspired by the "desert rose", a mineral crystallisation phenomenon that occurs in the arid region – is instantly iconic, not to mention a building that smartly addresses environmental issues such as heat and sand storms. It comprises 539 conical discs supported by a steel frame that spans an insulated waterproof structure, all clad in glass-fibre reinforced concrete.

Inside, the 5.2-hectare museum is designed to tell the story of Qatar, from the area's prehistory through to the oil and gas powerhouse it has become. A circuit leads visitors through a sequence of 11 galleries with projections and interactive displays – all devoid of perfectly vertical walls – surrounding a central courtyard. Exhibits include the Pearl Carpet of Baroda, embroidered with more than 1.5 million Gulf pearls, and works by significant Qatari and regional artists.

The narrative ends at the magnificently restored Palace of Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani, which has been integrated into the museum and was the royal family home and seat of government until 1996. The museum is also surrounded by a 112,000-square-metre park designed by landscape architect Michel Desvignes.

Take a look at the museum in the photo gallery above.

See qm.org.qa

See also: The Louvre Abu Dhabi: A magnificent new jewel in the sands

See also: Six of the best Doha architectural triumphs

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