Much has been written about the architectural details of the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s magnificent domed roof. With a circumference of 565 metres, and made of 7850 aluminium stars crafted to precise specifications and arranged over eight layers, the vast architectural masterpiece is a porous, yet protective umbrella that filters sunlight so that a rain of light bathes visitors underneath. However, what has been glossed over amid the dizzying statistics and spectacular images is what this dome has been made to represent.
Its geometric and mathematical formula is deeply rooted in the language of semiotics. As the metallic stars fan out beyond the reaches of our view, we are reminded of the infinite cosmos and how, no matter how different our cultures seem, we all live under the same sky.
“Architecturally, the dome has always represented the sky and here the cosmography is a symbol of the universality of the museum itself and its contents,” explained Jean Nouvel, the project’s architect, during a tour of the site six weeks before its opening. “Just as Abu Dhabi was a meeting place for people and cultures over the years, the museum is a meeting place for objects of art and the testimony and witness of all these civilisations within it.”
The link between architecture and art has been on the table since the very first conversations about the museum’s inception. Nouvel’s atelier not only laid out plans for the building’s structure, but all the furniture and interior details as well. Every room has a different dimension and each doorway and window is accordingly varied, meaning that the museum is what Nouvel calls “a succession of very noble spaces; each one in the right dimensions and proportion with the content”.
Jean-François Charnier, the curatorial director of Agence France-Museums, the French governmental department set up to oversee the Louvre Abu Dhabi project, also underlined the importance of the dialogue between the museum and its contents.
“The particularity of the Louvre Abu Dhabi is to find commonality of the history of the place,” he said. “We believe the evolution of a great museum is to find a solution by putting in dialogue items from different cultures to reflect our era of globalisation.”
Therefore, rather than be divided into departments, the museum will take visitors through 12 spaces with broad brush titles, such as The Birth of Civilisation; Universal Religions and The World in Perspective.
Crucially, the narrative, which takes a viewer throughout the history of human civilisation will also show that globalisation is not a recent phenomenon, but has had a role to play throughout the ages.
“We are trying to reconnect culture and civilisation to tell the story from pre-history to now with a new narrative,” Charnier said.
This unity, which is a thread tying together every wall and every artwork, means that Nouvel describes the building not as a museum, but as a “little city”. Under the domed umbrella, the gallery halls, exhibition spaces, auditorium, children’s museum, cafes, restaurants and outdoor installations are connected by narrow alleyways laid out like an ancient Arabian medina. With seawater lapping up at several different entry points and creating a soothing atmosphere, the overall effect is one of a floating oasis rich culture just waiting to be explored.
Featured Image: Louvre Abu Dhabi’s exterior © Louvre Abu Dhabi, Photography: Mohamed Somji.