Approaching the Louvre Museum in Abi Dhabi from the city, the white, low cupola seems a flattened echo of the round cupolas found in Arab architecture.
Approaching from the water, the shaded space shows its scattered light, which continues the sparkling light of the water onto the architecture.
On a more abstract level, the museum is a ‘city’ with houses, streets and plaza’s that is ‘protected’ from the sun by a Buckminster Fuller kind of dome. If we fold it a bit further: if ‘protection’ becomes ‘conservation’, we could also read in it all a small Pompeii. The cupola becomes the ash that conserves a civilization.
This latter reading is a beautiful one, as it is abstract metaphor of the essence of a museum like the Louvre: exhibiting what is conserved. In a way a museum represents the selection of those things we value enough to preserve is.
The Pompeii iconography also means that one walks in an excavation-site, an exciting place where new things can be found around every corner, behind every door, triggering curiosity. When everything becomes a theme park, this museum is probably the subtlest one of all.
Ironically the building also represents a ruin, in its original state.
Caught in a wave of enthusiasm about this stunning design, I forget to tell you that its designer is French — Jean Nouvel. The fragmented layout of the building is a feature that more of his works have, and his fascination with glimmering surfaces is apparent, but all together it is one of the most amazing architectures I have seen in a while.
We have seen Zaha Hadid aerodynamic stuff; it is time for something else. And Jean Nouvel career seems to have made a promising turn after the controversial ‘penis’ in Barcelona and the ‘Disney’ Musée du Quai Branly museum in Paris. The Louvre Museum in Abi Dhabi is however very, very promising.
If we proceed into the building the iconography shifts. The most dominant iconography is that of leaves filtering the sun.
Secondary iconographies include: a disco-ball, a cracked egg, and the Pantheon in Rome.
The beautiful cupola made me think of defensive architecture. Could such a big construction also be at help against (urban warfare), such as mortar fire and/or small rockets — could a UN-post in Darfur (Congo) be secured by a couple of such protective domes? If so, the construction could maybe even lowered onto the ground in case of emergency, and lifted upwards when violence decreases, representing directly the state of peace-keeping.
Big versions of the images can be found on Flickr.