At the National Museum of Qatar, the newest masterwork by Pritzker Prize–winning architect Jean Nouvel, history unfolds like the petals of an intoxicating, exotic flower.
The 361,861-square-foot concrete-and-steel museum, which opened in the capital city of Doha in March, boldly embraces the past. Its spectacular, saucer-shaped discs form a necklace whose ends are clasped by the historic palace of Sheik Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani, son of the founder of modern Qatar.
Nouvel’s design was inspired by the aptly named desert rose, a flower-like aggregate of mineral crystals that forms only in the country’s coastal regions. “It’s the first architectural structure that nature itself creates, through wind, sea spray, and sand acting together over millennia,” he writes in his architectural statement.
The French architect is known for his daring designs, many of them with over-the-top theatrical elements. His Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, for instance, features a facade made of mechanical oculi that open and close via photoelectric cells in response to light. His Louvre Abu Dhabi is defined by a dome with pierced openings that look like interwoven palm leaves and a complex arrangements of stars.
Nouvel designed the National Museum of Qatar to reflect three interconnected story lines: the peninsula and its inhabitants; the exploration of the coastal and desert lifestyles and the pearling industry; and the rapid economic acceleration prompted by the discovery of oil, and then gas.