Nouvel’s desert rose finally blooms as Qatar inaugurates national museum

Patrick Baz, AFP, National Museum of Qatar | Qatari officials arrive at the inauguration ceremony of the National Museum of Qatar on March 27.

Almost a decade in the making and at an estimated cost of $434 million, Qatar's vast national museum, designed by French architect Jean Nouvel to resemble a desert rose, finally opened to the public on Thursday.


Even in a country which is being built, rebuilt and utterly transformed for the 2022 football World Cup, the national museum could be the single most eye-catching design of all Qatar's new buildings.

The entrance includes 114 fountain sculptures in a 900-metre long lagoon and the museum's multi-curved roof, which resembles a giant jigsaw puzzle, is made up of 76,000 panels in 3,600 different shapes and sizes.

The design is intended to closely echo the shape of a real desert rose – clusters of crystal which form in the desert naturally, in certain conditions.

It's a stunning sight and one of the first things visitors see after they land in Doha and drive away from the airport.

That's one of the reason's the building's architect, Pritzker Prize-winning Jean Nouvel, knew his latest project needed to have a big impact.

"The building has to be a symbol. It has to be with a lot of dignity. It cannot be something fragile,” he explains. “So for a long time. […] The ambition is to be an iconic building and to create a destination.”

As well as an architectural and cultural statement, the new museum is also a political one by the Qataris, adding to a growing list of spectacular buildings that include the recently opened national library and the Museum of Islamic Art.

The national museum is also the latest in the cultural "arms race" and soft power contest among Gulf nations, coming two years after Abu Dhabi opened its Louvre museum, also by Nouvel, to huge fanfare.

Qatar’s story

Visitors will journey through eleven permanent galleries, each telling a part of Qatar’s story, from prehistoric times all the way through to modernity. By the time they've seen them all, they will have walked 1.5 kilometres.

To tell this story, Qatar Museum started by inviting ordinary Qataris to share their stories and memories of the country, through more than 500 on-camera oral history interviews.

In-depth discussions with local and international experts informed the themes that emerged in the exhibition plan.

One of those themes is Qatar's modern-day success story, a topic Nouvel sought to capture in his architecture.

He wanted the building's design to have a connection with the country's emergence onto the global stage.

"I wanted to talk about modernity, because in Qatar with the adventure of discovery of pearls, and after, oil, and after gas, it's changed totally the scale of the economy,” the French architect explains.

The museum is also geared towards providing different kinds of educational opportunities for young students in Qatar.

"What's exciting about the National Museum is that there's something for everyone,” says Saif Al Kuwari, deputy director of operations for Qatar Museums. “No matter if you're a Qatari or a tourist or an expat who's living in Qatar, I guarantee you will find out something that you didn't know about Qatar or its culture.”

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning