International architect Jean Nouvel is one of the most significant architects of the last half-century. Inspired by the architecture and traditions of the United Arab Emirates, Nouvel has conceived a remarkable home for Louvre Abu Dhabi. This extraordinary architectural feat is also a powerful symbol of the nation’s vision and achievements.

A floating dome of light and shade

The centrepiece of Nouvel’s vision is a huge silvery dome that appears to float above the entire museum-city. Despite its apparent weightlessness, the dome in fact weighs approximately 7,500 tonnes (the same as the Eiffel Tower in Paris). Inspired by the cupola, a distinctive feature in Arabic architecture, Nouvel’s dome is a complex, geometric structure of 7,850 stars, repeated at various sizes and angles in eight different layers. As the sun passes above, its light filters through the perforations in the dome to create an inspiring effect within the museum, known as the ‘rain of light'. This ode to nature and the elements takes its inspiration from the palm trees of Abu Dhabi. Their leaves catch the bright sunlight from above to dapple and soften its projection onto the ground.

A museum-city in the sea

“A welcoming world serenely combining light and shadow, reflection and calm. It wishes to belong to a country, to its history, to its geography without becoming a flat translation. It also aims to emphasise the fascination generated by rare encounters.” Jean Nouvel

Designed as a micro-city, Louvre Abu Dhabi is an archipelago out at sea. Dedicated areas entice and encourage a multitude of activities, especially contemplation. For those who enjoy a choice of transportation, visitors can arrive by either land or sea.

Just like wandering the narrow streets of an Arabian medina, visitors can explore 55 detached buildings. 23 of these buildings are devoted to galleries, which were inspired by the low-lying homes of the local region. Exterior facades overlooking both sea and the Abu Dhabi skyline encourage considered walks and conversation. Specially commissioned artworks by artists such as Jenny Holzer and Giuseppe Penone punctuate the exterior facades, sparking further emotional and intellectual encounters. The tranquil museum environment inspires visitors to enjoy the ever-changing relationship between sun, sea, art and architecture.

An environmental micro-climate

Beyond being beautiful, the dome of Louvre Abu Dhabi also serves a number of environmental purposes. It acts as a shading canopy to protect the outdoor plaza and the buildings below from the heat of the sun. It also provides a comfortable experience for visitors, allowing them to wander between the galleries, exhibitions, Children’s Museum, auditorium, open plaza and café and restaurant. In addition, the shade reduces the energy consumption of each of the covered buildings.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi design is targeting silver LEED status, and has achieved a 3 Pearl Estidama Design Rating. The museum creates a comfortable microclimate with culturally inspired passive-design techniques including a concept based on traditional regional architecture, passive water and energy conservation techniques and highly efficient HVAC systems, lighting and sanitary fittings. Other techniques comprise of the use of solar shading effect of dome roof and self-shading of buildings, optimised roof perforations to allow daylight without excess solar gain or wind flow and exposed thermal mass such as stone floor and cladding that can benefit from night-time cooling.

Facts and figures

  1. The total weight of the dome is 7,500 tonnes (the same as the Eiffel Tower in Paris).
  2. It is made up of eight different layers (four outer layers clad in stainless steel, four inner layers clad in aluminium).
  3. The dome’s design forms a tapestry of 7,850 stars.
  4. The largest star is thirteen metres in diameter and weighs 1.3 tonnes.
  5. Four piers support the dome and create its floating effect. Each is 110 metres apart and hidden within the museum building.
  6. The diameter of the dome’s base is 180 metres.
  7. Louvre Abu Dhabi is 40 metres above sea level; the dome is 36 metres above ground.
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