Qatar's desert rose museum finally blooms

The national museum of Qatar has a multi-curved roof, which resembles a giant jigsaw puzzle, and is made up of 76,000 panels in 3,600 different shapes and sizes. The 52,000 sq m sprawling structure will be the first notable building visitors to Qatar
The national museum of Qatar has a multi-curved roof, which resembles a giant jigsaw puzzle, and is made up of 76,000 panels in 3,600 different shapes and sizes.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
The national museum of Qatar has a multi-curved roof, which resembles a giant jigsaw puzzle, and is made up of 76,000 panels in 3,600 different shapes and sizes. The 52,000 sq m sprawling structure will be the first notable building visitors to Qatar
The 52,000 sq m sprawling structure will be the first notable building visitors to Qatar see as they make their way from the airport to the city centre.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

The futuristic, sprawling $586m national museum on Doha's waterfront corniche opens this week, after a three-year delay

DOHA • Almost a decade in the making, three years late and at an estimated cost of US$434 million (S$586 million), Qatar's vast national museum, built in the shape of a desert rose, opens this week.

A glittering ceremony, expected to include Qatar's ruler Sheikh Tamim Hamad Al-Thani, Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, takes place today, with the doors opening to the public tomorrow.

"Architecture to give a voice to heritage whilst celebrating (the) future," tweeted the museum's renowned French architect Jean Nouvel, also responsible for the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

The pale, futuristic 52,000 sq m structure located on Doha's waterfront corniche will be the first notable building visitors to Qatar see as they make their way from the airport to the city centre.

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 900m-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.

Among the exhibits is a 19thcentury carpet embroidered with 1.5 million Gulf pearls and the oldest Quran yet discovered in Qatar, dating back to the 1800s.

"This is a museum that narrates the story of the people of Qatar," Sheikha Amna Abdulaziz Jassim Al-Thani, the museum's director, said.

The National Museum of Qatar stands on the site of the former palace of Sheikh Abdullah Jassim Al-Thani - son of the founder of modern Qatar. The palace has been restored as part of the massive project.

The museum, which officials say celebrates Qatar's Bedouin past and energy-rich present, also reflects the country's massive wealth and ambition.

And as well as an architectural and cultural statement, the new museum is also a political one by the Qataris.

It is among a growing list of spectacular buildings in Qatar, including the recently opened national library and Museum of Islamic Art further along the corniche.

The national museum is also the latest in the cultural "arms race" and soft power course among Gulf nations, which includes Nouvel's Louvre in Abu Dhabi opened to huge fanfare in 2017, designed to show-off the progressive aspects of the various competing emirate states.

For Qatar, the museum's delayed opening - originally scheduled for 2016 - has given it a chance to reinforce its national identity amid other Gulf states, said experts.

Since June 2017, Qatar has been diplomatically and economically blockaded by neighbouring former allies, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, accused of among other things supporting terrorism.

Qatar rejects all charges.

The bitter dispute has fractured long-standing Gulf alliances and the new museum will allow Qatar to reinforce its separateness from its rivals, said Mr Sigurd Neubauer, a Middle East analyst based in Washington. "On the basic level, the museum represents Qatari identity which has really accelerated in the post-blockade environment," he said.

At the same time as the reputation of Doha's rivals appear "inward-looking and regressive" because of incidents like the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Qatar's standing is the "opposite", added Mr Neubauer.

"It's really not about the building, Qatar is trying to create an environment and national identity that provides a space towards independent thinking, " he said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 27, 2019, with the headline 'Qatar's desert rose museum finally blooms'. Print Edition | Subscribe