Topped by an Eiffel Tower’s Worth of Steel, the Louvre Abu Dhabi Opens

A 590-foot-wide, 8,300-ton steel dome sits atop the Jean Nouvel–designed "museum city."
Louvre Abu Dhabi

The Louvre Abu Dhabi is the Paris art institution’s first satellite campus. The museum was built on a dry dock so that after workers flooded the site it would appear to be an architectural archipelago. Courtesy Mohamed Somji

Hovering above the Persian Gulf like a silvery mirage, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is an architectural feat of near-mythic magnitude. Conceived by Ateliers Jean Nouvel over the course of a decade, the museum campus, opening November 11, encompasses 55 individual buildings that jut out into the sea as a cluster of white islands.

The museum’s defining feature is its latticed dome, whose 590-foot span shelters the “museum city” in an embrace of shadow and light. Created from eight kaleidoscopic layers of perforated steel, the roof serves as both a refuge from the scorching desert heat and an artwork in itself, filtering sunlight through thousands of apertures like a canopy of palm fronds. In aggregate, these pinpricks create a visual effect within the galleries that the architects call the “rain of light.” (At today’s press opening, Jean Nouvel observed how the play of light was as scattered and random “as the stars of the sky are random.”) But the dome’s apparent delicacy belies its heft: At 8,300 tons, it weighs as much as a pancaked Eiffel Tower. Remarkably, it rests on just four concrete piers, spaced 361 feet apart.

“I felt very moved by the rain-of-light effect the first time I experienced it,” says Paris-based architect Hala Wardé, who partnered with Jean Nouvel on the project. “The effect is always evolving and changing with the weather, seasons, and time of day.”

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Categories: Cultural Architecture