Re: Jean Nouvel's recent National Museum of Qatar and Process


Most of you may have noticed all of the new publicity for the new National Museum of Qatar and the project tends to be simply reduced to a metaphor for its inception.  For instance, "The museum’s architecture and structure symbolize the mysteries of the desert’s concretions and crystallizations, suggesting the interlocking pattern of the blade-like petals of the desert rose".  

As most new wealthy cities demand these new icons, I’m assuming the architecture needs to be derived from such a view of laymen metaphors in effort for the masses to appreciate it.  Would this be a safe assumption?  I just find it so hard to believe that someone would invest millions, if not billions, of dollars (or in this case Qatari Rial) to simply reduce their exotic building down to lame metaphor.  Or is the architect just saying this to not reveal their true intentions?

All of the new construction methods and materials needed to be developed to build this structure is daunting.  When seeing images of the steel structure under construction, I can only imagine the engineers having a difficult time managing all of this from design to construction.  To then only realize they are probably losing sleep and stressing out to ensure these disk-like objects are put together so that some artifacts can be displayed, which could probably be housed in something much more modest and appropriate for the region.  

I know this type of architecture has its history.  From the Great Pyramids, Hagia Sophia, Gothic Cathedrals, Eifel Tower, to the recent Getty Center in LA (1997) and Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao (1997) (and many more).  To build these extravagant buildings in effort to enhance and demonstrate their culture status to the world.  Has anyone had the privilege to work on these type of “icon” designs?  And share some insight as to what is discussed in the office during this process?  For example, on the National Museum of Qatar I imagine some tech savvy designer writing a script for these disks and associating parameters to each one in effort to move around and resize as needed.  Almost as if the first signs of Ai being used in architecture for such a large scale and complicated design.  I see the technology on the NMQ being much more sophisticated then what was used in the Bilbao design and construction.

Thank you for taking time to discuss my recent thoughts.       

Mar 24, 19 2:40 pm

2 Featured Comments

All 12 Comments

Please reference On Bullshit by Harry Frankfurt. 

Mar 24, 19 3:13 pm

whatever metaphor they choose to post rationalize the design, that building is just a scaled-up naum gabo ripoff...

Mar 24, 19 8:28 pm
Non Sequitur

Love the hat.


His Louvre Museum in Abu Dhabi (below) is really brilliant. The Qatar work seems to be really inferior to that.

Mar 25, 19 8:29 am

Each of those disks is probably filled with bones of dead construction workers. 

Mar 25, 19 4:59 pm
Non Sequitur

Filled? More like carved out of a solid block of compressed dead workers.

Featured Comment
The shading effect seems like a rational choice for the climate.

I just visited Doha a couple weeks ago and saw it from the outside only. From what I saw it was an astonishing great building.

The entire city is made like big box architecture is the future of urban planning. I found that to be horrible as an urban form goes. Nouvel’s building on the other hand wraps around an old palace and works at the human scale as far as I could tell. As far as it was possible in this city he did a good job urbanistically.

The country is insanely hot and car based. The design mimics a local geological artifact. Turned into a 3d super graphic really. It’s basically a venturian building. I’m sure it will be very popular and well received.
Mar 27, 19 7:19 am

Really? Is this scale needed to achieve the passive cooling measures required to exist in this climate?


Novel's Louvre in Abu Dhabi  is successful because it incorporates a lot of water features, references historical desert villages, and because of the perforated dome, is a place where you can go outside at midday and not have your brain shrunken to the size of a prune by the heat. The Qatar work seems a total miss. Novel has gone from a grand-slam home run to three whiffs and out. He is still batting .500 in the desert museum game. 

Mar 27, 19 8:10 am

Should be 'Nouvel' of course. Keyboard malfunction.


Won't the increased surface area be a cause for increased UHIE in the micro-climatic conditions of this area in the hot-dry climatic conditions of Doha? It is close to the coast but still a development of such magnitude would have some effect to the immediate surroundings considering how little vegetation is there in the middle-east. Just a thought

Mar 27, 19 2:28 pm
It’s over 40c in summer. Nobody is walking outside. But if they wanted to this seems a better version than most of what is happening in the city . A big glass box would be silly. But that is not happening. So what exactly is the complaint other than it doesn’t look like whatever home you grew up in?

As for the scale. Well that’s the program. What kind of comment is that? Like saying the smithsonian would be better if it were the size of a small house. Cuz that would be contextual or something?

For what it’s worth I was there working on water energy food and architecture. Qatar desalinates seawater to have potable water. That is a real issue. Energy is free. Still this building is leed gold. That is an important thing. The context does not ask for it.

It is a technical marvel made possible by a country willing to spend money on quality. They are also willing to do a lot of unsavory things that we can talk about. But that discussion is a different thing.
Mar 27, 19 10:10 pm

"It is a technical marvel made possible by a country willing to spend money on quality." and an unlimited supply of cheap slave labor at their beck and call. The unsavory things are what makes this kind of monstrosity possible, so it should not be divorced from the conversation, as they are making a couple of token gestures towards sustainability.


To your original question, I think it is the architecture press and marketing people in the architect's own offices who simplify these complex metaphors. 

Is the building actually an series of interlocking flower petals? No. But that can still be a useful organizing device or biophilic approach to design, which is valid. This is probably a much more rich conversation inside the office. 

As to the building, I think it's pretty ugly, but Nouvel's Louvre Abu Dhabi looks amazing. Haven't been to either of course. Also, LEED is pretty much bullshit.

Mar 27, 19 10:23 pm

The Louvre at Abu Dhabi is a better contextual design than this in terms of creating a better micro-climatic conditions in open/semi-open plaza. And yes, LEED is bs.

LEED is the gold standard of greenwashing.


Ever dropped a bunch of dishes on the floor?


Mar 29, 19 9:17 pm

this is a fascinating building, a novel way of generating spaces.

in my experience these metaphors are just some stupid things everyone knows are stupid which architects come up with to make their design easy to refer to in shorthand. it's kind of like a campaign slogan. hope vs. maga... i think neither the candidates nor voters based any decisions at all on those slogans. no one is fooled; no one expects anyone to be fooled. it's a decorative meaning.

Apr 1, 19 9:31 am

You overestimate the intelligence of the audience, especially in that context.

Featured Comment

I live in Doha, and I've been inside the building. 

1. Qatar is a country that scales up everything. So in context, the museum looks amazing and not really out of place in terms of scale. Most malls, towers, metro stations, government buildings and even residences are much bigger than needed but somehow they work in their context. Also, you have to consider that Qatar isn't just some country. It's an up-and-coming force in the Gulf, it's hosting the 2022 World Cup, and politically/economically speaking, architectural pieces like this are obviously a statement. 

2. The spaces are incredible, well thought-of and cater to the human scale as well where needed. 

3. Everyone knows the poetry behind a building is a bunch of bs.

4. You have to understand that this is the "National" Museum of Qatar. This means that they only have one chance to get it right and make it as big of a statement as they can. There are other museums here that are much more modest, but the purpose of the NMoQ was to build something that has basically never been built in the Gulf area. 

Apr 2, 19 6:02 am
Non Sequitur

5. Built with the power of slavery and terrible working conditions.


Not really (I work on site) - what you consider terrible working conditions are not necessarily that. 

Plus, it's built already so that's irrelevant. 

Non Sequitur

salve labour is always relevant.

Block this user

Are you sure you want to block this user and hide all related comments throughout the site?

  • ×Search in: