Shedding light on the Louvre Abu Dhabi


Major new global art gallery the Louvre Abu Dhabi offers a dazzling modern take on the region's traditional architecture. The Fizz takes an in-depth look at this inspiring space. Let there be light!


After a 10-year wait, the US$650 million Louvre Abu Dhabi finally opened its doors in November 2017, becoming arguably the world’s first universal museum and a game changer for art curation.

‘I wanted this building to mirror a protected territory that belongs to the Arab world and this geography,’ says French architect Jean Nouvel of his design. A self-described ‘contextual’ architect, the Pritzker Prize winner believes that every space should be inspired by the environment in which it’s built and connected to its spirit, rather than reflecting a personal aesthetic vision.

The dome that crowns his latest masterpiece was therefore a natural choice, being a common sight in Middle Eastern cities, perched atop mosques and palaces. But this is no ordinary dome. Measuring 180 metres in diameter, it weighs an impressive 7,500 tonnes (almost as much as the Eiffel Tower) and is made up of eight layers of perforated stainless steel and aluminium cladding, which create a latticework of star-shaped patterns, through which light and air filter into the space below.


TOP: The new Louvre Abu Dhabi's exterior with the city skyline at night
ABOVE: The Louvre Abu Dhabi's exterior, surrounded by sea and topped with Jean Nouvel's contemporary take on a classic dome

This feat of modern engineering was inspired by another traditional Middle Eastern design element, the mashrabiya, a screen with decorative arabesque holes cut out of it that offers shade and privacy, while allowing cool air to flow between the exterior and the interior – essential in the days before air conditioning. This also influenced Nouvel’s design for Paris’s Institut du Monde Arabe, which shot him to acclaim 30 years ago for ingeniously incorporating photo-electrically sensitive apertures to moderate the sunlight penetrating its façade.

For the Louvre, Nouvel has changed things up again, using the device horizontally rather than vertically, which, apart from constituting sustainable climate control, creates one of the most spectacular features of the space: what Nouvel refers to as a ‘rain of light’. Basically, light is refracted by the latticework, producing a dappled effect similar to sunlight passing through traditional woven palm-leaf rooves, which on this grand scale is utterly mesmerising – witness upturned gazes wherever you look.


ABOVE: The view from the Louvre Abu Dhabi, overlooking the sea
BELOW: Filtering the sunlight, the 'rain of light' effect transforms the museum's interior

Balancing on hidden supports, the dome appears to hover like a spaceship above the man-made island of Saadiyat that houses the museum – at once traditional and futuristic. Below this, sheltered from the harsh desert sun, are 55 white flat-roofed buildings inspired by an Arabian medina (city), which include 23 interconnected galleries, a cafe, restaurant, auditorium, children’s museum and temporary exhibition spaces, all punctuated by courtyards, terraces and water channels, reminiscent of ancient irrigation systems. Navigating the labyrinthine alleyways in between is like exploring a seaside town with glimpses of the turquoise-green Arabian Gulf through intriguing gaps, but once you enter the galleries, you find yourself navigating the world.


Artworks and artefacts from all corners of the globe are grouped according to theme and era, taking the visitor on a journey from prehistory to the present day, demonstrating commonalities between different civilisations. In one of the first galleries, three gold funereal masks dating from 300 to 100 BC are remarkably similar yet come from China, Syria and Peru. In the final contemporary gallery, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s ‘Fountain of Light’, made from repurposed chandeliers (referencing the Tower of Babel), is exhibited alongside Saudi Arabian artist Maha Mulluh’s ‘Food for Thought’, a striking tableau of black and grey circles, which, on closer inspection, are saucepans in which goat stew has been cooked. These are part of the permanent collection, joined by 300 loans from French institutions, including key works by Leonardo da Vinci and Claude Monet, part of the multi-million-dollar agreement that also granted Abu Dhabi the use of the Louvre’s name for 30 years.

ABOVE: Giuseppe Penone's 'Leaves of Light' bronze tree installation in the plaza, dappled with light. BELOW: Artefacts from diverse continents cheek by jowl in the museum's Grand Vestibule

Art spills into the outdoor space too, home to a site-specific installation by Italian artist Giuseppe Penone entitled ‘Leaves of Light’, a towering bronze tree with mirrors in its branches that catch and multiply the ‘rain of light’. This cohabits with a commission by American Jenny Holzer incorporating three stone walls engraved with excerpts from historical texts in Cuneiform, Arabic and French, and an 18th-century fountain and pavement from Damascus.

Grand Vestibule ∏ Louvre Abu Dhabi - Photography Marc Domage.jpg

ABOVE: The dreamy plaza at the Louvre Abu Dhabi

It is this constant dialogue and interplay between artworks from different regions that has earned Louvre Abu Dhabi the title of the world’s ‘first universal museum’. Described by French president Emmanuel Macron as the ‘Louvre of the desert and of light’, a bridge between east and west and between continents and generations, it's living up to its aim to show humanity in a new light.
Louvre Abu Dhabi, Saadiyat Cultural District, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Pictures: Mohamed Somji, Marc Domage, Roland Halbe

Serpentine Pavilion 2015: the ultimate Instagram playground

Love it or hate it, this year's Serpentine Pavilion sure knows how to party...


Like Marmite or Madonna, this year's Serpentine Gallery Pavilion is a vote splitter. Designed by Spanish architectural duo SelgasCano to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the London gallery's renowned annual pavilion commissions, its cocoon-like maze of psychedelic colour and playful slug-shaped plastic tentacles were bound to divide critics. Gravitas is ditched for a rainbow riot. Sleek sophistication for a trippy pleasuredome that feels low-tech, temporary and like a prototype work in progress (the pair see it as exploratory research for a future building).

As the launch shindig proved though, José Selgas and Lucia Cano's alien abode is quite the party pavilion. Exploring its tactile, translucent tubes, and peering out through its colour-changing plastic panels, broken up by breathtaking 'windows' to the park and sky, is fascinating and fun. And while some have been underwhelmed by its architectural construction of woven strips and scaffolding, and rough-and-ready finish ('like waking up with a hangover in a tent'), it's nothing if not photogenic. Visitors agree this is the ultimate Instagram pavilion, perfect for clicking, sharing and liking.

ABOVE: A café and events hub forms the core of SelgasCano's colourful Serpentine Pavilion, which combines clear and opaque walls 
ABOVE RIGHT: Its double-layered plastic skin wraps over steel arches
BELOW: Visitors enter via various portals and peek out through openings to interact with nature; at night the pavilion resembles a sexy spaceship

Being inside the pavilion is key to understanding its alternative appeal. 'The spatial qualities only unfold when immersed within it,' says SelgasCano. The pair 'sought a way to allow the public to experience architecture through simple elements: structure, light, transparency, shadows, lightness, form, sensitivity, change, surprise, colour and materials.'  These varying effects are created by wrapping a double-layered shell of flourine-based plastic (EFTE) in different hues over an amorphous, polygonal frame, with four tunnels formed from metal arches. Some sections are opaque, others translucent, with stained-glass-esque hues and reflections changing as you wander through, and the odd secret entrance to keep you guessing. 

SelgasCano is no stranger to colour, having designed the vibrant Merida Factory Youth Movement skatepark in Spain and orange creative workspace Second Home in London. This pavilion marks a bold change from recent paler offerings, including last year's rock-like cave by Smiljan Radic, Sou Fujimoto's ethereal white edifice (2013), Herzog & de Meuron and Ai WeiWei's sunken pool pod (2012) and Peter Zumthor's serene black courtyard garden (2011) – the last bright outing was Jean Nouvel's all-red pavilion in 2010. What's more, 2015's party pad really comes alive at night, glowing with good vibes. So throw architectural restraint to the wind and discover an iridescent Instagramable idyll.

The Serpentine Pavilion is open daily, 10am-6pm, until 18 October 2015 at the Serpentine Gallery, Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, London W2. Photos by Iwan Baan, NAARO and Jim Stephenson

Ilse Crawford's dreamy Hong Kong den

Comfy, chilled and oh so chic – the elegant upstairs lounge bar at Duddell's

Comfy, chilled and oh so chic – the elegant upstairs lounge bar at Duddell's

Ilse Crawford’s design for Duddell’s has helped put this arty Hong Kong watering-hole on the map…


Absolutely marblelous... walls, stairs, floors and reception desk are encased in sleek travertine

Buzzy, tropical-modern metropolis Hong Kong is one of Asia’s premier playgrounds, but what’s been missing for a while in this mall-mad city are culture-smart hangouts. Well, not any more…

Word is spreading among Hong Kong’s art set about chic salon Duddell’s, a two-floor gallery space, restaurant and bar starring interiors by London-based designer Ilse Crawford. The Central location is hard to beat, atop fashion label Shanghai Tang’s gorgeous, flagship store. The food is a wow, with authentic Cantonese cuisine (care of chef Siu Hin Chi), vintage cocktails and a canny edit of classic old-world wines. Rotating exhibitions, curated by artists such as Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei, and screenings keep the conversation flowing, while the lush garden terrace beckons for alfresco socialising.

Combining restrained elegance and laid-back comfort, Studioilse's decor offers a nod to the colonial gentlemen’s clubs of old, but updated for a more casual, contemporary scene. Surfaces are ravishing, from the grainy travertine staircase to the calming grey paint on walls. Meet pals for lunch or dinner in the third-floor dining room, where yellow velvet banquettes, ceramic ‘Gooseberry’ pendant lights by the UK’s Hand & Eye Studio and delicate Studioilse screens create a convivial atmosphere. Then peruse artworks as you ascend to the bar.

At last May’s Art Basel, the upstairs chill-out lounge was a hub for culture vultures, sipping and supping on day-long dim sum. Modern Italian furniture lends an international feel – helped by the very-dare-you blue Le Corbusier sofa for Cassina in a hot-pink frame – without sacrificing Hong Kong’s roots. Another highlight is the plant-packed adjacent terrace, described by Crawford as ‘a jungle in the urban jungle.’ Yenn Wong, who co-founded Duddell's with fellow movers and shakers Alan Lo and Paolo Pong, puts it perfectly: ‘It’s like being in the home of an art collector who also happens to have a Michelin-starred Cantonese chef and an award-winning mixologist.’

Plush leather chairs face yellow velvet banquettes in the airy third-floor dining room, lit by 'Gooseberry' pendants

Plush leather chairs face yellow velvet banquettes in the airy third-floor dining room, lit by 'Gooseberry' pendants

It's a jungle out there... The green and serene rooftop garden terrace

It's a jungle out there... The green and serene rooftop garden terrace