Shedding light on the Louvre Abu Dhabi

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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!

BY MELISSA VAN MAASDYK

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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Louvre Abu Dhabi, Saadiyat Cultural District, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Pictures: Mohamed Somji, Marc Domage, Roland Halbe

Frank Gehry's Sydney showstopper

Architect Frank Gehry's first Australian building puts the beauty into brick and makes wonky angles work wonders 

BY SOPHIE DAVIES

Here at the Fizz we weren’t sure if we’d like Frank Gehry’s first Australian architectural offering. Described as looking like a ‘crumpled paper bag’, the new Dr Chau Chak Wing Building, home to Sydney’s UTS Business School in Ultimo, provoked the usual flurry of divided critical opinion when it was unveiled this February. Standing in front of the university’s striking new edifice, though, on a crisp, blue-sky day, we felt an unfamiliar emotion. Brick lust.

Another brick in the wall
Rarely has brick looked so beautiful. Gehry Partners' team has used around 320,000 custom-made pale-coloured bricks, which reference Sydney’s elemental sandstone heritage. We loved the way the five different brick types have been staggered in sweeping, undulating relief to create a textured, layered, lyrical feel. Achieving this fluid, curved surface on the east-facing facades required corbelling (stepping) bricks to express the building’s organic form. Hand-laid on reinforcing panels, individual bricks jut out to catch the play of light. It’s a subtle yet stellar look.

'The idea of using brick was part of the community here,' says Canadian-American starchitect Gehry, who admires Sydney’s humane 19th-century high-rises. 'Creating a sense of movement to replace decoration is a primitive one, actually. It comes from the fold.'

TOP: Sydney's Dr Chau Chak Wing Building rising above Ultimo
ABOVE RIGHT: The curvy, tessellated surface of brick and angled glass
BELOW: Five, custom-made brick types form the textured exterior

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Cubist angles
Ah, those Cubist artists would love Gehry’s signature radical geometry, which gives the building’s different modules a fantastical, disjointed Dr. Seuss appearance, with blocks piled upon blocks at jaunty angles. Inspired by treehouses, Gehry wanted his creation to be a ‘growing learning organism with many branches of thought, some robust and some ephemeral and delicate.’

Windows to the world
We also liked the multiple, deep-framed windows on the exterior, which are often sited quite close to one another, yet reflect wildly different views. Due to their alternating angles, you might see a tree reflected in one, a wall in another, a nearby edifice in a third and the sky in a fourth. It’s a cornucopia of vistas that keeps the experience of looking at the building dynamic and ever-changing. A vertiginous glass ‘curtain wall’ on the west-facing aspect is another dramatic detail, dropping down the building like a crumpled shard, providing a ‘waterfall’ of clashing reflections.

 

ABOVE: A vertical 'curtain wall' of glass reflects the environment
BELOW, CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Deep, angled windows capture multiple views of the surrounds

Cocooning classrooms and cloud nine
Two oval classrooms add form to the ground-floor atrium void, constructed from around 150 chunky, glue-laminated radiata pine beams from New Zealand. They also feature the world’s longest timber-concrete composite floor. Their intimate log cabin vibe and oval tables are intended to bring people together, with smaller classrooms and more flexible, open-plan spaces encouraging creative learning. Acrylic cloud-shaped pendant lights in the lower public areas and cafés bring papery textures to the interiors, and are a whimsical reminder of the sky. Let’s hope our invite to a party on one of the lofty terraces is in the post…

BELOW: Oval classrooms are a cocoon of warm wood

Eco smart
Ticking eco-friendly boxes, the building has a five-star Green Star Design rating, using sustainable timber, energy-efficient air-con and harvested rainwater in a roof-top tank for use in toilets and irrigation. There are also 160 bicycle parking spaces in the basement, along with showers, lockers and changing areas, to encourage cycling (compared to just 20 car spots).

Space-age stairways
Dominating the main lobby, a polished, jagged stainless-steel staircase forms a sculptural focus point, typical of Gehry’s space-age style. Manufactured by Queensland's Urban Art Projects, it’s intended to encourage flexible interaction of people and ideas. There are 12 storeys above ground, and 14 in total. Another stairway, made of Victorian ash, wraps around an oval classroom on level 3, linking to a student lounge above. Cocooning just got contemporary.

ABOVE: Sculptural staircases include a stainless-steel lobby head-turner 

Cultural ribbon
Named after the Australian-Chinese businessman and philanthropist who donated $20 million to the project, the landmark Dr Chau Chak Wing Building is bounded by Ultimo Road, Mary Ann Street and Omnibus Lane in Ultimo, rearing over nearby Chinatown. An entrance is also planned from The Goods Line, a pedestrian thoroughfare similar to The High Line in Manhattan, currently being developed by Aspect Studios as an urban space. Sydney’s newest icon will also form part of the ‘Cultural Ribbon’, a foreshore walk which will run from the Australian Museum, Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Opera House to the design-focussed Powerhouse Museum at the southern end of the city via Barangaroo and Darling Harbour’s Maritime Museum.

Crumpled paper bag? We consider it a compliment. 

Pictures: Sophie Davies, Andrew Worssam worssamphotography.com 

To China With Love

Showstopping UK design company Stufish Entertainment Architects is strutting its stuff in central China. East greets west...

BY DEE IVA

If you’re going to stage a theatrical, dramatic and spectacular show these days you’ll need a theatrical, dramatic and spectacular building. This was obviously the thinking behind the newly opened Han Show Theatre in Wuhan, China. Purpose-built to house The Han Show, a visually stunning extravaganza of acrobatics, dance, music and light by Franco Dragone, this futuristic theatre brings New World technology to the heart of a rapidly changing Old World.

It’s the handiwork of UK-based Stufish Entertainment Architects, which has made its name by creating eye-catching environments, sets and theatres for Lady Gaga, Pink Floyd, the Beijing Olympics and the UK Diamond Jubilee celebrations. Perched on the edge of Donghu Lake, the theatre resembles a giant Chinese paper lantern, bathing the western end of Wuhan’s Central Cultural District in a seductive red glow each evening. Thousands of suspended red aluminium discs form the skin of the building, each lit by a circular array of LEDs. Once inside, there’s a cavernous 2,000-seat auditorium with moveable seating, a 10-metre-deep performance pool and three larger than life moveable LED screens that make sure no detail of the show is missed.

ABOVE: The Han Show Theatre lights up the sky at night
BELOW: Slender support columns resemble the fringing on Chinese lanterns; Seating in the auditorium slides back to reveal a 10-metre-deep pool. Enormous LED screens hover behind the performers on stage.

 

Stufish has been busy on the other side of town too. To the east, overlooking Shahu Lake, another lyrical building sits waiting expectantly for cinema buffs to wander into the world’s first indoor movie theme park. Showcasing interactive performances, 4D and 5D cinema screens, and film-themed rides, the Wanda Movie Park is a state-of-the-art entertainment complex, spread over 80,000 square metres. The sinuous outline of this beautiful building is inspired by the 2,000-year-old Bianzhong Bells on display in the Hubei Provincial Museum. Each section is covered in self-cleaning golden aluminium panels echoing the grandeur of the Bianzhong in their heyday. Once again, LED lighting is wrapped around the exterior to provide a hypnotic display at night, while the glittering inner sanctum is a dazzling 21st-century Metropolis of light awash with animated LEDs across three floors. Both projects were commissioned by Beijing-based developers Dalian Wanda Group, aimed at creating waterway connections between Wuhan's six lakes.

BELOW: Glow in the dark... the amorphous Wanda Movie Park gives good silhouette; The future's so bright, Fritz Lang should be happy

 
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If these landmark additions to the Eastern skyline are anything to go by, we'll be booking our ticket on the E&O pronto...
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