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.

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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.
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

MPavilion: Open Sesame!

MPavilion has proved a hit with Melbournians, bringing engaging architecture to the people


Each morning at 8am MPavilion unfurls like a flower seeking the sun. The dreamy dawn opening ceremony rewards early birds in Melbourne, where it has taken root in the Southbank’s Queen Victoria Gardens.

Launched last October, this alluring architectural structure is the first in a four-year series initiated by the Naomi Milgrom Foundation, which will see a different outstanding architect commissioned to create a pavilion in the Gardens each year. 2014’s debut pavilion was designed by Melbourne architect Sean Godsell, whose past work includes the city’s RMIT Design Hub, a prototype Future Shack and a radical St Andrews Beach House on Victoria's Mornington Peninsula.

BELOW: Part translucent treasure box, part flower, MPavilion opens and closes daily; The kinetic steel structure incorporates a fully automated outer skin

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Sean Godsell Architects’s MPavilion is a simple 12 x 12 metre steel structure with a glazed roof and fully automated outer skin, providing shelter, shade and filtering the strong sun. It takes inspiration from the country’s outback, says Godsell, where ‘hay sheds and barns, shearers’ sheds and verandas are Australia’s meeting rooms and community centres. They are potent places.’

A first for the city, MPavilion forms a sociable clubhouse for fans of design, architecture and culture to gather, hosting a free four-month programme of events, including workshops, talks, walks, performances and installations. It’ll be running until 1 February, so there's still time to get in on the action.

Swing by for the morning opening ritual, accompanied by a soundscape by DJ Geoff Nees in collaboration with composer/sound designer J David Franzke, then pick up a cappuccino and pastry from the Everyday Coffee Kiosk. Weekday lunchtimes feature a 15-minute exploration of The Australian Ugliness at 12pm-12.15pm, with contemporary architects reading from Robin Boyd's seminal book. Friday sunset sessions, from 5pm-9pm, bring rotating DJs, beer and wine to the party.

BELOW: Inside, the airy, wood-floored space hosts a café and events space

MPavilion takes its cue from London's influential Serpentine Pavilions, designed to promote modern architecture. Each year the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park commissions a summer pavilion by a major talent yet to build in the UK. The result has seen 14 stellar creations, including those of Toyo Ito, Oscar Niemeyer, Olafur EliassonJean NouvelPeter Zumthor and Sou Fujimoto, with inspiring cultural activities to match. We're sure Melbourne's latest architectural flower will also prove a hardy perennial...

MPavilion is open daily until 1 February 2015, opposite the Arts Centre on St Kilda Road, Melbourne 
Photos by Earl Carter