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

Frette x Dimorestudio

London's Mayfair has just had an injection of modern Italian style at the new Frette store in South Audley Street. The Fizz says molto bene!

BY DEE IVA

Emiliano Salci and Britt Moran of Milanese design studio Dimorestudio have brought the glamour and sophistication of a sleek Italian palazzo to the new Frette store in London’s Mayfair.

Opulent materials such as Marquina marble, emerald green glass and brushed brass create a stylish space to showcase Frette’s new Autumn Winter collections of luxury bed, bath and table linens, and nightwear. We’re particularly loving the beautiful duck egg blue walls, the colour-zoned floors and the elegant illuminated stairwell which features black glazed metal set on opal white glass. If you feel the need to take a pew, classic designs including Gerrit Rietveld's 'Utrecht' armchair and Charlotte Perriand's 'LC7' chair for Cassina are dotted around too. 

ABOVE: Glossy dark blue cabinets with brushed brass handles, full height sliding panels and clever lighting are just some of the luxe details in Frette's new London showroom
BELOW: Black marble and polished concrete is used to great effect. We love the change of colour in the floors to mark out different zones 

ABOVE: Incorporating emerald green and opal white glass, black metal, concrete and steel, the illuminated stairwell is a masterful mix of materials 

To mark the opening of the new Mayfair boutique, Brit designer Ashley Hicks has collaborated with Frette on a new range of embroidered geometric bed linen that will be exclusive to the store and available online in the UK. If you’re in the market for something more bespoke, head down to the lower ground floor where you can add your own touches to any item from Frette’s collections. 

Dimorestudio has pulled out all the design stops here, so much so that we just want to bed down and snuggle up for the night. Zzz...
frette.com  dimorestudio.eu

Tate Modern Switch House

Bold and beautiful, Switch House, Tate Modern's iconic new wing, is a welcome addition to London's South Bank 

BY DEE IVA

When London’s Tate Modern opened in 2000 on the South Bank of the Thames it was the talk of the town. Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron transformed a derelict power station into the world’s most popular modern art gallery. Its sheer scale and industrial aesthetic was not only a perfect backdrop to the vast collection of contemporary artworks and high-profile exhibitions but also captured the late Nineties minimalist zeitgeist.

Now, 16 years later, Tate Modern has an exciting new extension that is bound to set tongues wagging again. With its twisted, angular shape and horizontal slashes for windows, the 10-storey, pyramid-like Switch House is a bold addition to the original gallery, increasing display space by 60 per cent. Launching on 17 June 2016, its unveiling will be accompanied by a total rehang of the gallery's international collection, including fresh acquisitions. 

ABOVE: The brutal, modernist style of the new Switch House complements the existing Tate Modern
ABOVE RIGHT: Sharp angles and horizontal lines bring a new architectural language to the South Bank
BELOW: Light filters through the lattice skin of bricks; snaking staircases, concrete and pale woods create airy industrial spaces within

Set above the underground tanks once used to store oil for the original power station, Herzog and de Meuron's new baby is the most important cultural building to open in London in almost 20 years. Its size and unusual torqued shape has already divided opinion with descriptions ranging from beautiful to brutalist. Using polished concrete, pale wooden floors, exposed girders and snaking staircases, the Switch House continues Tate Modern's industrial vibe but its most striking feature is the ingenious external perforated lattice of 336,000 bricks which allows light to filter through in the day and seep out at night. Three floors of galleries are accompanied by a restaurant, members' room and rooftop terrace offering panoramic 360-degree views over London. And the old subterranean tanks, each measuring over 30 metres across and seven metres high, have now been revamped as The Tanks to house live performances, interactive art and video installations.

With the Design Museum due to move from Shad Thames to the former Commonwealth Institute in Kensington later this year – closing on 30 June and reopening on 24 November – the capital's art and design scene will soon be graced by two spectacular pieces of publicly accessible architecture that can hold their own on the international stage. It's proof of just how important the arts are to the city and more evidence of London's cutting-edge creativity.
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BELOW: The tenth-floor viewing platform at Switch House can also be hired for events for up to 150 guests; Switch House really comes alive at night as it glows in the dark 

Tate Modern Switch House launches on 17 June 2016. To mark the opening weekend there will be a host of free events including film, music, tours and workshops from 17-19 June (10am-10pm). For more information visit tate.org.uk; Tate Modern, Bankside, London SE1.

Photos: Iwan Baan