There’s been a cultural arms race in the Persian Gulf for some time now. In Abu Dhabi, Frank Gehry is hard at work trying to do for the emirate what he did for Bilbao, with a 450,000-square-foot outpost of New York’s Guggenheim Museum on Saadiyat Island. Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi’s neighbour and rival Dubai recently hosted the fourth Art Dubai, the UAE’s smaller-scale answer to the annual Art Basel Miami Beach.
Coming up quickly on the rails, however, is the Emirate of Qatar, awash with new wealth generated by its massive reserves of natural gas. In November, I blogged from the first ever Doha Tribeca Film Festival, the Middle Eastern iteration of Robert de Niro’s Manhattan-based cinematic shindig. The festival’s opening and closing ceremonies took place at what is currently the cultural jewel of the Qatari capital, the Museum of Islamic Art, designed by the architect I M Pei.
The MIA’s pre-eminence is now in danger of being usurped, however, with the announcement by the French architect Jean Nouvel of his plans for a new National Museum of Qatar, to be completed by 2013. Nouvel says the building will mimic the shape of the roses found in the desert, a nod to Doha’s past as a fishing village.
Nouvel is an interesting choice for this project, for the building with which he made his name — and which is, to my mind, still his finest achivement — was the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris. The most striking feature of the building is its glass courtyard wall, which uses metal, adjustable apertures cut in shapes that allude to the forms of Islamic decorative art to control the amount of light the building lets in.