Modern white building with moat
Architecture,  Lens-Artists,  Travel galleries,  United Arab Emirates

Gallery: cool architecture, cool colours

The most successful buildings are those in which form and function work in harmony. Buildings that not only look amazing but serve their purpose well. And also, buildings which reflect the culture of their location and contribute to it, rather than tug against it. The Louvre Abu Dhabi is one such building.

Until my retirement last year I worked as a consultant in the UK public sector. My work took me all over the country, but very rarely out of it. But an exception was a piece of work that meant spending a few days in Abu Dhabi, presenting me with the chance to see a little of what was a new country for me.

My colleagues and I arranged to fly out a day early in order to allow a little time for sightseeing before starting our work; and top of my list of sights was this, the newly opened Louvre Museum. This striking building was developed in partnership with the Paris original and the French government; it is the first of several museums planned for the new Cultural District on Saadiyat Island where it is located. A Guggenheim Museum will follow; as will a museum devoted to the history of Abu Dhabi and named for its founder, Sheikh Zayed; and a performing arts centre which is being designed by one of my favourite architects, Zaha Hadid.

Architectural themes

Despite being an offshoot of the Parisian Louvre, this is very different architecturally. It is the work of French architect Jean Nouvel, inspired by the architecture and traditions of the UAE. The museum website describes it as ‘a floating dome of light and shade’, and goes on to say:

The centrepiece of Nouvel’s vision is a huge silvery dome that appears to float above the entire museum-city. Despite its apparent weightlessness, the dome in fact weighs approximately 7,500 tonnes (the same as the Eiffel Tower in Paris). Inspired by the cupola, a distinctive feature in Arabic architecture, Nouvel’s dome is a complex, geometric structure of 7,850 stars, repeated at various sizes and angles in eight different layers. As the sun passes above, its light filters through the perforations in the dome to create an inspiring effect within the museum, known as the ‘rain of light’. This ode to nature and the elements takes its inspiration from the palm trees of Abu Dhabi. Their leaves catch the bright sunlight from above to dapple and soften its projection onto the ground.

Louvre Abu Dhabi website

The dome arches over the 55 small buildings which constitute the museum. The intention was to create the appearance of a cluster of small, traditional houses, surrounded by the sea, as in an old coastal medina.

It was the architecture we had mainly come to see, as my companions had already been inside on a previous work trip here, and in any case we didn’t really have enough time for a proper visit. So we strolled around the exterior and took loads of photos, as every spot seemed to throw up a different vista of this striking building. The cool colours are perfect for this week’s Lens Artist Challenge theme, and the architecture is also pretty cool!

Photo gallery

Modern white building with moat
Modern white building with moat
Modern white building with moat
Modern white building with moat
Modern white building with moat
Modern white building with moat
Three ladies in black hijabs on a white bridge
Visitors to the museum
Heron on a tiled wall
A cultured heron?
Modern white building with intricate metal roof
Inside the museum

I visited Abu Dhabi in 2018


  • Fergy.

    Another fantastic piece here, Sarah.

    I knew you were smart but I didn’t know you were international jet-setter smart. I’ll bet you flew Emirates (an airline I love) and got looked after really well. Should I bow next time we meet? At this point I’d put in a little smiley, drug-addled face but I don’t know how to.

    Isn’t it amazing that Abu Dhabi, a tiny place on earth that consists of nothing more than sand and was a mere 100 years ago nothing more than another night stop for travelling merchants is now so rich it can afford structures like this? We have become so oil dependent they (and their OPEC mates) effectively rule the portion of the world the Chinese do not own via the BRI.

    I appreciate the architecture and your images, as always, are superb. I am just a little uneasy about sticking a fine French building in a place it does not belong. Would you build Trump Tower in the middle of Tianamen square (I am sure he has tried)?

    I know you like a good debate, always reasoned, so tell me if you think this building belongs here.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Hi again Fergy! No, I flew Etihad (Emirates fly to Dubai, while Etihad is the Abu Dhabi airline) but I have to say they were very good – comfortable plane, decent inflight catering and friendly service. I don’t think I would ever have gone there had it not been for work but I found myself liking it more than I’d expected.

      I take your point about mixing cultures, architecturally speaking, but I think the only thing French about this particular building is the architect. If I hadn’t told you he was French would you have raised the same concern? I think the design fits very well into its setting on the island and he’s achieved his aim of reflecting local building techniques with the white walls and low roof.

      What would have worked better in your view? The modern skyscrapers in the city centre might arguably be considered more out of place than this, but without them there IS no Abu Dhabi 😀

      • Fergy.

        Of course, I was having a “senior moment” (for which read no sleep for a couple of days) when I wrote that.

        I’ve never flown Etihad but I have heard good things about them. I think that (pre virus obviously) the Middle Eastern airline business was a prime example of the “free market”. You have Etihad, Emirates and Qatar all effectively competing for the same market on the same routes which means they all have to be on top of their game all the time.

        I have to say that given a choice between a Middle Eastern airline and a European “national” carrier, I’ll go for the former every time.

        As for the building, no, if you hadn’t told me it was a French architect I would never have guessed but I would certainly have guessed “non-Arabic”, possibly European or American.

        What would have worked better in my view? Well, I am no architect (as you know) and my artistic talent does not even extend to drawing two parallel lines so I have little to offer on this other than something more in keeping with the heritage of the place. A stylised Bedouin tent perhaps? I don’t know, it just seems a bit incongruous to me.

        I fully take your point about the modern look of what was, in our grandparents lifetime, merely a patch of sand and no, I would not impose another skyscraper on that abused landscape. You’ve been there and know much better than me but building up is not the way to go.

        I suppose there is no stopping progress and I am probably being a complete dinosaur now (again) but your brilliant images (again again if that makes sense) suggest to me something that is slightly out of place. Drop that building into the middle of Dijon or Lyon and I would be praising it to the Heavens, it is a beautiful structure without doubt, I just feel it is in the wrong setting.

        I know we are not going to fall out about this (at least I hope not) as we have known each other far too long so I think this is a situation where we shall have to agree to disagree as hopefully intelligent people (hope in my case, I know you’re smart) do.

        • Sarah Wilkie

          Yes, let’s agree to disagree – although I would perhaps add that if you saw it for yourself in its setting you might feel more positively about it!

  • Tina Schell

    Wow Sarah, what an architectural masterpiece. Leave it to the french!! The colors are wonderful and your heron image gave me a big smile as I was seriously studying the building.


    Sumptuous looking building, it’s inspired! We’re not always fans of modern architecture, preferring the feel of history, but now and again you just get absolutely wowed by modern day inspiration, this looks to be one such. Would love to see it!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      I’m glad you liked this 🙂 I like ‘good’ modern architecture, by which I mean buildings with style and soul, buildings that seem likely to become the historical landmarks of the future. Which this is, for sure!

  • maristravels

    That is an absolutely stunning complex and I wish I could see it. Even without the amazing contents which I’m sure it holds, I would be happy just to sit and look at this building for a few hours.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Yes, it’s beautiful isn’t it Mari? We wandered around for ages taking photos, and as you can see, did pop inside to the lobby area briefly. But admission to the collection is quite expensive and not worth paying for the little amount of time we had there. Maybe I’ll be back one day!

  • Nemorino

    This looks like another great building by Jean Nouvel. I love his Lyon opera house and Copenhagen concert hall, but I have mixed feelings about the Paris Philharmonic, which is better inside than out, IMO.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Hi Don – to my knowledge this is the only one of his buildings I’ve seen. I’ll have to look into his other work, in particular the ones you mention 🙂

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