May 01 2007

Abu Dhabi Collects Cultural Capital

by Hemant Sareen

Abu Dhabi’s massive cultural development on Saadiyat Island, a USD 27 billion development off the emirate’s coast that has already secured the latest franchise in the Guggenheim Foundation’s global empire, added another jewel to its crown with the announcement in early March that the French government had signed an accord with the UAE capital’s tourism authority approving the establishment of a Louvre affiliate there. Abu Dhabi will pay $520 million for use of the Louvre’s name, and an additional $747 million for art loans, special exhibitions, management and acquisitions advice. The deal has elicited strident criticism from French cultural groups, who see it as an outright sale of the country’s national art treasures.

The 10.5-square-mile Saadiyat Island, which will also include hotels, apartments and villas as well as civic and leisure facilities, is expected to house 150,000 people by 2018. The development has become a watering hole for the world’s best architects. Abu Dhabi’s Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC) recently revealed designs for major attractions: Jean Nouvel’s plans for the eventual Louvre building, Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, a Performing Arts Center by Zaha Hadid and a Maritime Museum by Tadao Ando.

Nouvel’s design for the Louvre Abu Dhabi is envisioned as a “micro-city,” a 260,000-square-foot complex of one-story buildings covered by an enormous patterned translucent dome. Prominently situated on the waterfront, Gehry’s 320,000-square-foot museum will be the largest Guggenheim in the world. His fragmented, four-story design features three concentric rings of galleries around a center courtyard. Hadid’s dramatic linear design for the Performing Arts Center snakes out into the Persian Gulf and will contain five theaters for music, opera and dramatic performances and possibly a performing arts academy. The London-based Iraqi architect has already been tapped to design the Sheikh Zayed Bridge in Abu Dhabi, as well as a trio of skyscrapers and an opera house in nearby Dubai. Ando’s tranquil Maritime Museum plan consists of a wind-shaped sculptural space carved out of a simple geometric form, perched like a gate over a reflective water court; a “ship-like interior” with ramps and floating decks references the museum’s theme.