Everyone’s heard of the Louvre and the MOMA, but not everyone knows Abu Dhabi is aspiring to become one of the world’s new culture capitals. Star architects have been commissioned to build the world’s most spectacular museums (below) on an island just off the Arab metropolis.
Just 700m off the coast of Abu Dhabi, ‘Saadiyat’ (Happiness) Island is poised to become a truly special place. A place born out of collective inspiration, Saadiyat will be a destination experience of rich depth and diversity, uncommon in our modern world. In its essence, Saadiyat is a multi-faceted island destination offering a great variety of attractions to many different people. A buzzing business hub for international commerce, a relaxed waterfront home for residents, a cultural magnet for art aficionados, the home of dazzling architectural icons, a pristine beachfront tourism destination and a focal point for compelling sporting experiences, such as the Gulf’s only tidal and ocean golf courses. It will also be the only place in the world to house architecture designed by five individual Pritzker prize winners. Saadiyat Island will be an irresistible magnet attracting the world to Abu Dhabi and taking Abu Dhabi to the world.
Finally yesterday, France and the United Arab Emirates formally launched the “desert Louvre” project bringing the iconic cultural name and its tourist pulling power one step closer to the oil-rich Gulf. Visiting French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed al-Nahayan attended a ceremony in a luxury UAE hotel to mark the start of construction of the museum, expected to be completed by 2013. They also inaugurated an exhibition on Talking Art: Louvre Abu Dhabi, at which works of art from the Louvre and other French museums will be on display until July 2. Also on show are some of the new museum’s first acquisitions.
Under the 30-year agreement, Abu Dhabi will pay 400 million euros ($673 million) for the Louvre brand name and for hundreds of artworks, which will be loaned from the Paris museum for periods of between six months and two years. The new museum has been designed by French architect, Jean Nouvel. It will be housed in a 24,000-square-metre building topped by a dome inspired by traditional Arab architecture. “The Abu Dhabi Louvre project is unique and will remain so. It is not an attempt to duplicate the Louvre,” Henri Loyrette, president of the Paris Louvre, said at Tuesday’s ceremony. Abu Dhabi’s will be “a new museum, the bearer of two cultures and two traditions,” he added. “It’s an historic step. The Louvre is the cornerstone for our Saadiyat cultural project. Without the Louvre we would not have the courage to plan such a huge project,” said Sheikh Tahnoun, referring to the island cultural district planned for the Emirati capital.
Saadiyat Island promises to far outdo Las Vegas and Bilbao — the traditional red rags for cultural pessimists and critics of tourism — in terms of its capacity to provoke. And yet many culture fans may end up in Abu Dhabi sooner or later — whether to admire the city or just to rant.