Two years after unveiling one major museum in the Arabian peninsula, the Louvre Abu Dhabi, Ateliers Jean Nouvel has now completed another. The National Museum of Qatar is an impressive building defined by hundreds of interlocking vertical and horizontal concrete disks that provide protection from the sun.

The National Museum of Qatar is located near the waterfront in the country's capital city Doha. It measures 350 m (1,148 ft)-long, with a total floorspace of 52,000 sq m (almost 600,000 sq ft). Its unusual design, which brings to mind a collection of spinning plates, is inspired by desert rose crystal formations.

"The desert rose, a flower-like aggregate of mineral crystals occurring only in arid coastal regions, is the first architectural structure that nature itself creates, through wind, sea spray and sand acting together over millennia," says Nouvel. "It's surprisingly complex and poetic.

"Taking the desert rose as a starting point turned out to be a very progressive, not to say utopian, idea. I say 'utopian' because, to construct a building 350 meters long, with its great big inward-curving disks, and its intersections and cantilevered elements – all the things that conjure up a desert rose – we had to meet enormous technical challenges. This building is at the cutting-edge of technology, like Qatar itself."

There are a total of 539 disks, ranging in size from 14 m (45 ft) to 87 m (285 ft) in diameter. As well as lending the museum such a striking appearance, they offer the practical benefit of shading. When the sun hits the building, the disks cast long shadows and the relatively few windows are also set back a little to keep them in shade.

The exterior of the building proper is made from high-performance glass fiber-reinforced concrete panels fixed to a steel frame that spans an insulated waterproof superstructure. The concrete and steel used during construction was sourced locally and the landscaping consists of local drought-resistant vegetation. The project has been rated LEED Gold (a green building standard) due to its relative efficiency.

Inside, the museum's gallery spaces and exhibitions are laid-out in a roughly chronological order and tell the story of Qatar over millennia. They are organized into three main sections: Beginnings, Life in Qatar, and The Modern History of Qatar, and within each of these sections are eleven galleries. Exhibits depict trade with the Romans, traditional crafts and nomadic culture, and the swift modernization that came with the discovery first of oil and then later of gas.

Walking through the 1.5 km (0.93 miles) of gallery space takes roughly two hours and culminates with visitors arriving at a pre-existing palace on the site, the Palace of Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani. The palace was originally built in the early 1900s but has been painstakingly restored by a team of locals working under a German specialist. The palace will now host events related to the museum and also connects to a promenade, allowing visitors to take strolls along the waterfront.

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