Widely seen as the esteemed French architect Jean Nouvel's masterpiece, the Louvre Abu Dhabi really is a sight to behold. More than a decade and hundreds of millions of dollars in the making, the museum finally opened last weekend, inviting visitors to wander amongst its galleries that are housed in striking, oversized white blocks topped by a magnificent mesh dome that scatters mesmerizing patterns of light onto the plaza below.
The complex is actually made up of 55 detached buildings and is designed as a kind of man-made archipelago, accessible both by land and the surrounding turquoise waters that lap against its near-blinding white surfaces.
Covering most, but not all, of these buildings is the Louvre's architectural centerpiece, a massive silver dome inspired by the Arabic cupola. The dome itself weighs the same as the Eiffel Tower (around 7,500 tonnes) and has a diameter of 180 m (590 ft). Despite its size, it rests on just four pillars hidden away inside the museum buildings to create something of a floating effect.
The dome is made up of eight separate layers of stainless steel and aluminum mesh, which combine to form a tapestry of 7,850 geometric holes for the sun to filter through. This creates patterns across the plaza's surface that are intended to pay tribute to the light-scattering palm tree leaves of Abu Dhabi.
While a standalone museum, the Louvre Abu Dhabi borrows its name from the famous French institute as part of an agreement between the French and UAE governments, a deal that also calls on the curatorial expertise of Agence France-Muséums. On show at the Louvre's opening were loaned contemporary pieces shipped in from French museums, along with art from its own in-house collection and an assortment of prehistoric artifacts.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi is imagined as just one part of an extensive, and typically extravagant, cultural center for the Emirati capital. Sitting on the western edge of Saadiyat Island, it is hoped to one day be joined by proposed museums from similarly credentialed starchitects, including the Sheikh Zayed National Museum by Norman Foster, a maritime museum by self-taught Japanese architect Tadao Ando and a new Guggenheim Museum by Frank Gehry.
This is all part of a bold plan to turn Saadiyat Island into a mecca for the world's connoisseur's of fine culture, though after our visit to the Louvre last week, we can confidently say this place won't have trouble drawing a crowd all on its own. Check out our gallery to see what we mean.
More information: Louvre Abu Dhabi