Posted on December 11, 2018

The National Museum of Qatar (NMoQ) today held the first official briefing about the upcoming landmark museum, offering a glimpse into the visitor-focused experience the museum was designed to create.

A team of Qatar Museums (QM) and NMoQ representatives, including Mansoor bin Ebrahim Al-Mahmoud, Special Advisor to QM Chairperson H.E. Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Sheikha Amna bint Abdulaziz bin Jassim Al-Thani, NMoQ Director, Dr. Karen Exell, NMoQ Senior Museum Development Specialist, Dr. Haya Al Thani, NMoQ Deputy Director of Curatorial Affairs and Saif Al Kuwari, NMoQ Deputy Director of Operations, shared previously undisclosed details with the public ahead of the museum’s official opening next year.

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This included information related to the oral histories that feature heavily in the museum, bringing to life this critically important aspect of Qatar’s culture and the heritage and traditions of its people. Dr Haya Al Thani outlined the scope and scale of this activity, describing how the museum had worked with partners including the Doha Film Institute over five years to record these memories and preserve information about the country. More than 70 films will be displayed through the museum galleries, bringing the displays of objects to life through shared memories of recent history. In all, more than 300 members of the public participated in the project.

NMoQ is housed within a spectacular new building designed by architect Jean Nouvel, which will open to the public on March 28, 2019 under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani.

The immersive and experiential NMoQ tells the story of the people and the land of Qatar from earliest times to today, giving voice to the country’s rich heritage and culture and expressing a vibrant community’s aspirations for the future. The NMoQ embraces, as its centerpiece, the restored historic Palace of Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani (1880-1957), son of the founder of modern Qatar: a building that in former times was both the home of the Royal Family and the seat of government and was subsequently the site of the original National Museum. Jean Nouvel’s new 52,000-square-meter building incorporates the Palace while seamlessly integrating innovative artworks commissioned from Qatari and international artists, rare and precious objects, documentary materials, and interactive learning opportunities.

Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Chairperson of Qatar Museums, said, “Qatar is an ancient land, rich in the traditions of the desert and the sea, but also a land that hosted many past civilizations. While it has modernized its infrastructure, it has still remained true to its core cultural values. We look forward to sharing new Museum experiences with our proud and diverse communities, as well as welcoming international guests in the spring of next year.”

Sheikha Amna bint Abdulaziz bin Jassim Al Thani, Director of the National Museum of Qatar, said, “The National Museum will give visitors an unprecedented museum experience, with people at the heart of its vision and development. This is a Museum that narrates the story of the people of Qatar and shares this story in an innovative, holistic, and immersive way. Central to the vision of the Museum is intergenerational learning, for school children, for adults, for all, through our multi-layered thematic exhibits, interactivity and programming. At the core of the Museum’s permanent exhibits and accessible to the public is a digital archive of thousands of images, videos, and documents from Qatar and abroad. And all these elements will be made accessible to as many people as possible.”

Jean Nouvel’s dynamic architectural design echoes the geography of Qatar while evoking the history and culture of the nation. According to Nouvel, “Qatar has a deep rapport with the desert, with its flora and fauna, its nomadic people, its long traditions. To fuse these contrasting stories, I needed a symbolic element. Eventually, I remembered the phenomenon of the desert rose: crystalline forms, like miniature architectural events, that emerge from the ground through the work of wind, salt water, and sand. The Museum that developed from this idea, with its great curved disks, intersections, and cantilevered angles, is a totality, at once architectural, spatial, and sensory.”

Visitor Experience

The National Museum of Qatar is organized in three “chapters”—Beginnings, Life in Qatar, and Building the Nation—presented in eleven galleries. The visitor’s chronological journey, which extends through more than 1.5 km of experiences, starts in the geological period long before the peninsula was inhabited by humans and continues to the present day. The route passes through a succession of impressive, remarkably shaped volumes until it reaches its culmination in the very heart of Qatari national identity, the thoroughly restored Palace of Sheikh Abdullah.

Each gallery is an all-encompassing environment, which tells its part of the grand story through a creative combination of elements such as music, storytelling, archival images, oral histories and evocative aromas. Designed as distinctive experiences, these environmental galleries also contextualize an impressive array of archaeological and heritage objects, which include the renowned Pearl Carpet of Baroda—embroidered with more than 1.5 million of the highest quality Gulf pearls and adorned with emeralds, diamonds, and sapphires—as well as manuscripts, documents, photographs, jewelry, and costumes.

Both local and international artists have also been invited to create site-specific commissions, in response to the Museum’s collection and as an enhancement of the exhibition experience.

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Community engagement

The 112,000 m2 public park that surrounds the Museum, featuring family-friendly interactive learning environments, walkways, a lagoon, and more, is landscaped exclusively with drought-resistant native vegetation. This creates outdoor areas where children can learn through play and exploration, discovering crucial aspects of life in Qatar, in an echo of what they learn in the museum itself.

The museum itself will also offer a wide range of activities for the entire community. These include spaces that host educational and cultural activities such as workshops, competitions and lessons on arts education, and other activities for a range of ages especially school students. Educating the public about a range of topics related to culture and history and which complement the national curriculum is a major focus for the National Museum of Qatar.

The Architecture of the Desert Rose

The form of the desert rose has inspired a building composed of large interlocking disks of different diameters and curvatures--some "vertical" and constituting supports, others "horizontal" and resting on other disks--which together surround the historic Palace like a necklace. A central court, the Howsh, sits within the ring of gallery spaces and serves as a gathering space for outdoor cultural events. With its sand-colored concrete cladding, in harmony with the local desert environment, the building appears to grow out of the ground and be one with it. Shadows cast by the cantilevered disks help shelter visitors as they stroll around the outside, and also protect the interior from light and heat.

Like the exterior, the interior is a landscape of interlocking disks, in finishes that are neutral and monochromatic. The floors are sand-colored polished concrete with tiny mineral aggregates. The "vertical" walls are coated in stuc-pierre, or stone stucco, a traditional gypsum and lime-blended plaster. The remarkably varied interior volumes make each gallery different from the one before it, instilling a sense of adventure and surprise to the journey through the Museum.