Louvre Abu Dhabi, UAE

12th December 2017

Designed by French architect Jean Nouvel with lighting design by 8’18” and daylighting by BuroHappold, the Louvre Abu Dhabi has created a buzz of excitement since opening in November. For once, the reality has lived up to the hype.

Rarely has the opening of a museum created as much excitement among the international media as the Louvre Abu Dhabi. The project has garnered as many column inches in the popular press as it has in the architectural media. And with good reason. The museum has met with critical acclaim for its stunning design and dynamic lighting, both artificial and natural.

Pritzker-prize winning architect Jean Nouvel sought inspiration for the concept of Louvre Abu Dhabi in traditional Arabic architectural culture, and designed Louvre Abu Dhabi as a ‘museum city’ in the sea. Its contrasting series of white buildings take inspiration from the medina and low-lying Arab settlements. In total, 55 individual but connected buildings, including 26 galleries, make up this museum city. The façades of the buildings are made up of 3,900 panels of ultra-high performance fibre concrete (UHPC).

The museum design is a collaboration between traditional design and modern construction techniques. The tranquil environment encourages visitors to enjoy the ever-changing relationship between the sun and the dome and between sea, buildings and land.

The construction of the museum took place from 2013 to 2017. The museum’s growing collection of more than 620 important artworks and artefacts spanning the entirety of human history around the world. It includes ancient archaeological finds, decorative arts, neoclassical sculptures, paintings by modern masters and contemporary installations. At opening, 235 works from the museum’s own collection are displayed in the galleries.

Louvre Abu Dhabi was born from a unique intergovernmental agreement between the United Arab Emirates and France, signed in 2007.

The agreement embodies a vision shared by the two countries to develop the first universal museum in the Arab world. It establishes Louvre Abu Dhabi as an independent institution, and includes the use of musée du Louvre’s name for 30 years.

The lighting design was completed by French practice 8’18” headed by Rémy Cimadevilla and Georges Berne, who is based in the 8’18” Shanghai studio. They worked closely with Jean Nouvel (who also independently developed the Luxiona Troll Paralum fixture for the project) on the lighting concept and, in the case of the of the vast dome, 180 metres in diameter covering the majority of the museum city, they collaborated with Yann Kersale (SNAIK) on the artificial lighting sheme using 4,500 Zumtobel fluorescent fixtures.

“We feel its mass and we perceive a vision of thousands of broken lines,” commented Cimadevilla. “When the museum is closed to the public, the dome radiates an exterior glow from within. It creates a kinetic effect by the movement of the lights – the dome flickers. The fixtures create a multitude of dynamic splashes in hot and cold white.”

The dome consists of eight different layers: four outer layers clad in stainless steel and four inner layers clad in aluminium, separated by a steel frame five metres high. The frame is made of 10,000 structural components pre-assembled into 85 super-sized elements, each weighing on average 50 tonnes.

The dome’s complex pattern is the result of a highly studied geometric design by BuroHappold. The pattern is repeated at various sizes and angles in the eight superimposed layers. Each ray of light penetrates the eight layers before appearing or disappearing. The result is a cinematic ‘Rain of Light’ dappled effect as the sun’s path progresses throughout the day. At night, it forms 7,850 stars visible from both inside and out. This ‘Rain of Light’ effect has been the subject of many models and mock ups over the years and is one of the defining features of the concept.

The effect is effortless in its beauty, but it took bold, imaginative and ingenious engineering to allow the sun into the museum galleries while protecting the priceless artworks inside.

Working in tandem with Jean Nouvel, the BuroHappold team evaluated a number of concepts by which to bring the element of water into the building, finally settling on the inclusion of tidal pools that reflect the light that filters through the glazed roof in dappled patterns on the interior walls, creating gentle movement that correlates and responds to the museum’s unique natural setting.

Filtered natural light is present in all the galleries, either from lateral windows with views onto the surrounding environment or through ‘zenithal’ lighting. This involves the use of glass mirrors to capture sunlight and direct it into the gallery spaces while also scattering rays to avoid glare. There are seventeen glass ceilings within the museum galleries. Each is made up of eighteen different types of glass panels. In total, there are over 25,000 individual pieces of glass. These glass ceilings incorporate both natural and artificial lighting to provide an optimal lighting system for the artworks on display.

Louvre Abu Dhabi’s complex engineering concept has made it one of the most innovative and challenging museum projects built in recent times.

To meet stringent environmental control requirements within the museum galleries, the design team developed a system, including the lighting, that does not deviate by more than one degree from 21 degrees centigrade or 5% humidity range. This guarantees exceptionally stable environmental conditions for artworks and visitors.

The interior exhibition spaces, comprising museum galleries, temporary exhibition spaces and Children’s Museum, make up 8,600sqm, with permanent galleries covering approximately 6,400sqm.

In order to avoid the clutter of lighting masts and projectors that would spoil the architecture, 8’18” developed a second layer of light – a virtual window utilising Lucibel cove fixtures. Based on the built frame, it takes the place of a concrete panel “as if a field of light is hidden behind the walls of the museum,” muses Cimadevilla. “This abstract light, slightly unreal, is designed with hidden sources with specific optics. We called this the ‘Lico’ specific light window.”

“It’s an abbreviation of Lighting cove,” says Berne. “It is flexible in its dimensions in height with a width up to six metres. Its purpose is to bring a vertical lighting of atmosphere in the spaces under the dome, the circulations areas, the reception and all the public spaces.”

The third layer of light to the galleries has been dubbed the ‘flying carpets’. Horizontal windows of direct / indirect lighting (supplied by Firalux) and Artemide  Cata Lens projectors create flexible solutions for each gallery depending on the requirements of the exhibits.

“Neutral white fluorescent wallwashers [from ERCO] are installed at the periphery,” describes Cimadevilla. “Then, the warm white projectors [from Artemide] are installed in the frame of the carpet of light. Finally, the ceiling lighting is completed with general indirect/ sdirect lighting [from Firalux] in cold white revealing the texture of the different exhibits.”

Louvre Abu Dhabi is destined to be a culturally iconic piece of architecture that will transform the image (and the visitor numbers) of the UAE’s second biggest city, much like the Guggenheim has done for Bilbao. Even if you are not an art lover, you cannot fail to enjoy the building… and the light.


Pic: Roland Halbe