Ten years in the making, the National Museum of Qatar (NMoQ) by Ateliers Jean Nouvel is intended as an important new display case for the country’s history, archaeology and contemporary culture. The massive structure houses 11 interlinked galleries, with visitors taken on a winding 1.5km route from prehistory through to the present day and beyond.

The new building’s dominant feature is its roof – winner of the Wallpaper* Design Award for Best Roofscape. It is a multifaceted sculpture inspired in part by ‘desert roses’, clusters of interlocking crystals that emerge out of the sand to form striking, bloom-like outcrops. Nouvel describes how the concept was created in 3D from the outset, rather than through his conventional sketch-driven approach. ‘To formalise a rose was very diffcult,’ he says, ‘so the whole project was done in software.’

With its great curved discs, intersections and cantilevered angles, the museum is a totality, at once architectural, spatial and sensory

Once the client, the influential Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, chairperson of Qatar Museums, had approved the design, the task of shaping the immensely complex structure was done in collaboration with engineers Arup in London. The NMoQ’s form comprises some 539 discs, ranging from 14m to 87m across, mirroring what Nouvel calls the ‘miniature architectural events’ of the gypsum crystal formations.

‘With its great curved discs, intersections and cantilevered angles, the museum is a totality, at once architectural, spatial and sensory,’ the architect writes. And at 33,618 sq m, it is also substantial. Home to thousands of artefacts and documents, as well as specially commissioned site-specific pieces by artists from Qatar, France, Iraq and Syria, it is set to be the jewel in Doha’s museum district.

The museum is clad with faceted panels of fibre-reinforced concrete, 76,000 in all. These add another layer of geometric complexity to the discs, breaking up their surfaces and bringing a more intimate feel to the clusters of canopies and courtyards they create. Nouvel points out that the ‘contextual approach’ to the building’s design takes centuries of desert living experience and gives it a contemporary twist.

As if to underline the evolution of architectural form, the NMoQ’s spectacular roofscape stands alongside the restored Palace of Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani, once home to Qatar’s royal family and the location of the original National Museum. In Qatar, Ateliers Jean Nouvel has once again gone for scale, perhaps even trumping the mighty dome of the Louvre Abu Dhabi. As presumably intended, the NMoQ simultaneously evokes heritage, place and modernity. §

As originally featured in the February 2018 issue of Wallpaper* (W*239)

See more from the Wallpaper* Design Awards here