NOTE 09-Jun-2014: I’ve finally caught up with photos from my working visit last month to Doha, capital of Qatar, per capita the richest country in the world. I’ve divided them into several smaller galleries which I’ll continue to publish over the next week.
First up is a focus on the Museum of Islamic Art, the finest museum in the Emirate and one that houses one of the most complete collections of Islamic art in the world. I visited it once before and was really looking forward to this return engagement. Architecturally, it’s on the short list of my favorite museums on the planet so this first post will focus on the structure itself. I’ll follow up in another post with some notes and thoughts on the collection it houses.
‘Strong and simple’
Modern architecture master I.M. Pei was coaxed out of retirement by the Emirate to undertake the ambitious project’s design. Ambitious it was; with this world class museum, Qatar wanted to redefine itself as an international cultural center. Pei admitted he knew nothing about Islam and little about the Islamic world, so at 91 he set off on a six-month quest to fill that gap.
Pei traveled throughout the region observing and learning about Muslim architecture, he studied the life of Muhammad and read Islamic texts to gain insight and collect inspiration. He told The New York Times that he became particularly interested in “the art of defense, in fortifications”, and an architecture that is “strong and simple”.
Doha is one of the fastest growing cities in the world. That fact worried Pei who decided that the only remedy was for the structure to stand alone to keep it from becoming encroached by the city that continued to grow around it. Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, agreed, so he had a small island constructed at the southern end of Doha Bay on which the 45,000 square-meter museum now sits.
Construction was completed in 2006, but several changes to the interior pushed the grand opening back to November 2008.
The building is elegant but imposing, a cubist pyramid rising from the sea. From every direction, particularly from across the bay, it indeed appears fortress-like, illuminated by the desert sea and sun that Pei found so captivating.
Quick note on the photos: it was typically hazy during my visit which accentuated the brownish hues of the building but rendered much of the bay invisible. Nine more pics below. Enjoy!