No visit to Abu Dhabi, where I have just been working for three days, can avoid the extraordinary museum building program taking place on Saadiyat Island just a bridge away from the CBD. It's a surreal confluence of 'name' architects competing with each other to produce the masterpiece of the area. Norman Foster is at work on the new Zayed National Museum,
Frank Gehry on the Abu Dhabi Guggenheim,
Jean Nouvel on the Louvre Abu Dhabi,
and Zara Hadid on the Maritime Museum and Performing Arts Centre.
What the estimated $27 billion project will look like is currently explained in an impressive 15,500 sq m visitor centre known as the Manarat Al Saadiyat, which certainly helps as, despite an original opening date of 2014, at present there is little evidence of anything happening.
At one level it is going to be a great place to visit to see some extraordinary buildings, the Nouvel dome for the Louvre Abu Dhabi being to my mind the future star of the show with its geometric lace patterns in the roof resulting in a rain of light.
What is much less clear is what is going to go inside each of them, though presumably the Guggenheim and the Louvre will both draw extensively on their respective parental bodies. It is also unclear who will go to them apart from tourists as there is no local tradition of museum going. Cleverly a number of temporary exhibitions mounted with the British Museum are being run in the Manarat Al Saadiyat to get them into the swing of it.
And amazingly just across the Persian Gulf in
Doha the Qataris are
building their own version, with the Qatar National Museum
designed by, you guessed it, Jean Nouvel.