I.M. Pei's Museum of Islamic Art Debuts in Qatar
The 376,740-square-foot museum stands on a manmade island to ensure future buildings never encroach on Pei's design.
Nicholas Tamarin -- Interior Design, 12/5/2008 12:00:00 AM
The Museum of Islamic Art’s main building entrance façade through the palm tree alley. Courtesy of the Museum of Islamic Art.
The design gravy train that is the oil-rich Gulf region makes another pit stop -- this time in Doha, Qatar -- where Pritzker Prize-winning architect I.M. Pei's Museum of Islamic Art opened its doors to the public for the first time on December 1.
Pei, the trailblazer responsible for the Louvre's famed glass pyramid, has now put his stamp on a 376,740-square-foot behemoth in the heart of the Middle East, which appears to rise from Doha Bay in the Persian Gulf. Housed under a soaring, five-story-high domed atrium, the museum’s collections span three continents, from the 7th to the 19th century.
The grand staircase at the Museum of Islamic Art, as seen from the main entrance. Courtesy of the Museum of Islamic Art.
The nonagenarian Chinese native was prompted to design the museum following an architectural tour of Islamic architecture that included the Grand Mosque in Córdoba, Spain, Fatehpur Sikri, a Mughal capital in India, the Umayyad Great Mosque in Damascus, Syria, and the ribat fortresses at Monastir and Sousse in Tunisia. But his ultimate inspiration came from a 13th century sabil, or ablutions fountain, at the Mosque of Ahmad Ibn Tulun in Cairo, Egypt.
Angular structural supports of the Museum of Islamic Art complement the faceted dome above. The Museum of Islamic Art features a 5-story window that offers views of the Gulf and the West Bay of Doha. Courtesy of the Museum of Islamic Art.
French limestone, American granite and German stainless steel figure prominently in the museum’s structure, which is built on a manmade island 195 feet off of shore -- a tactical move to ensure that future buildings will never encroach on Pei’s design. Guests arriving by boat are greeted by two 100-foot-tall lanterns that stand at a boat dock on the west side of the museum.
View of the manuscripts/rare books reading room located in the Education Wing library. Courtesy of the Museum of Islamic Art.
While the main building’s showpiece is certainly its 164-foot-tall atrium, concealed by the walls of a central tower and topped by an oculus that reflects light patterns, the site also includes a two-story education wing that connects to the main building across a central courtyard. A glass curtain wall offers panoramic views of the Persian Gulf from all five floors on the north side of the atrium.
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