Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

A Desert Rose Takes Shape: Plans for National Museum of Qatar Unveiled

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

A Desert Rose Takes Shape: Plans for National Museum of Qatar Unveiled

Article excerpt

THE QATAR Museums Authority (QMA) unveiled plans for the stunning new National Museum of Qatar, designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel, at a New York Museum of Modern Art luncheon on March 23. Qatar's new museum celebrates the proud past and future aspirations of its people, whose goal is to modernize but not Westernize.

Sheikha Al Mayassa Bint Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, QMA's tireless chairperson, described the building and gardens, which will embrace the historic Fariq Al Salatah Palace, home since 1975 to the Qatar National Museum. Prominently located on a 1.5 million-square-foot site at the south end of Doha's Corniche, the National Museum will be the first monument travelers see arriving from the airport.

The French architect's striking design was inspired by the desert rose, an other-worldly mineral formation of crystallized sand found just beneath the desert's surface. The pavilion's sand-colored floors, walls and roofs resemble the sharp bladelike petals of the desert rose. Interior walls will become cinematic displays for oral history presentations. High-definition screens will open a window on Qatar, showing sandstorms, desert animals, and treasured cultural traditions.

"Our country and our region is enjoying a cultural renaissance," stated Sheikha Al Mayassa, daughter of Qatar's emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani. "We are defining ourselves instead of forever being defined by others...and celebrating our identity."

Her goals, she explained, are to create bridges between the past and present, East and West. Sheikha Al Mayassa also wants to help young people discover their roots and rich heritage from before Qatar's oil wealth transformed their country and hurled its people into the 21st century.

The museum will preserve and present local Arab oral history before it is lost, Abdulla Al Najjar, QMA's chief executive officer, pointed out. All Qatar's museums seek to cultivate culture at home and raise Qatar's international standing abroad, he said.

Peggy Loar, director of the National Museum of Qatar, entranced the audience with descriptions of Qatar's ancient past: nomads weaving and constructing "portable and sustainable" bedouin tents, traders transporting incense bound for European churches, and fearless pearl divers. "Like Qatar, the National Museum will be open to the sea and anchored in the desert," Loar said. "Like the desert rose which continues to collect sand particles," she added, "the museum will continue to grow and form itself. …

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