Louvre Abu Dhabi – A Huge Dome of 85 Puzzle Pieces
Builder: Tourism Development & Investment Company
Architects: Ateliers Jean Nouvel
Executing architects: HW architecture
Location: Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi (AE)
With its hundreds of variations of the same ornament, the Institute du Monde Araba in Paris is worth visiting even after thirty years. From outside, the metallic iris diaphragms respond to the intensity of the sun shining on the south façade by opening and closing automatically resemble an unapproachable shield of sparkling silver. Inside, on the other hand, the machinery creates razor-sharp shadows that cast wonderful images on the floor. The stark light contrast is the true theme of architect Jean Nouvel.
In his spectacular design for the Louvre, Nouvel took the hard shadows of palm fronds in an oasis as inspiration. Like a traditional Arab village, the entire museum consists of 55 white cubic houses roofed by the large, shade-giving dome. He wanted to create a “Rain of Light”: sharp bundles of light that would transform the walls and squares into a speckled, surreal world as opposed to the balanced light relationships found in the exhibition spaces, such as direct lighting from spotlights.
Abu Dhabi’s hot, dry climate makes shelter from the rain unnecessary. This means there is no roof membrane in the true sense. In fact, the dome is perforated like basket weaving. The supporting structure for the dome is a steel framework which rests on just four supports. The top and undersides of the dome are each covered with four levels of cruciform aluminium profiles of various sizes which form grid structures with Oriental patterns. Turning and shifting the pattern dissolves the clear geometry; the architecture transforms into a shambolic tangle whose mathematical order is not always visible, yet can always be felt.
Since light effects are difficult to estimate despite computer renderings and large-scale models, the clients had a mock-up to the scale of 1:1 erected beside the building site. It had a completely darkened 20-metre-high hall whose roof forms a dome-shaped cut-out and through whose gaps the bundles of light shine down to the ground. However, this first mock-up showed only the concept. In the further planning process, construction and covering were modified while maintenance walkways and an access network were enhanced. A dome cut-out was again built from this final version; it was known as the Performance Mock-Up.
To be able to manage the enormous dimensions in a building and planning phase of only three years, it was not just the construction of the steel supporting framework and the covering of aluminium profiles that had to be meticulously planned. In the logistics on the building side, exact coordination with all the other sections with which the steel constructors had to share the cranes and access roads was decisive. The subdivision of the dome construction into prefabricated elements as large as possible, the Super-Sized Elements, was crucial here. The whole dome was divided into 85 of these elements, which were put together on assembly towers and then connected with lose rods.