We recently took a weekend trip to Doha, Qatar, to join my husband who was there working. The flight is only around 45 minutes, and as expected, it’s very similar to Dubai – innovative skyscrapers, flashy displays of unimaginable wealth, water so vibrantly turquoise it looks fake, and a fierce competitiveness and determination to put itself on the map as a modern, thriving city. Several museums designed by famous architects, either newly built or currently under construction, are centerpieces of this goal.
I wish I had snapped a picture of the construction site around the corner from our hotel. The area will be the new National Museum of Qatar and is littered with tower cranes and bulldozers, but the discs that define the structure are starting to take shape, which was really interesting to see. Here is what the finished product, designed by Pritzker Prize winning French architect Jean Nouvel, will look like:
Also within walking distance from our hotel was the Museum of Islamic Art, designed by another Pritzker Prize recipient, I.M. Pei (whose name you might recognize as the architect of the famous glass pyramid outside of the Louvre in Paris.). It was completed in 2008.
I.M. Pei, who was remarkably 91 at the time of the museum’s completion, traveled for months to places like Egypt, Spain, India, Syria and Tunisia to learn more about Islam and Islamic architecture before designing the museum. When it came time to decide where in Doha the museum should be built, he was unhappy with potential locations and requested that an island be built off the corniche to serve as the location of the museum. (similar to how the Burj al Arab was built on a artificial island just off the coast here in Dubai.) This being the Persian Gulf (ahem, I mean, Arabian Gulf) where money is not an issue, presto! A man-made island was built and this is where the museum now stands. I like how the dhows, a cultural symbol of the region, are easily within view when admiring the museum from the corniche.
I thought the fortress-like exterior seemed rather subdued when compared to some of the other ostentatious designs of buildings that are currently under construction here and in the UAE. I liked the reserved statement it makes and it seemed to appropriately reflect the importance Islam places on modesty.
The interior is full of light. The tall atrium leads up to a stainless steel dome and oculus through which the strong Arabian sun shines, creating dancing shadows and patterns. The staircase, repeating circular forms and other geometric shapes are so pretty and interesting to view from different angles.
The galleries where the art is displayed are by contrast very dark with textured walls, drawing attention to the artifacts on display. The collection features anything and everything related to Islam – light fixtures, lamps and carved wooden trim from old mosques, every imaginable form of Koran (even tiny ones that could fit in the palm of your hand, with accompanying tiny jeweled cases in which to carry them), and other important religious manuscripts. Other items exhibited include amazing hand-made carpets, pottery, weapons, coins, tiles and a few paintings. Spanning three continents from the 7th to the 19th century, the collection is vast.
Outside of the museum, there are pretty views of the Doha skyline, but not exactly the kind of place you want to linger during the stifling afternoon heat in June.
If you visit the museum, make sure to dress modestly (mosque attire minus the headscarf). Here are a few more pics, and a bit more on Doha is coming up next time.
To learn more about Sheikha Mayassa, the daughter of the Emir of Qatar who is chair of the Doha Museum Authority and a driving force behind Doha’s burgeoning art scene, read this article.