The design of Foster + Partners for the Zayed National Museum have been officially unveiled today by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. Conceived as a monument and memorial to the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding president of the UAE, the Museum will be the centrepiece of the Saadiyat Island Cultural District and will showcase the history, culture and more recently the social and economic transformation of the Emirates.
It has been a great privilege to work on the Zayed National Museum, to carry forward Sheikh Zayed’s vision and to communicate the dynamic character of a contemporary United Arab Emirates. We have sought to establish a building that will be an exemplar of sustainable design, resonating with Sheikh Zayed’s love of nature and his wider heritage.
Architecturally, the aim has been to combine a highly efficient, contemporary form with elements of traditional Arabic design and hospitality to create a museum that is sustainable, welcoming and culturally of its place. Celebrating Sheikh Zayed’s legacy and love of nature, the museum is set within a landscaped garden, based on a timeline of his life.
The display spaces are housed within a man-made, landscaped mound. The galleries are placed at the bases of five solar thermal towers. The towers heat up and act as thermal chimneys to draw cooling air currents naturally through the museum. Fresh air is captured at low level and drawn through buried ground-cooling pipes and then released into the museum’s lobby. The heat at the top of the towers works to draw the air up vertically through the galleries due to the thermal stack effect. Air vents open at the top of the wing-shaped towers taking advantage of the negative pressure on the lee of the wing profile to draw the hot air out.
Here in the museum these towers are lightweight steel structures, sculpted aerodynamically to work like the feathers of a bird’s wing. The analogies with falcons and flight are deliberate and relate directly to Sheikh Zayed’s love of falconry. This theme is further celebrated by a gallery devoted to the subject as part of a wider focus on conservation. These inner spaces open up to an outdoor arena for live displays with hunting birds.
Balancing the lightweight steel structures with a more monumental interior experience, the galleries are anchored by a dramatic top-lit central lobby, which is dug into the earth to exploit its thermal properties and brings together shops, cafes, an auditorium and informal venues for performances of poetry and dance. Throughout, the treatment of light and shade draws on a tradition of discreet, carefully positioned openings, which capture and direct the region’s intense sunlight to illuminate and animate these interior spaces. Objects are displayed within niches and on stone plinths that rise seamlessly from the floor.
The museum contains a variety of performance spaces. A large auditorium, lined with Emirati textiles, provides an evocative setting for presentations and films. The lobby incorporates more informal venues for poetry readings, music and dance, where the audience can gather in a circle to enjoy the spectacle and atmosphere of traditional performances.
The interior concept for the restaurant draws on the opulence and hospitality of the Bedouin tent, with carefully selected furnishings. The majlis, or VIP spaces, open onto a central courtyard. This traditional space offers guests a unique perspective, as it is the only place in the museum where one can enjoy views of the wind towers.
+ Project information / data
- Steel wing forms
- Concrete lobby structure – local sand from Saadiyat
- Island is used to mimic the colour tones of the surrounding natural landscape.
- The museum is intended to be a monument and memorial to the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding president of the United Arab Emirates.
- Five principal galleries and three further spaces will contain exhibitions devoted to the story of the Sheikh Zayed, the history of the UAE and falconry and conservation.
- The Museum also will incorporate an education centre, theatre, shops, café, VIP areas, members’ lounges and performance spaces.
Form and Layout:
- The towers are lightweight steel structures, sculpted aerodynamically to work like the feathers of a bird’s wing.
- Inside this structure, the gallery spaces are constructed as pods, which will be suspended above visitors passing through the ground floor lobby.
- The lobby will be part of an elevated mound that also incorporates a gallery dedicated to the life of Sheikh Zayed, a pavilion for special exhibitions and a falconry centre with live displays.
- The galleries are placed at the bases of five solar thermal towers. The towers heat up and act as thermal chimneys to draw cooling air currents naturally through the museum.
- Fresh air is captured at low level and drawn through buried ground-cooling pipes and then released into the museum’s lobby.
- The heat at the top of the towers works to draw the air up vertically through the galleries due to the thermal stack effect.
- Air vents open at the top of the wing-shaped towers taking advantage of the negative pressure on the lee of the wing profile to draw the hot air out.
- The lightweight steel structures are anchored by a top-lit central lobby, which is dug into the earth to exploit its thermal properties.
- A double skin, comprising an outer façade exposed to the elements and an inner skin that encloses the galleries, promotes air flow between the exhibition and circulation spaces, further reducing the energy required.
- The building will be surrounded by layered planting inspired by an oasis, connecting the Museum to the coast by a garden and a shaded pedestrian route.
- Entrance to the Museum is either via an urban connection to the Cultural District or through the garden promenade. The former access is comprised of a bridge and a narrow walkway that widens inside the Museum.
- VIP access is via a garden approach, designed to create a sense of arrival for guests and provide access for vehicles.
- Saadiyat Island is located 500 metres off the coast of Abu Dhabi and is the largest single mixed-use development in the Arabian Gulf.
- Arranged as seven districts, the Saadiyat Island Cultural District will also include the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Museum, the Louvre Abu Dhabi, as well as a Performing Arts Center and Maritime Museum.
- The Zayed National Museum is already under construction and will be the first of the museums proposed for the island.
+ Project credits
Tourism Development & Investment Company, Abu Dhabi
His Excellency Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, Chairman
Mubarak Hamad Al Muhairi, Managing Director
Lee Tabler, CEO
Museum & Mound site area: 53,331 m2
Public gardens, total area: 21,439 m2
Man-made mound: 30.7m NADD*
Wings : Range from 73-124m NADD*
Gross Internal Area 58,698 m2
Total Built Up Area 66,042 m2
Total Gallery space 5,764 m2
Architects: Foster + Partners | http://www.fosterandpartners.com
Foster + Partners Team:
Norman Foster, David Nelson, Gerard Evenden, Toby Blunt, Martin Castle, Ross Palmer, Dara Towhidi, Karsten Vollmer, Barrie Cheng, Ho Ling Cheung, Sidonie Immler, Joern Herrmann, Andrew King, Gemma Owen, Jillian Salter, Marilu Sicoli, Daniel Weiss, Bram Van Der Wal, Simon Wing
Engineers: WSP/BDSP AKT
Local Architect: Planar
Landscape Architects: Atelier Dreiseitl
Lighting Designers: Claude Engle
Cost Consultants: RLB
Facade Access: Lerch Bates
Specification Writers: Schumann Smith
Air Flow Consultants: RWDI
Environmental Engineers: Transsolar
Auditorium Consultants: Shen Milsom + Wilke
People Movement Consultants: Intelligent Space
Programme managers: AECOM
District Master Planners: TDIC Master Planners
Museography: The British Museum