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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Favourite Buildings Visited - The Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar...

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The Museum of Islamic Art (MAI) opened in late 2008 in Doha, Qatar, could be considered as perhaps the first of the row of upcoming, high-profile, cultural projects to completed in the region. Designed by the Pritzker Prize winning Chinese/ American architect I.M. Pei, whose designs also include the glass pyramid outside the Louvre and the Museum of Modern Art (MUDAM) in Luxembourg, was apparently given free reins to come up with his design, which eventually involved the creation of an artificial land extension into the the bay (the Corniche) linking various key districts of the Qatari capital. The location of the museum has resulted in it becoming a prominent landmark, visible from a number of key nodes around the city.
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It is quite clear that no expense was spared in the realization of the museum, which has a lavish, if understated, palette of materials and in execution enjoys a superb level of finishing and detailing (something quite unique for the region). The museum's galleries and exhibits are both in quality and layout superb, with a number of varied but controlled display formats, ranking from fibre-optics lit glass vitrines to fenced-off, but visually accessible, exhibits of some of the larger artefacts such as carpets or stone columns. The freely dispersed museum guards didn't seem to mind the visitors photographing the exhibits, which was a nice change to other comparable venues where even pulling out a camera results usually in a 'tut-tut' and (mostly symbolic) slap on the fingers by the institution's staff... The low lit spaces also lent a surprising intimacy to the displays, 'scattered' across the sequential galleries.

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View from the approach to the museum...
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The central museum hall...
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If slight criticism is to be disclosed, the circulation between the galleries distributed between the three first floors is somewhat convoluted and involve some 'doubling-back' if one is to access any of the adjacent, surprisingly discreet, stairwells connecting the different levels. Also, some of the, call them, 'architectural objects' that occupy the main space (the decorated - torus shaped - central chandelier; the grand staircase; the atrium; the ocular; the connecting glass-bridges) all seem to fight for attention, with none coming out as a clear protagonist - there seems to be a bit too many ideas rammed into the same space - it would have been nice to see these elements either toned-down, synchronized, or even just eliminated all together (saved for another project) for the sake of clarity. It would also have been nice to have a decent coffee-shop (instead of just a number of vending-machines) somewhere along the main concourse. Overall, however, this museum establishes a sterling precedent for the other cultural establishments currently under construction in the Gulf. Let's hope they're up to the challenge...
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Now where are Kuwait's comparable cultural venues..?!
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Views of the main atrium...
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Above and below - Some of the museum's galleries...
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Above and below - Examples of some of the print-based displays...
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View from a gallery of the atrium...
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View of the MAI from the adjacent harbour...

1 comment:

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