Architecture amidst the sea - Louvre Museum by Ar. Jean Nouvel

Louvre Abu Dhabi’s complex engineering concept has made it one of the most innovative and challenging museum projects built in recent times. The construction of the museum took place from 2013 to 2017.

Louvre Abu Dhabi’s complex engineering concept has made it one of the most innovative and challenging museum projects built in recent times. The construction of the museum took place from 2013 to 2017. Prior to completion, Louvre Abu Dhabi has already received three international awards: winner of the ‘Project of the Future’ category of the Identity Design Award in 2015; the ‘European Steel Design Award’ in 2017, received with Waagner Biro, the Louvre Abu Dhabi dome specialist, and winner of the ‘Most Prominent UAE Project’ category of the Identity Design Award in 2017.

Architectural concept

The museum and the sea “All climates like exceptions. Warmer when it is cold. Cooler in the tropics. People do not resist thermal shock well. Nor do works of art. Such elementary observations have influenced Louvre Abu Dhabi. It wishes to create a welcoming world serenely combining light and shadow, reflection and calm. It wishes to belong to a country, to its history, to its geography without becoming a flat translation, the pleonasm that results in boredom and convention. It also aims at emphasizing the fascination generated by rare encounters. It is rather unusual to find a built archipelago in the sea. It is even more uncommon to see that it is protected by a parasol creating a rain of light. The possibility of accessing the museum by boat or finding a pontoon to reach it by foot from the shore is equally extraordinary, before being welcomed like a much-awaited visitor willing to see unique collections, linger in tempting bookstores, or taste local teas, coffees and delicacies. It is both a calm and complex place. A contrast amongst a series of museums that cultivate their differences and their authenticities. It is a project founded on a major symbol of Arab architecture: the dome. But here, with its evident shift from tradition, the dome is a modern proposal. A double dome 180 metres in diameter, offering horizontal, perfectly radiating geometry, a randomly perforated woven material, providing shade punctuated by bursts of sun. The dome gleams in the Abu Dhabi sunshine. At night, this protected landscape is an oasis of light under a starry dome.

Louvre Abu Dhabi becomes the final destination of an urban promenade, a garden on the coast, a cool haven, a shelter of light during the day and evening, its aesthetic consistent with its role as a sanctuary for the most precious works of art.”

- Ar. Jean Nouvel


The Louvre Abu Dhabi includes Permanent exhibition galleries, temporary exhibition galleries, children’s museum, auditorium, storage, conservation building, restoration workshops, public spaces, administration building, restaurant, café, and boutique.

Built up area 97000 M²

All gallery spaces 8600 M²

Permanent galleries 6400 M²

Exhibitions 2000 M²

Children’s Museum 200 M²

Auditorium 420 M²/250 seats

The Museum buildings comprise of 55 individual buildings which includes 26 Permanent Galleries. The External building’s façade is made of 3,900 panels (20m² average format) ultra-high performance fibre concrete (UHPC).


Pritzker-prize winning architect Jean Nouvel sought inspiration for the concept of Louvre Abu Dhabi in traditional Arabic architectural culture, and designed Louvre Abu Dhabi as a ‘museum city’ in the sea. Its contrasting series of white buildings take inspiration from the medina and low-lying Arab settlements. In total, 55 individual but connected buildings, including 26 galleries, make up this museum city. The façades of the buildings are made up of 3,900 panels of ultra-high performance fibre concrete (UHPC).

The museum design is collaboration between traditional design and modern construction techniques. The tranquil environment encourages visitors to enjoy the ever-changing relationship between the sun and the dome and between sea, buildings and land.

building design architect-Louvre Musuem Abu Dhabi


A vast dome, 180 metres in diameter, covers the majority of the museum city. This impressive structure is visible from the sea, the surrounding areas and Abu Dhabi city centre. Constructed by Waagner Biro (specialists in steel structures), the dome consists of eight different layers: four outer layers clad in stainless steel and four inner layers clad in aluminium, separated by a steel frame five metres high. The frame is made of 10,000 structural components pre-assembled into 85 supersized elements, each weighing on average 50 tonnes. The dome’s complex pattern is the result of a highly studied geometric design. The pattern is repeated at various sizes and angles in the eight superimposed layers. Each ray of light penetrates the eight layers before appearing or disappearing. The result is a cinematic ‘Rain of Light’ effect as the sun’s path progresses throughout the day. At night, it forms 7,850 stars visible from both inside and out. This ‘Rain of Light’ effect has been the subject of many models and mock ups over the years and is one of the defining features of the concept. The dome is supported by four permanent piers, each 110 metres apart, hidden within the museum buildings to give the impression that the dome is floating. The interior dome elevation is 29 metres from the ground floor to the underside of the cladding. The highest point of the dome is 40 metres above sea level and 36 metres above ground floor level.

The Dome in Figures

1.   7,850 unique stars

2.   Eight layers of cladding

3 .  180 metre diameter

4.   565 metre circumference

5.   Seven metre width

6.   80 mm distance between layers

7.   85 super-sized elements weighing on average 50 tonnes

8.   Highest external point: 40 metres above sea level, 36 metres above ground floor level.

9.   Interior dome elevation: 29 metres above ground floor level.

10. Four permanent piers holding up the dome, 110 metres apart

11. Largest stars: 13 metre diameter, 1.3 tonnes

12. 7,500 tonnes in weight – almost as much as the Eiffel Tower

  • Dome steel structure: 5,200 tonnes
  • Inner and outer cladding, perimeter rim: 2,000 tonnes
  • Gratings, walkways, mesh and misc. items: 300 tonnes

13. 1.8% perforation of the dome

14. Two years’ total construction time

15. Up to 800 workers at a time

Louvre Musuem Abu Dhabi : Architecture amidst the Sea!


Museum Galleries

The floors, walls and ceiling surfaces of the museum galleries re-enforce the palatial dimensions of Louvre Abu Dhabi. The floor paving is made of stone modules framed in bronze: throughout the galleries, the choice of stone responds to the period of the artworks on show. The walls provide hanging flexibility: all subsidiary equipment may be concealed within special wall slots.

Filtered natural light can be present in all the galleries, either from lateral windows with views onto the surrounding environment or through zenithal lighting. This involves the use of glass mirrors to capture sunlight and direct it into the gallery spaces while also scattering rays to avoid glare. There are 17 glass ceilings within the museum galleries. Each is made up of 18 different types of glass panels. In total, there are over 25,000 individual pieces of glass. These glass ceilings incorporate both natural and artificial lighting to provide an optimal lighting system for the artworks on display.

Louvre Musuem Abu Dhabi

The display cases were also specifically constructed by Meyvaert in Ghent, Belgium for Louvre Abu Dhabi. They incorporate state-of-the art materials and have been designed to adapt flexibly to the rotation artworks on display. To meet stringent environmental control requirements within the museum galleries, the design team developed a system which cannot deviate by more than one degree from 21 degrees centigrade or 5% humidity range. This guarantees exceptionally stable environmental conditions for artworks and visitors. Fire detection and suppression systems within the galleries require special measures in order to avoid damage to the artwork.

Restaurant: Designed by Jean Nouvel, the restaurant at Louvre Abu Dhabi is made up of modular compartments. The intricate interior design takes inspiration from Arabic patterns, engraved into Corian panels. The furniture, also designed by Jean Nouvel, complements the light-filled interiors and panoramic views of the sea. Bespoke chandeliers, designed by Jean Nouvel and manufactured by Mobilier national, hang over the seven VIP tables. The restaurant is expected to open in 2018.

Café: Jean Nouvel’s design for the museum café is inspired by the Op Art (optical art) movement of the 1960s. From certain angles, the café seems entirely monochrome (white); from others, the café interiors are full of colour, like an abstracted reflection of the local maritime environment and port opposite the museum. The floors, walls, ceilings and furniture have been designed specifically for the site by Jean Nouvel.

Furniture Design: Jean Nouvel has designed a furniture series for the Louvre Abu Dhabi, known as the ‘Louvre Abu Dhabi Line’. Manufactured by Poltrona Frau, the furniture can be found in the public spaces, the exhibition galleries and VIP areas of the museum. The furniture is based on a modular system that can be adapted to the proportions of the space. Contrasting with the white buildings, the black leather furniture is both rigorous and ergonomic

The restaurant at Louvre Abu Dhabi is made up of modular compartments. The intricate interior design takes inspiration from Arabic patterns, which have been engraved into Corian panels.


The dome protects the buildings and outdoor plaza from the sun, improves comfort for visitors and reduces energy consumption. This allows visitors to circulate outdoors year-round in a self-regulated ‘micro-climate’. Low-profile but effective passive energy systems naturally enhance the cooling of the buildings and optimise water usage. The design team employed passive design techniques to improve sheltered outside conditions under the dome such as:

Solar shading effect of dome roof and self-shading of buildings

Optimised roof perforations to allow daylight without excess solar gain

Exposed thermal mass such as stone floor and cladding that can benefit from night time cooling

Light-coloured and reflective materials

Other modern environmental technologies include:

Highly insulated and air-tight building envelope

Highly efficient heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, lighting and sanitary fittings

Together, these techniques achieve the following benefits

42% reduction in solar gain

27.2% reduction in energy use

27% reduction in water use

Energy and water metering ensures resource efficiency, while leak detection flags any unintended water use. Louvre Abu Dhabi’s design is targeting a LEED Silver rating and has achieved a 3 pearl Estidama Design Rating.


This article was first published in SURFACES REPORTER MAGAZINE, February 2018. Print copy can be Subscribed at:

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