National Museum of Qatar by Jean Nouvel resembles a desert rose


Resembling a ‘Desert Rose’, the National Museum of Qatar (NMoQ) is a heritage building designed by French Pritzker-Prize-winning architect Atelier Jean Nouvel. It replaces the original Qatar National Museum, established in 1975 Emir Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani to illustrate the country’s history and culture, and expresses the vibrant community’s future aspirations.

SURFACES REPORTER has covered this beautiful museum in detail. Have a look:

Heritage Architecture and Design-Jean NouvelAerial view of the National Museum of Qatar designed by Jean Nouvel_Iwan Baan

The construction of an iconic building took almost a decade to complete. Originally, the museum was scheduled to open in 2015 but due to some unforeseen circumstances, it was opened last year in March. Take a closer look of this eye-catching building with Surfaces Reporter: 

View from the restored historic Palace into the courtyard of the new NMoQ_Iwan Baan

The Real Charm

The most striking feature of this building is its peculiar construction where the large interlocking discs surrounding the historic palace-like necklace. 

View of the restored historic Palace of Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani together with the new National Museum of Qatar designed by Ateliers Jean Nouvel

Some discs are horizontal, while the rest are lying on other disks. Like the exterior, the interior is a landscape of interlocking discs. The finishes are neutral and monochromatic.

Covered on an area of 40,000-square-meter, the museum consists of an exhibition, innovate artworks by national and international artists, documentary materials, rare and valuable items, and two shops.
National Museum of Qatar Shop Interiors by Koichi Takada Architects

The two shops- a gift and book shop fitted in cavernous wooden spaces, designed by Australian architecture firm Koichi Takada Architects. And the exhibition contains around 8,000 objects, including jewels, books, archaeological artifacts, artworks, décor objects, boats, textile and garments, and historical documents. 

The most impressive piece is the Pearl Carpet of Baroda – a late 18th-century Indian carpet embellished with more than one million pearls together with sapphires, emeralds, and diamonds.
Baroda carpet in Pearls and Celebrations gallery.

Inspiration Behind this Unusual Design

The dramatic design of the building is inspired from the desert rose growing out of the ground through the work of salt, wind, water and sand. The desert-rose formation evokes the climate and culture of Qatar. It emerges from the earth and then merges in it. 

"The desert rose is a symbol of the desert because it's an architecture created by time and the desert itself," Nouvel added. "Nobody knows what the inside of a desert rose looks like, and we created a typology of intersections that makes you question what is inside it."

"It's important to consider that architecture is a testimony of time and the museum is a testimony of this time in Qatar, which is a very powerful period," said the architect. "The symbology of the desert rose is important, but we also wanted to reflect modernity, which is achieved through a change of scale and the creation of something that is a real technical feat."

Design Details

The external cladding of this structure is formed from a high-performance glass fibre-reinforced concrete (GFRC) that holds the same sand colour inside and outside the building. The GFRC layer was divided into a series of panels along with the building elliptical discs of varying diameters from 46 to 285 feet.

Globally renowned consulting firm ARUP provided most of the engineering disciplines, comprising the main steel structural system.
Close-up view of the interlocking disks of the new National Museum of Qatar designed by Ateliers Jean Nouvel | Photo credit: Iwan Baan
The exterior part has almost 76,000 Fibrex panels made from 3,000 master moulds.

And the orientation of discs is added to mainly sustain the building’s energy efficiency. When the sun moves from the east direction to the west, the disc casts long shadows like a protective covering to keep the interior spaces cool and cosy. 

The National Museum of Qatar designed by Ateliers Jean Nouvel | Photo credit: Iwan Baan

The vertical walls are coated in stuc-Pierre, or stone stucco, traditional gypsum and lime-blended plaster that provides a stone look. Ceilings are covered in a microporous acoustic plaster sprayed on mineral wool. The floors are sand-coloured polished concrete with tiny mineral aggregates. Sand colour completely blends with the local environment.

The structure offers an organic and fluid geometry and the elliptical discs are scattered irregularly to create a sensory and spatial organization on an oblong plot. Gaps between the discs accommodate large frameless glass openings that offer glimpses of the Howsh, the museum’s gardens, and Doha Bay. 

The Coming of Oil gallery – film dir. by Doug Aitken.

In general, the building contains a large 8,000-square-metre exhibition area, a 220-seat auditorium, learning spaces, research centre, two retail outlets, a rooftop restaurant, two cafes, a dedicated food forum, a park with a botanical garden, an artificial lagoon, a sculpture garden, and many other amenities.

Life on the Coast gallery – Al Zubarah exhibits and film dir. by Abderrahmane Sissako.

The museum has a 52,000-square-metre floor, which envelopes the early 20th-century palace of Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani, that has been already refurbished and integrated into the visitor experience. 

Key Challenges in Designing Such a Complex Structure

There must have been some difficulties during the implementation of such a complex project. “It is a simple idea, but very complex to achieve,” acknowledges Nouvel’s project manager Hafid Rakem.

The National Museum of Qatar designed by Ateliers Jean Nouvel 

Structuring and placing 539 discs of 30 different sizes, interconnecting at a mind-bending number of nodes along with managing a multinational team of hundreds of engineers, architects and other consultants, from the concept’s inception to the final implementation was quite an arduous task, say the engineers.  

This is the largest BIM project in the world in terms of project scope and degree of detailing. CAD software developed by Gehry Technologies has been used in this digital project. 

Around the Museum


A landscape park of 112,000-square-metre designed by landscape architect Michel Desvignes surrounds the museum, which chronicles the story of Qatar and how the people lived here and cultivated in such not so friendly environment. There is also a heritage garden of large grassy areas seems ideal for stretching out on in the evening. The park also contains a 430 car parking area.


The galleries bordering a central courtyard that remarks the traditional Baraha where voyagers would empty out their commodities. Many events are organized in the courtyard. Also, it forms part of a linking the majestic palace's outdoor spaces with an orchard leading towards the waterfront boulevard. The route for tourists extends around one mile and archives the history of Qatar.

Life on the Coast – Nafas/Breathe Mira Nair.

There are movie projections that were produced in collaboration with the Doha Film Institute that were installed on the walls and used as a backdrop for bespoke films depicting Qatar, its people and its history.

Core Chronology in The Archaeology of Qatar gallery. 

"The idea was to introduce a dialogue between art and information," Nouvel said. "A lot of Qatar's history is undocumented, so we used movies and models to help communicate how life here has changed."

Biodiversity exhibits in Qatar’s Natural Environments gallery.

There were poetic imageries on the walls in perfect harmony with other exhibits and are in consort with the sound that engrosses the sightseer in a myriad of settings ranging room the subaquatic environment, to the Qatar busy market towns that flourished during the era when the nation was the primary to the pearling industry.

Marine Biota in Qatar’s Natural Environments gallery. | Photo credit: Danica Kus

Before this majestic museum, Jean Nouvel completed the project Louvre Abu Dhabi, which was another big art and civilization museum, located in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. 

About the Architect

Born in Fumel, Jean Nouvel is the Pritzker Prize-winning architect of several national and international buildings. He has gained worldwide recognition through numerous prestigious French and International prizes and rewards. Few of his famous projects include Arab World Institute (Paris - 1987), Opera House (Lyon – 1993), Agbar Tower (Barcelona – 2005), extending of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (Madrid – 2005), 100 11th avenue (New-York – 2010), Louvre Abu Dhabi (Abu Dhabi – 2017) and National Museum of Qatar (Doha –2019). Ateliers Jean Nouvel recently won several competitions, including the Ecological district and Rassuen Golf Course in Istres with Fontès Architecture (France) and the Rudy Ricciotti Agency (France).

*Photo Courtesy Interiors: Danica Kus

*Photo Courtesy Exteriors: Iwan Baan

*Jean Nouvel Pic © Gaston Bergeret

*Text Courtesy: Qatar Museums

*The content has been changed from its original form to conform it with SR's writing style. 

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