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Abu dhabi, saadiyat island, United Arab Emirates

Guggenheim Abu Dhabi

A contemporary art museum

Frank Gehry — Guggenheim Abu Dhabi

Image: Frank Gehry ©

Approaching the design of the museum for Abu Dhabi made it possible to consider options for the design of a building that would not be possible in the United States or in Europe. It is clear from the beginning that this had to be a new invention, and in my discussions with Tom Krens, the director of the Guggenheim, we explored what those inventions might be. We did not have a plan or an idea pre conceived for a building, a museum of contemporary art, in place like Abu Dhabi. The landscape, the opportunity, the requirement, to build something that people all over the world would come to and the possible resource to accomplish it opened tracks that were not likely to be considered anywhere else. The site itself, virtually on the water or close to the water on all sides, in a desert landscape with the beautiful sea and the light quality of the place suggested some of the direction.

Frank Gehry — Guggenheim Abu Dhabi

Image: Frank Gehry ©

We started with very basic plan organization. The center core galleries were laid out forming a courtyard. Those galleries were of various height and sizes, and placed one on top of another to create four floors. Those galleries were considered to be the more classical contemporary galleries which would be completely air conditioned with skylights where possible, and a sophisticated lighting system. The next ring of galleries surrounding that core then radiating out of the center would be larger galleries, they would have a variety of shapes that would be less formally constructed. The third ring of the plan would be larger galleries, built more like raw industrial space with exposed lighting and systems. They would be less finished. It would be these galleries that would be attractive as spawning homes for a new scale of contemporary art. Art that would be, perhaps, made on site and would be of a scale that could not be achieved in the normally organized museums around the world.

Frank Gehry — Guggenheim Abu Dhabi

Image: Frank Gehry ©

This idea is based on the experience that Tom has had visiting artists’ studios within their large industrial spaces. They have been able to create works that are way beyond the experience any of us have within the normal museum spaces. So in the end you create a cluster of galleries that allows for a tremendous amount of flexibility in organizing shows with a great deal of variety. The different heights, the different shapes, the different character of the galleries are something that would be studied and refined as the progress of the design continues.

Frank Gehry — Guggenheim Abu Dhabi

Image: Frank Gehry ©

We have been exploring with our consultants, TransSolar, a method of cooling outdoor spaces based on the very old idea of the open top teepee that draws the hot air out of the space. This led to a series of conical shaped tubes that became an element of focus for the surrounding galleries, creating an outdoor space. A courtyard that could be used for sculpture, and in some cases the conical shape is used as entry pavilions. A main entrance to the museum, a boat entry to the museum, and then as walkways and covered walkways out into the desert landscape. It is intended to peruse these ideas of natural ventilation which are inspired by the early uses of this method historically in the region and have been used for many, many generations. This central idea with the incorporation of water walls in the main courtyard and other sustainable features which are now being explored are done with the intention of making a building that is an exemplary energy efficient building.

The exterior walls of the building are now being considered in stone with some variety in color and texture, so that the change of color to highlight a particular museum pavilion. It is the intention that this museum will house contemporary art from all over the world, not just Western culture. And as the design progresses it would be necessary to identify with the architecture and character of the art being shown. As part of the building, two of the large Biennale art galleries were added, and were brought closer to the main building as an introduction of the future Biennale buildings along the canal. These buildings would form a courtyard entrance from the central transportation routes on Saadiyat Island.

Experimental