Doha, Qatar – The National Museum of Qatar (NMoQ) is set to open its doors to the public on Thursday.
Designed by Jean Nouvel, the Pritzker Prize-winning French architect, the multifaceted structure resembling a giant desert rose sits across from the bustling Doha Corniche, the main waterfront promenade in the Qatari capital.
The futuristic, sand-coloured structure, located near Doha’s airport highway, is likely to be among the first buildings visitors will spot when arriving in the city.
“Culture connects people, and with this new museum we believe we had created an exceptional platform for dialogue,” said Sheikha al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the head of the Qatar Museums Authority.
The 52,000 square-metre building had previously been slated to open more than two years ago, but the inauguration was delayed while the museum’s management team reviewed the accessibility of the building.
“We decided we wanted to make this a very accessible museum,” Sheikha Amna bint Abdulaziz bin Jassim Al Thani, director of NMoQ, told Al Jazeera on Wednesday.
“We were determined to make this an engaging and encouraging museum.”
The museum is designed as a free-form space, in a way that does not include doors, and is meant to offer visitors a fluid experience as they move through time, space and themes.
Nouvel, who also designed Abu Dhabi’s Louvre, said the building is a symbol of Qatar’s culture and tradition.
“This is not just an open exhibition space,” Nouvel said at a press briefing in Doha.
“This is a building with various dimensions – high and low ceilings – a combination that is expressive and unique in the world,” he said.
Nouvel said his team had to meet enormous challenges to construct a building with “great curved disks, intersections, and cantilevered angles”.
These are the kinds of shapes made by a desert rose, a flower-like formation that occurs in the Gulf region.
The spatial structure has allowed for a loop of 11 galleries to flow while telling the story of Qatar’s history, from its Bedouin past to the present day.
A spiral-like walkway is surrounded by the petals of the rose, which act as the walls within the internal structure.
On these walls, videos of Qatari nationals play on a loop, giving visitors a chance to listen to testimonies and watch authentic footage depicting key stages of life in the country – such as pearl divers at work, women weaving and the process of traditional coffee-making.
“We have created galleries full of movement, sound, and colour in order to engage our public fully, with their senses and emotions as well as their intellects,” Sheikha Amna said.
She said that in the project’s early stages, museum staff held workshops with elderly community members, scholars, and dhow makers, to understand what stories should be told and how.
“We wanted to turn this story, this narrative, into an experience,” she said.
In addition to oral history films, produced by Doha Film Institute, the galleries include archival photographs, maps, texts and digital learning stations.
From life in the desert, to life on the coast – the final gallery of the 1.5km walkway showcases Qatar’s modern achievements under the country’s current emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
Other Qatar-related works have been contributed by international artists, including a piece by Iraqi sculptor Ahmed al-Bahrani called the Flag of Glory. The sculpture, which shows hands united in holding up the flag of Qatar, is displayed in the museum’s courtyard.
“It took me about seven months to complete the Flag of Glory,” al-Bahrani told Al Jazeera. “It represents Qatar’s National Day celebrations,” he said, adding he is “extremely proud” to have contributed to the project.
Other works and exhibitions from Qatar and elsewhere will be showcased in the future, Sheikha Amna said.