x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Another step in a long-term vision

Vast and graceful, Jean Nouvel's elegant Louvre Abu Dhabi has been familiar to residents of the capital for years - but only as a promise.

Vast and graceful, Jean Nouvel's elegant Louvre Abu Dhabi has been familiar to residents of the capital for years - but only as a promise.

Everyone has seen the image: a cluster of structures dominated by a broad lacy white dome, fully 180 metres in diametre, creating underneath it a mottled mixture of sunshine and shadow. Illustrations of this vision have often appeared in The National and other media. The image also stars in an exhibition at Manarat Saadiyat, and in a mock-up on display at the Emirates Palace.

Now the real thing will take shape from Saadiyat Island's sandy soil. Dubai-based contractor Arabtec confirmed yesterday that it has, with two partners, won the long-awaited Dh2.4 billion contract.

The company says work will begin "immediately", with a formal opening now planned to take place in 2015.

That is two years late; when first announced, in 2007, the Louvre Abu Dhabi was scheduled to open in 2013. But this project will prove to have been worth the wait.

The Louvre, Paris's crown jewel, is arguably the world's best-known museum of art. Mr Nouvel, an acclaimed and award-winning French architect, is among the world's star architects. So Abu Dhabi's connection with this renowned institution and this architect symbolise the capital's aspirations, for the city and the country.

Better yet, this is just the start. Abu Dhabi, now sadly short of museums large or small, will within a few years boast not only a Louvre but also a branch of the Guggenheim, designed by Frank Gehry, and the soaring Zayed National Museum, designed by Sir Norman Foster; all will add to the city's skyline and draw residents and tourists alike.

The three institutions, and additional projects later, will be the vital organs of Saadiyat Island, already developing in anticipation of the flowering of the cultural district. Hotels, housing, museums, offices and commerce are intended to grow robustly together on Saadiyat.

In a decade or so, the whole city can be expected to look very different, just as it has changed in the last decade.

But Abu Dhabi, like Rome (or Paris) can't be built in a day. Upsets and surprises and schedule changes come and go, but the vision endures and the future is growing.