Tuesday, September 4, 2012

F. GEHRY: GUGGENHEIM MUSEUM, ABU DHABI


ESPAÑOL

Saadiyat, in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, is probably the most important cultural project in the Middle East and one of the most impressive in the world. Among the most conspicuous cultural projects are works of Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid , Tadao Ando and Jean Nouvel , which we will review in this and subsequent pages of this moleskine.

ABOUT ABU DHABI

Given the importance of Dubai in the UAE, many confuse this city with the real country's capital, Abu Dhabi. While Dubai has always had a more important commercial role, Abu Dhabi is a much larger emirate (85% of the UAE's territory) and with huge oil reserves for 100 years, unlike Dubai's case, where oil is almost exhausted.

Abu Dhabi in late 60s. Photo taken at the Cultural Centre of Abu Dhabi.

It seems incredible that just 50 years ago Abu Dhabi was just a group of temporary shacks made of palm leaf, dispersed in the sand. There were no roads, schools, nor infrastructure ... its development was even behind Dubai's.


Model of Abu Dhabi in the 60s. Photo taken at the Cultural Centre of Abu Dhabi.

Nowadays progress in the capital is evident and sometimes impressive, although I must say that Dubai is a more dynamic and active city (my friend from Dubai would use the adjective "fun").

Taking advantage of the huge amount of resources available, authorities from Abu Dhabi have proposed a plan to revitalize the city, distancing themselves from the chaotic, commercial  and somewhat hedonistic model of their rival Dubai, and proposing a cultural and environmentally friendly city instead.


The plan, which is envisioned for 2030, emphasizes four main areas: green, work, life and connection (see video promo).



Saadiyat

One of the most impressive developments in Abu Dhabi city is called Saadiyat or "Island of Happiness" (happiness which, of course does not include the exploited  Indians or Pakistanis workers who build it ), emphasizing cultural tourism and 160,000 luxury residences.


This $ 27 billion project is a 27 km2 island aims to transform Abu Dhabi in the cultural center of the country, includes a number of facilities located in the waterfront, designed by some of the most famous architects of our time : the Guggenheim Museum (Frank Gehry), the Performing Arts Center (Zaha Hadid), the Maritime Museum (Tadao Ando) and the Louvre (Jean Nouvel). Thus Abu Dhabi seeks also outrun Doha in Qatar, which had hitherto been the main commitment to culture in the Gulf, with its Museum of Islamic Art, designed by IM Pei .


Moreover, the cultural district will feature 19 international pavilions dedicated to art, crossed by a network of canals, along with a branch of New York University (Cambridge, Carnegie Mellon, Texas, Northwestern and others already have offices in Qatar).


t is remarkable this turn to culture as such activities are not very profitable, and is likely that the government would end up assuming much of this enormous cost in the short term. But certainly this intervention will have a big impact on the education and cultural development of the region.

GUGGENHEIM MUSEUM

"“It was clear from the beginning that this had to be a new invention. 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.


After the success of his museum in Bilbao, Frank Gehry was in charge of the project for the Guggenheim Museum in Abu Dhabi. With over 30,000 m2, will be the largest of all the Guggenheim museums, and the program will include galleries for permanent and temporary collections, an art and technology center, archives, library, research center and a laboratory for the conservation and restoration of art the latest technology, all arranged on 4 levels.

Schematic plans of the second and third levels.
The system of bridges connecting the different galleries, a scheme already used in Bilbao, is used again in Abu Dhabi.

The project is located on a breakwater at the end of a peninsula, surrounded by water on three sides, in a unique position within the complex.

Furthermore diagonally crosses a canal and facing the building, ensuring water reflections an effect similar to the Taj Mahal.


For the design process, Gehry used some local formal references, such as the wind towers, typical of  the vernacular architecture of the Emirates.


Overlaying these opaque boxes along with other translucent conical elements, he obtained a more "serene" composition than other previous project of the author, providing a counterpoise between the opaque and the translucent but avoiding the use of metal sculptural forms (Ghery's favorite material), something that in this region of ​​high solar radiation and steamy temperatures would have been insufferably dazzling.


These conical elements also take part of the concept of wind towers, and not formal but functionally, to provide sun protection, channel breezes and expel warm air naturally.


But besides these vernacular elements, Gehry has used references to industrial spaces that will be used for large-scale exhibitions (something had already been included in the Fish Room of the museum in Bilbao ). In any case we can guess there will be a repertoire of scales, heights and feelings displayed  through a series of galleries connected by bridges and organized around a central atrium. Particularly interesting is the low number of windows, perhaps to pay tribute to the of the introverted and massive Islamic tradition.

While this design, whose final product presents a group of tilted boxes, gives the impression of being part of the Deconstructivism, I think it has differences with this movement. Deconstructivism (represented by Peter Eisenman , Daniel Libeskind and somehow, Rem Koolhaas ) is based on the rotation, translation and decomposition of simple volumes according to precise rational rules, overlapping volumes and spaces based  on topological relationships of the Object- building with itself and its environment. Gehry's work however (more similar to Miralles) takes a more sculptural approach, by adding, overlaying and rotating volumes as a   more subjective and personal design process, as it wasdemonstrated in the documentary "Sketches of Frank Gehry"  by Sydney Pollack.



In the next post we will review the proposal by Zaha Hadid for the Performing Arts Center.

SEE ALSO

- Other works by Frank Gehry .

Together with my friend Ahmed in front of the Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi, where the exhibition about Saadiyat took place. A night here costs between $ 1,500 and $ 37.000 (I'm not sure if breakfast is included). In subsequent posts I will include some views of this "modest hostel."

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