One of the most progressive regions in the world in terms of tourism is the United Arab Emirates on the Arabian Peninsula. These oil rich nations recognise that, in time, the oil will run out and provisions must be made now to create an après-oil economy when it does. Two of the Emirates, Dubai and Abu Dhabi have recognised tourism as a potential money spinner, and they are investing mega bucks building infrastructure which should see them attract millions of tourists once the oil reserves are gone.
During this transformation Abu Dhabi has kept its Arab traditions alive, but in a very contemporary manner, and is preserving its culture for millions to enjoy. As a way of focussing on its cultural ambitions, the authorities there have created a special precinct called the Saadiyat Cultural District for which a whole region on Saadiyat Island is devoted to culture and the arts.
Unprecedented in scale and scope, Saadiyat Cultural District will be a live canvas for global culture, drawing local, regional and international visitors with unique exhibitions, permanent collections, productions and performances.
Five architecturally inventive and exciting buildings have been, or are in the process of being, built in order to host permanent and temporary exhibitions, present productions and performances and to highlight Abu Dhabi’s seafaring traditions. The five new cultural centres are:
Zayed National Museum will tell the story of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, his unification of the United Arab Emirates, the history of the region and its cultural connections across the world. Given that falconry is a favourite past time in the Emirate, it seems fitting that the museum’s multiple roofs have been designed to represent the falcon’s wingtips.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi has the blessing of the governments of France and Abu Dhabi. The Louvre Abu Dhabi will display art, manuscripts and objects of historical, cultural and sociological significance. Spanning millennia, the items on display will originate from societies and cultures all over the world. Louvre Abu Dhabi’s geometric lace dome was inspired by the interlaced palm leaves traditionally used as roofing material and resulting in an enchanting rain of light.
Guggenheim Abu Dhabi will promote a truly transnational perspective on art history through its permanent collection, exhibitions, scholarly publications and educational programmes. Another architectural masterpiece, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi’s cones recall the region’s ancient wind-towers, which both ventilate and shade the museum’s exterior courtyards in a fitting blend of Arabian tradition and modern design.
The Performing Arts Centre will see world-class performers of opera, drama and music bring their talents to this amazing building, likening the performance spaces to being ‘embedded like pearls and exposed at the same time, emerging out of the structure, like fruits of a plant, facing the sea’.
The Maritime Museum will celebrate Abu Dhabi’s maritime heritage and explore the Emirati’s long relationship with the sea. The building with its simple appearance, will combine space, light, and water both inside and out, seamlessly blending the building’s interior and exterior to ensure that the Arabian Gulf is, fittingly, the museum’s most stunning exhibit.