SCHOTT solutions no. 1/2009 > Showcase Design

The buildings of the star architect Ieoh Ming Pei are characterized by progressive concepts subtly blended with location-specific traditions. Photo: Museum of Islamic Art, Doha

Cubic Treasure House

The display cases inside the new Museum of Islamic Art in the Arabic Emirate Qatar feature anti-reflective specialized glass Amiran® and fiber optic components from SCHOTT.

Dr. Hans-Peter Schwanke

Fort Knox is now also located on the Gulf. The sharp-edged structure rises from the waves like a sculptural solitaire. Light and shadow zones that intermingle ignite lively interactions. They accentuate the compact geometric structures. The attractive, prominent location in front of the skyline of  Doha, the capital of  Qatar, brings a very special kind of treasure house into focus. It is the only museum of Islamic art in the Arabic world: The Museum of Islamic Art. The architectural language does not express any feelings of triumph, but rather serves as a transformation key. The leadership of the Emirate responded to the striving of its neighbors to set new records in marketing construction sites by focusing on local heritage. Its desire to explore its own artistic roots is reflected by the establishment of an outstanding collection of  Islamic artifacts and construction of a suitable building for them. No other architect seemed more predestined for this job than the Chinese-American building artist Ieoh Ming Pei. His exceptional abilities cannot be characterized by a typical architectural style. He has a legendary reputation for developing a style well suited for the particular location that is based upon a masterful combination of history and the present.

Pei accepted the direct contract award from the Ruler only after some hesitation. He went on trips to explore Islamic architecture. However, he turned down all of the building sites that were offered to him. He did not want his creation to disappear in the general silhouette. So, Pei positioned his building in a highly-visible location on an artificial island, approximately 60 meters in front of the waterside promenade. The driveway to the museum is lined with palm trees and includes cascading fountains, a reflective basin and a bridge, all of which create an impressive entrance to this new landmark. The nearly windowless main building clearly stands out in front of the azure blue water and cloudless sky. The multistory, cuboid-shaped building is rectangular in layout and tapers upward and inward over broken corners in the form of an octagon. A cube caps the top of the building in a diagonal orientation VS. the long axis of the building. Distinctive, almond-shaped openings let light enter the inner cupola. The yellow-brown, French Chamois limestone cladding emphasizes the quiet reserve of the treasure house. Pei’s design was influenced by the highly expressive simplicity of the Sabil in the Cairo Tulun Mosque, a ritual fountain from the 13th century. Using sharp proportions and clear contours, he created a modern architectural language based on elementary shapes and powerful lines.
In the central hall of the museum that is flooded with light, two curved gala stairways lead into the ­second floor. Photo: Museum of Islamic Art, Doha
Ideas from other style-forming Islamic places of worship, defensive fortifications and palaces, such as the Spanish Alhambra, were also included in the design of the 45,000 square meter overall complex. Characteristic courtyards stretch out on both sides of the museum. Trick water fountains and arcades mitigate the isolation of the courtyards. The western courtyard opens toward the ship landing pier. The eastern courtyard that is lined by an elaborately decorated arcade connects with the Education Wing.

Open and closed zones also define the interior of the five-story main building. The bright as day central hall captivates with unexpected elegance. An abstract flower bud motif adorns the natural stone floor. Two arch-shaped handrails of a gala stairway in the form of a wide open accordion lead into the surrounding galleries of the First Upper Floor. A twelve meter diameter, circular chandelier is suspended from the silver- colored, richly facetted cupola made of German stainless steel. The glass wall at the northern end is an impressive 45 meters high and offers a splendid view across the bay. However, the strictly orchestrated combinations of colors and materials do not compete with the exhibits of the Museum.

“If you want people to come and stay, then you must create space for them and exciting pathways through these spaces.”

(I. M. Pei)

The main building fascinates with its sharp geometric lines. Photo: Museum of Islamic Art, Doha
All galleries in the upper stories are grouped around the central hall in the traditional style of cultural-historical museums. To protect and conserve the exhibits, the galleries with a total floor space of 5,000 square meters are illuminated without incident natural daylight. And this is also where SCHOTT products come into play: The imposing, large, one-piece display cases are made of the anti-reflective glass Amiran® from SCHOTT that permits an undisturbed view of the exhibits. To enable production of a total of 3,200 square meters of glazing, SCHOTT delivered about 2,300 panes of the especially low iron oxide, laminated safety glass to the British display case manufacturer Click Netherfield.

This amounted to more than 200 tons of glass. 18 different types of display cases can be found in the Museum. The fiber optic components supplied by SCHOTT Lighting for the display cases, as well as some of the ceilings, provide pleasant light and protect the exhibits against heat and UV radiation.

Around 800 precious exhibits from the National State Collection, as well as some from the ruling Al Thani family, are arranged by topic. These include pieces of clothing from Iran, rubies from India, an old incense burner from Syria, a North African Koran from the 14th century, precious vessels from Iraq, as well as objects made of ivory, silk, gold and gems that are more than 1,000 years old. The collection also contains robes, carpets and bibliophilic treasures. The exhibits present the entire spectrum of Islamic art from all areas of its distribution in outstanding quality. Following a large period of isolation from Western cultural circles, the builder intends to provide access to and facilitate a better perception of the Islamic arts. Education, understanding among nations, international dialog and scientific research are the primary objectives. The two-story Educational Wing supports the achievement of these objectives with an auditorium, educational center, library, study center, workshops, as well as the almost 4,000 square meter large temporary exhibition zone. The costs to build this museum are said to total 800 million u.s. dollars. An impressive two billion euros have been invested in the State Collection. The opening of the Museum was celebrated in November 2008.

Pei created this special museum in an ideal balance of time, location and purpose, free of traditional references and hierarchies. He perfected the strict objectivity of this house of art with individual, minimalistic imaginative shapes in an autonomous masterpiece of its own complexity. The building sovereignly captures the local spirit at a clearly defined location in a powerful, future-oriented way. <|
The display cases with non-reflective Amiran® glass and fiber optic components from SCHOTT allow a clear and brillant view of the precious exhibits. Photos: Click Netherfield