Architecture, Cultural buildings, Middle East

Seven cultural buildings that made their mark on the Middle East in 2017

2017 marked the opening of a number of highly-anticipated cultural buildings in the Middle East, from the Jean Nouvel-designed Louvre Abu Dhabi to a restored music centre in Bahrain.

designMENA rounds up the top seven buildings that have contributed a strong cultural value to their cities.


Louvre Abu Dhabi by Ateliers Jean Nouvel in Abu Dhabi, UAE

2017 saw the opening of the long-delayed Louvre Abu Dhabi museum, designed by French architect Jean Nouvel. The project was first announced in 2007, and had since seen a number of delays until officially opening its doors in November this year.

The museum complex, which is located in Abu Dhabi’s cultural district on Saadiyat Island, is made up of 55 white volumes that are distributed amid what appears to be a ‘mini-city’ (or medina). The museum city is surrounded by water and almost entirely covered by a geometric dome that spans 180 metres- and is made up of 8,000 overlapping metal stars. Read about designMENA’s visit to the Louvre Abu Dhabi here. 

designMENA spoke to Nouvel during the press conference, where he focused on the importance of context  in informing the architectural language of the museum. The architect also spoke about how the geometric dome had inspired by interiors of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, which Nouvel also designed, as well as being involved in the overall art curation.

Sheikh Jaber Al Ahmad Cultural Centre by SSH in Kuwait City, Kuwait 

The SSH-designed Sheikh Jaber Al Ahmad Cultural Centre in Kuwait City opened at the beginning of 2017, with the design and construction of the $775 million project completed in only 22 months.

Made up of four angular buildings with perforated arabesque patterns, it sits s the centrpiece of the new cultural district in central Kuwait, close to the historic Flag Square.

The Centre hosts various cultural events including music, theatre, film, workshops and spoken word.

Not long since its opening, the cultural centre caught fire, although he titanium cladding allowed for minimal damage to the complex.

Musée Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech (mYSLm) by Studio KO in Marrakesh, Morocco 

French architecture firm Studio KO’s Musée Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech opened its door in Marrakesh in late October of this year, complete with a brickwork facade and interiors inspired by the lining of a jacket.

Dedicated to the work of the legendary French fashion designer, the new museum houses an important selection from the Fondation Pierre Bergé: Yves Saint Laurent’s impressive collection, which comprises 5,000 items of clothing, 15,000 haute couture accessories as well as tens of thousands of sketches and assorted objects.

Situated on Rue Yves Saint Laurent, adjacent to the famous Jardin Majorelle, the new building spans over 4,000m2, including a 400 m2 permanent exhibition space, as well as a 150m2 temporary exhibition space, a 130-seat auditorium, a bookshop, a café-restaurant with a terrace and a research library housing 5,000 books. Read more about the project on designMENA. 

Etihad Museum by Moriyana & Teshima Architects in Dubai, UAE 

January 2017 saw the opening of Etihad Museum designed by Canadian firm Moriyana & Teshima Architects.

Located adjacent to the historic Union House on the Dubai waterfront, the museum honours the 1971 signing of the document that created the UAE and celebrates the culture and history of its people.

Much of the museum is housed underground, including permanent and temporary galleries, theatres, event spaces and archival facilities.

The structure with its undulating curves represents the parchment upon which the unification was written, and its tapering golden columns symbolise the pens with which the document was signed. The entrance pavilion rests lightly upon a reflecting pool and plaza. Read more about the design of the museum on designMENA. 

Palestine Museum by Heneghan Peng in Birzeit (West Bank), Palestine

First proposed in 2011, this year saw the completion of the Palestine Museum by Ireland-based architects Heneghan Peng located in the city of Birzeit in the West Bank, near Ramallah.

The museum, which is dedicated to Palestinian culture, is set on a hilltop overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, highlighting its context by referencing the traditional terraced landscapes that can be seen in the West Bank- directly visible in the design of the building.

The masterplan uses a series of stone-walled terraces that trail the sloping topography of the site, creating a homogenous structure that emerges from the hilltop, perfectly blended with its surroundings.

The monolithic structure features limestone slabs that cover all of the building’s façade as well as its roofs. Read more about the building on designMENA. 

The building also won an award under the Cultural category at the 2017 World Architecture Festival, alongside other buildings in the Middle East.

Concrete by OMA in Dubai, UAE 

Dutch firm OMA’s first project in Dubai, the Alserkal Avenue-based multi-functional events and cultural space, Concrete, opened to the public in March this year, spearheaded by the architecture studio’s Dubai office.

Concrete addresses the district’s growing need for a centrally located public space capable of hosting a diverse programme, combining four former warehouses to create a 1,250m2 events hub with the ability to accommodate public events, exhibitions, performances and lectures, all at the same time. Read designMENA’s interview with lead architect, Kaveh Dabiri, about the design of Concrete. 

The building combines two distinct facades: one made from translucent poly-carbonate sheets that allows for the indoor and outdoor elements of the building to interact; while the street-facing side is clad in a rough concrete finish complete with mirror pieces that reflect and refract the light.

Restoration of Muharraq district in Muharraq Island. Bahrain

Belgian Office Kersten Geers David Van Severen has designed a pair of cultural centres for Bahrain, featuring mesh curtains that can be lifted to offer views of the performances taking place inside.

The project includes the renovation of two houses, known as ‘Dar’s’ on the harbour city of Muharraq. One of the projects, Dar al Jinaa, has been completed inaugurated, while the second, Dar al Riffa, is currently under construction (see more images of the project here).

The project comes as part of a larger urban renewal initiative led by Bahrain’s Ministry of Culture.

Once used by the local pearl divers to perform private music performances, the two buildings will serve as music centres, providing the public with access to the musical and cultural traditions of the historic community. Read designMENA’s interview with the architects about the design of the buildings here.