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The UAE never does things by halves, and in that spirit, a few particularly compelling cultural developments are coming up in the country, which are nothing short of spectacular.
On top of the list is Abu Dhabi's Louvre museum, which is coming up in the Saadiyat Cultural District on Saadiyat island. Due for completion next year and designed by Pritzker Prizewinning architect Jean Nouvel, the Louvre Abu Dhabi will boast galleries spread across 9,200 sq m and a built-up area of 87,000 sq m.
While the museum, which will house a permanent art collection enriched by loans from French museums, holds great promise, the building's design is equally imposing. In sync with its surroundings and located between sand and the sea, the structure features a massive emblem atic dome with geometric slits to filter light through, inspired by traditional architecture and shelters created with interlaced palm leaves - typical to the region. Playing with light and shadow, the result is a complex urban design, rooted in local culture. There's also a falaj-inspired water system running through the museum, inspired by ancient Arabian engineering.
After its launch, Henri Loyrette, former director of The Louvre, said, ''Unique, the Louvre Abu Dhabi project is singular and will remain so. It is not intended to duplicate The Louvre. It only intends to transmit what it is, in particular its requirement and its knowhow that led to its creation and its development.
''The Louvre Abu Dhabi will not be The Louvre in Abu Dhabi; it will be a new museum, carrying a double culture and a double tradition. It will combine the French museum requirements with the tradition of openness of the UAE, offering a new dimension to the universality of the original museum.''
Another museum in the Saadiyat Cultural District that has triggered intense anticipation is the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, designed by the award-winning architect Frank Gehry. Dedicated to contemporary art, it will be the largest Guggenheim museum in the world at 30,000 sq m and is expected to be completed by 2017. Surrounded almost entirely by water, it fits the traditional Arabian narrative with cones jutting into the sky, reminiscent of traditional wind towers. While the museum will flaunt around 12,500 sq m of gallery space, 11 iconic cones will provide additional exhibition space.
Richard Armstrong, Director, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, says, its opening, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi will be one of the world's greatest contemporary art museums. It will bring together exceptional examples of art made since the 1960s from around the world.''
Homage to the past
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Saadiyat Cultural District is the Zayed National Museum, designed by yet another Pritzker Prize -winning architect - Lord Norman Foster of Foster + Partners. The Zayed National Museum will become the UAE's national museum, telling the story of the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. It is being built into a distinctive structure reflecting falcon feathers, inspired by the ruler's love of falconry, and will boast a built-up area of 62,000 sq m. It is set for completion in 2016.
Lord Foster says, ''A monument and memorial to the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding president of the UAE, the Zayed National Museum is intended as a symbol of a progressive nation, showcasing the history, culture and recent social and economic transformation of the Emirates. Architecturally, the aim has been to combine a highly efficient, contemporary form with elements of traditional Arabian design and hospitality to create a museum that is sustainable, welcoming and of its place. Celebrating Shaikh Zayed's legacy and love of nature, the museum is set within a landscaped garden, based on a timeline of his life. Throughout, the treatment of light draws on a tradition of discreet, carefully positioned openings, which capture and direct the region's intense sunlight to illuminate and animate interior spaces.''
While the Saadiyat Cultural District will bring a renewed cultural zing to the capital, an exciting landmark being built in Dubai will certainly become the region's new superlative building. The Dubai Opera is a 2,000-seater venue, scheduled for completion in 2016 and located in The Opera District of Downtown Dubai. The district is a flagship project developed by Emaar.
A spokesperson for the real estate developer says, ''The centerpiece of The Opera District is the Dubai Opera, a multiformat venue for operas, theatre, concerts art exhibitions, orchestra shows, film viewings, sports events and seasonal programmes. Its design is inspired by the traditional sailing vessels of the Arabian Gulf- the classic wooden dhows synonymous with the Dubai Creek. It is envisaged to be as iconic as the Sydney Opera House.
''The Opera District will further define Dubai as a regional cultural hub by serving as a vibrant cultural community and events destination that encourages local artists and promotes global cultural exchange.''
Emaar says the Dubai Opera will feature state-of-the art audio-visual technology and support systems to ensure unmatched experiences Within The Opera District is the Opera Grand, a 66-storey residential tower that will feature more than 200 luxurious two-, three and four-bedroom apartments, which opened for sale in May.
Ahmad Al Matrooshi, Managing Director of Emaar Properties, says, ''The Opera District is one of the most defining new developments by Emaar that focuses on creating a compelling arts and culture destination in the heart of the city.''
Another high-profile culture-themed project in Dubai is the Culture Village by Dubai Properties Group. Interconnected by 3.8 kilometres of walkways, the project is expected to capture Dubai's cultural diversity. It will feature a traditional souq, marina and entertainment venues along with waterside apartments and hotels.
Located between Garhoud Bridge and Business Bay Crossing, Culture Village is designed with artists and art enthusiasts in mind as it will feature a contemporary art centre. Design plans are already under way for the art centre, which is being developed by Abdul Latif Jameel Community Initiatives. It will include an exhibition area for regional art, including the Jameel Art Collection, studios for both local and international artists and workshop spaces.
Culture Village will house luxury projects such as Palazzo Versace Dubai, D1 Tower and the Manazel Al Khor residential development. Also under construction is a 55,000-squarefoot mosque, which can accommodate up to 1,000 people.
Ryan Mahoney, CEO, Better Homes, Dubai, says people will generally pay a premium to live near or within the view of a major destination. Undoubtedly, then, both The Opera District and Culture Village are poised to draw big crowds.
But how will these new cultural offerings change the world's perceptions regarding the UAE?
''They will position Dubai and Abu Dhabi as increasingly cultured and sophisticated destinations, enhancing the UAE's tourism potential and its overall lifestyle experience,'' says Mahoney.
''I think these projects are the start of a new era of development for the UAE. As Dubai and Abu Dhabi mature into established world cities there is a need for a global cultural dimension - cultural venues, museums, public art shows and events. In the next 10-15 years this region will be dramatically enriched. It will change the way residents see the UAE and the way the country is perceived by the outside world.''
Located five minutes from Abu Dhabi, Saadiyat island is being developed by the Tourism Development and Investment Company. It comprises six districts - Saadiyat Beach, Saadiyat Marina, Saadiyat Reserve, Saadiyat Promenade, Saadiyat Lagoons and Saadiyat Cultural District.
The Cultural District is devoted to various cultural projects. New York University's Abu Dhabi campus is also being built here.
Some areas are already open, including the visitor centre Manarat Al Saadiyat and the UAE Pavilion. The island will also include a Maritime Museum and a Performing Arts Centre designed by Zaha Hadid.
Click on Design District to find out the plans unveiled in line with Smart Dubai Strategy
Source: Helga Jensen-Forde, Special to Property Weekly