To some, the desert comprises an intimidating plain of dirty barren nothingness; to others, like Lucy, a source of happiness and inspiration. And to others still, like Ilana Meallem, it is a way of life. Ilana graduated from the Arava Institute with a directive to preserve both the Bedouins and the desert environment that nurtures them. Perhaps nothing symbolizes this fragile environment more poignantly than sand roses. Sometimes referred to as desert roses and easily destroyed, these are gypsum or barite crystals that condense into what look like rose petals. Modeling the National Museum of Qatar after these delicate sand petals might explain why Nicolai Ouroussof refers to the museum as Jean Nouvel’s “most overtly poetic act of cultural synthesis yet.”
The New York Times reported that the renowned French Architect’s design was unveiled this afternoon at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. No stranger to the Middle East, Nouvel was responsible for the Peace Monument in Jerusalem and the Jerusalem Hotel in Tel Aviv, and has worked on several other projects either in the Middle East or emblematic thereof. Prevalent in each project is an effort to marry ancient eastern sentiment to modern technology. Nouvel once commented in a presentation that to be modern means “…making the best possible use of our memory, it means connecting the most ancient facts with the most recent…[and] paying attention to the evolution of what already exists …”
There isn’t much that remains of the Bedouin culture in Qatar. First imperiled when Japanese pearls flooded the international market and rendered the nomads’ pearl-fishing industry obsolete, their existence all but vanished with the fumes of gas and oil discovery. Perhaps this is what drives the Qatar Museum Authority to install elaborate monuments to these fading memories -an admirable and important task.
The museum will house artifacts from Bedouin culture, as well as exhibits of both the desert and Persian Gulf’s natural history, of tribal wars, and the establishment of the Qatari state. In addition, the museum will depict the state’s final evolution from oil discovery to the present. Ouroussof swoons over the “tumbling abstract disc forms,” and “interconnected pavilions and outdoor terraces” that mirror the shifting desert landscape and caravanserais that were once scattered “along the old trade routes.”
The building will be constructed from “pinkish-beige concrete.” This despite Nouvel’s past claim that “indestructible materials are the root cause of urban pollution, which prevents and obstructs change in the built environment.” To outsiders the desert may seem surreal, but for the fauna and flora, and the human beings who make it home, the desert is a gritty and unforgiving place. To truly experience it, rather than cool off under a cascade of concrete discs, one should take up residence under a shabby Bedouin tent, or hike grave distances under the smoldering desert sun. Nothing mimics the experience of a culture or place better than experiencing the culture or place itself.