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Louvre Abu Dhabi

4.614, SPRING 2021


4.614 is MIT's History of Islamic Architecture class. At the end of the semester, we were to complete our journey through the centuries of Islamic building, philosophy, and culture by creating a representation of a modern instance of Islamic architecture, with emphasis on the façade. I chose the Louvre Abu Dhabi, designed by Jean Nouvel, as my subject.




The Louvre Abu Dhabi is a remarkable structure for several reasons. It is ornate, references the rich historical legacy of Islamic architecture, and houses priceless works of art. To illustrate the Louvre, I attempted to combine its physical and metaphysical qualities in a single representation.


The most striking feature of the Louvre is its dome. Its 130m span covers much of the museum complex. Unlike traditional Islamic domes, which are solid, it is perforated. A pattern of complicated geometry is produced by overlapping eight shells of steel trusses (they are divided into two sets of four by a ninth layer, which is a space frame). The geometry of each shell is quite straightforward and emulates traditional Islamic tessellations. Complexity emerges from the fact that they are rotated and slightly offset with respect to one another, creating a dense web of steel spars. When light filters through the canopy of metal, it creates a mesmerising effect inside the building, often referred to as the rain of light. At night, the entire dome lights up like a cluster of stars, with hints of the regular geometric framework that underpins the dazzling complexity silhouetted against a glimmer of lights.


Drawn to the geometric puzzle posed by the Louvre, I worked to replicate it using Rhino and Grasshopper. The dome you see in my illustration is a rendering of my output, as are the shadow patterns that I use throughout the illustration. I did not use photographs of the actual dome in the illustration.


The Louvre sits at the intersection between land and water; history and present. These dichotomies permeate the architectural language of the building, and were themes that I wanted to pick up in my illustration.


First, the Louvre is built on a peninsula protruding into the Persian Gulf, and has an intimate relationship with the water. Waves lap against the 3900 panels of white reinforced concrete that make up the façade, which in turn cast long reflections on the turquoise waves. Channels of water flow into the museum complex itself, breaking down the relationship between interior and exterior and superimposing a further layer of complex light patterns on the structure. Moreover, only four pillars support the dome, making it look like it is effortlessly floating above the waves. I wanted to highlight the dramatic interplay between the elements of light and water in my collage in my illustration. To do so, I have rendered the façade quite small relative to the environment, positing it as an ethereal statement of human ingenuity cast against the backdrop of an endless sky and bottomless ocean. I have also overlaid the water with the geometric patterns of the dome’s shadow in recognition of the intimate connection between the two.


Second, there are hundreds of years of architectural history that precede and inform the shape of the Louvre. Some have likened the 55 buildings of the museum complex to traditional Medinas, or low-lying Arabic settlements. We learnt about many of those in this class, and I wanted to acknowledge them by drawing them into the façade. Since the museum houses famous art pieces, I thought it would be apt to turn the museum buildings into canvases representing some of the key structures in the history of Islamic architecture. They are in union with the modern dome, yet separate. Moreover, I added hints of the chrome and glass skyline of Abu Dhabi in the background in recognition of the future of the Islamic metropolis. Another historical element is the dhow, or traditional sailboat. Dhows may seem like relics of a bygone age, but are still celebrated in competitive ocean races in Abu Dhabi and play an integral role in indigenous fishermen’s lives. Dhows, like Islamic architecture, are a reminder that traditions may change and shift, but can never truly be erased from our collective conscience.


Essays on Islamic architecture.



The desert palaces of Jordan have long captured the imagination of romanticists. Each structure is individual and unique, scattered throughout the desert where it is thought they served as caravanserais, agricultural estates, and physical representations of Umayyad power. One of the most striking is the Khirbat al-Mafjar. Today, its ruins overlook the arid wadi Al-Nuwayʿima in the Jordan valley, an echo of the political and cultural prowess once found there. The building is renowned even amongst the desert palaces, or qasrs, both for its wealth of decorative and architectural artistry as well as for its patron, the caliph Walid bin Yazid...


The Madrasa-Khanqah of al-Zahir Sayf al-Din Barquq (Madrasa Barquq, or Madrasa, of sultan Barquq) is an architectural rendition of a critical point of transition in Islamic history. Constructed between 1384 and 1386 (Harrell et al.), it was designed to legitimise sultan Barquq’s rise to power. To do so, the structure had to employ the architectural vocabularies of power of historic and recent empires alike, while developing key stylistic differences to distinguish Barquq from his predecessors. Moreover, the Madrasa had to affirm its own presence by engaging its contemporary visitors physically and spiritually, which the architects achieved by conforming the Madrasa’s function and form to accommodate establishments of religious and intellectual power...

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