Culture / Art Republik

Qatar Expands Cultural Initiatives With 3 New Museums

Qatar hopes to rebrand the region’s image and expand its economy beyond oil, through its extensive museum program and cultural initiatives.

Mar 29, 2022 | By Cleo Yong
Art Mill, Qatar Museums
A rendering of Art Mill. Image: Elemental

As part of ambitious cultural plans, the Gulf nation of Qatar intends to build three new museums in Doha, each designed by a Pritzker Prize-winning architect. Qatar hopes to rebrand the region’s image and move closer to its goal — established fifteen years ago — of becoming an arts and culture hub.

The plans were announced on 27 March during the online Doha Forum by the chairperson of Qatar Museums, Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani.

Touted as “the undisputed queen of the art world” by Forbes, Sheikha Al Mayassa has led Qatar Museums to an estimated annual spend of US$1 billion. The double major in Political Science and Literature was ranked 91 on the Forbes Power Women list and featured in the Time 100 in 2014, according to Business of Fashion.

The two-day forum was focused on Qatar’s creative economy as well as the current and future institutions that will help to advance it. As per a statement by Sheikha Al Mayassa, the plans were a “strategy for investing in the creative economy to drive the next phase of development of Qatar”.

She was joined by ELEMENTAL’s Alejandro Aravena and Jacques Herzog of Herzog & de Meuron along with fellow panellists Abdulrahman Hesham Al Sowaidi, Acting CEO of Qatar Development Bank, Beirut-based artist Najla El Zein who designed the public seating at FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022’s signature Flag Plaza, and David Beckham.

Alejandro Aravena of ELEMENTAL and Jacques Herzog of Herzog & de Meuron
Jacques Herzog and Alejandro Aravena at the Doha Forum. Image: Qatar Museums

Ahead of the FIFA World Cup in November, Qatar Museums will be presenting over 40 new and commissioned public works. These works will be displayed throughout Doha, from shopping areas and athletic facilities to Q-Rail stations and select stadiums poised to host the World Cup Games.

Qatar has been repeatedly called out for worker mistreatment and thousands of deaths being linked to the stadiums being built for the forthcoming World Cup. The Gulf nation signed an agreement with the UN in 2017, promising labour reforms. The end of the No-Objection Certificate requirement is included, which will enable workers to change jobs without the employers’ permission.

Qatar Museums’ portfolio of museums includes the National Museum of Qatar designed by Jean Nouvel in 2019, the Museum of Islamic Art by I.M. Pei in 2008, the Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, as well as a couple of other galleries and ‘art spaces’. The planned trio of museums is the Art Mill, the Lusail Museum and Qatar Auto Museum.

Art Mill

In 2017, Santiago-based architecture firm ELEMENTAL won the bid for the massive project via competition. The Art Mill will be realised at the site of a historic Doha flour mill, measuring up to 80,000 square metres. In addition to the aforementioned exhibition and performance spaces, the new museum will have dedicated areas for artist residency programs, a “village for Qatari creative industries”, production facilities, public gardens and more. 

Art Mill, Qatar Museums
A rendering of Art Mill. Image: ELEMENTAL

Chilean architect and director Aravena expressed during the panel: “The Art Mill will not just be a perfectly finished object but an opportunity for young designers, artisans, craftspeople in Qatar to come together to deliver the knowledge they have accumulated and contribute to the building, so that it not only houses a great collection but expands to more popular audiences.”

The silos in the mill will be publicly accessible from this October.

Lusail Museum

Meanwhile, the Lusail Museum will be housing “the world’s most extensive collection of Orientalist paintings, drawings, photography, sculptures, rare texts, and applied arts”. Designed by Basel-based firm Herzog & de Meuron, the four-story building will span about 52,000 square metres with dedicated educational hubs, exhibition galleries, an auditorium and a library.

At the forum, Swiss architect Herzog stated that the project has become more of what Qatar tries to be while it moves forward, which is a platform for exchange and debate. To him, the debate aspect is significant to a museum where the collection is mainly about how the East and West have been in exchange for political, social and cultural issues from years ago.

“The building is a kind of vessel that inside has a complex topography, a clash of fragments of different places and functions. What we have learned during this process, to make space for that aspect of dialogue, is what will make the project important for Qatar and for us,” Herzog said.

Qatar Auto Museum

Lastly, the Qatar Auto Museum will be designed by the international architectural firm OMA, which has previously built the Qatar National Library in 2017. The institution will include spaces for temporary exhibitions of high-profile vehicles, a classic-car restoration centre, a children’s activity zone featuring driving simulators and other car-themed interactive diversions, according to The Architect’s Newspaper. It will also have 40,000 square metres of permanent galleries “tracking the evolution of the automobile from its invention through today and how it has influenced culture in Qatar”, as per World-Architects.

Watch the Doha Forum panel below.

Project timelines and design particulars of the new museums from OMA, ELEMENTAL, and Herzog & de Meuron are yet to be released. The 3-2-1 Qatar Olympic and Sports Museum open on 31 March.

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