On the evening of March 27, as the sun set, bringing a gentle breeze and relief from the day's heat in Doha, more than 700 guests assembled for the inauguration of the National Museum of Qatar, Jean Nouvel's latest project in the Gulf States, which opens to the public on March 28.
Anchored along the Corniche, the crescent-shaped waterfront promenade in the oil-rich country's rapidly burgeoning capital city, the new building, not surprisingly, is not meek. An immense collision of sandy-hued concrete disks are arrayed in a loop like a toppled stack of dinner plates—a form, says the architect, that was inspired by the desert rose, a mineral formation found in the deserts of the Gulf region.
The affair was billed as black tie, but a checkerboard of men in their pressed white thobes and women in their black abayas presided in the museum's large courtyard as a band of seated men beat hand drums to traditional chants. Beyond royalty and dignitaries, the guest list pulled from a variety of subcultures: architects including Peter Zumthor, Rem Koolhaas, Ben van Berkel; art world representatives like Damien Hirst, Takashi Murakami, Ai Wei Wei, and Jeff Koons; and an enormous gaggle of fashion A-listers, such as Naomi Campbell, Miuccia Prada, Diane von Furstenberg, and Alexander Wang. Other notable figures were also in attendance, from Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni to Victoria Beckham and Johnny Depp.
As Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani—Chairperson of Qatar Museums and sister of Qatar's ruling Emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani—moved down a receiving line, an orchestra began to play, and guests reclining on cream-colored sofas were served iced water and dates by hosts in long beige robes.
A large group of children in international costumes mounted the stage, breaking into traditional song as a live image of the Emir's limousine pulling into the museum's entry court was projected onto screens. Nouvel looked on from the front row. The national anthem was played, the Quran was read, and the Emir took the podium, officially opening the National Museum of Qatar—an event that has been much anticipated for over a decade. “The museum provides a place of reflection for what Qatar has done and what it aspires to do,” he declared.
As the skies darkened into night, the building's concrete disks glowed softly. White fireworks erupted across the building, encircling the courtyard gathering in bursts of light. The Emir toured the museum galleries as the guests proceeded on to a dinner under the stars.