The travails and bold aims of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi
The jagged towers and palm-fringed walkways of the proposed Guggenheim Abu Dhabi (GAD) take their inspiration from the wooden sailing dhows that ply the waters of the Gulf and the funnel-shaped wind towers, known as barjeel, built to bring natural ventilation into old houses in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Designed by Frank Gehry, the project has been beset by protests over workers’ conditions and other human-rights issues, and by finance-induced delays and cancelled contracts. Now, ten years after clearance of the site began, work has restarted at last.
The museum is part of a long-term, state-funded effort to diversify Abu Dhabi’s economy. Culture—and especially museums—are part of the push. The Guggenheim will be the third to be built on Saadiyat Island, a flat sandy triangle just off the coast that will be the biggest cultural infrastructure project between Marrakech and Shanghai. The first museum, Jean Nouvel’s Louvre Abu Dhabi, opened in 2017; the Sheikh Zayed National Museum, designed by Sir Norman Foster and named after the uae’s founding ruler, will follow in 2023. The hope is for GAD to open in 2025.