5-Middle East Museums That Are Redefining The Cultural Scene In The Gulf

  • 29 Sep '23
  • 4:07 pm by Satarupa Datta

There are many ways to embark on a journey of discovery. UAE may be an emerging country but we can trace its history back to ancient civilization. The Middle East has some of the most captivating modern museums boasting the smartest architectural design to date. Besides rare archaeological finds and artifacts, and paintings by modern masters, they also exhibit contemporary installations that spotlight the future of mixed reality and curate many more expansive experiences. These modern exhibits allow each visitor, an interactive multimedia experience that is brought to life by expert storytellers, technologists, and visionary artists. Equally mesmerizing is the modern architecture employed to build these stunning structures. DP lists top five Middle Eastern museums that effortlessly combine futuristic architecture and unique artistic curations.


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Maraya, Saudi Arabia is a modern-age installation of land art. It hosts a cutting-edge concert hall, an entertainment venue and dining facilities. (Image Credit: Experience Al Ula)

#1. Maraya, Al Ulla — Exactly not a museum but a piece of art.

Have you seen a giant mirror cube set against the beauty of the Arabian desert and mountains? Maraya with its 9,740 square metres of mirrors was recognized as the world’s largest mirrored structure by the Guinness Book of World Records in 2020. Designed by the Milanese architects Gioforma, Maraya’s giant retractable window of more than 800 square metres opens for outdoor concerts. From hosting cutting-edge exhibitions and street art tours to cinema screenings and lively programs, Maraya is a cultural oasis that champions art. International artists who graced Maraya with their outstanding performances include Andrea Bocelli, Lionel Richie, and Yanni.

The Currently On ViewLive Performance By The Egyptian Star Singer, Sherine Abdel Wahab. Date: 27th October 2023. Book here to reserve your place


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The design concept of desert-rose at the National Museum of Qatar brings to mind the culture and climate of Qatar. The modern form emerges from the ground and appears to merge with it simultaneously. (Image Credit: National Museum of Qatar)

# 2. National Museum of Qatar, Doha — a Repository of Qatar’s Evolution

The National Museum of Qatar speaks loudly of the country’s rich heritage and its evolution through commissioned films, multimedia displays, artworks, artifacts, storytelling, and music followed by grand exhibits of treasured jewelry and manuscripts. The striking rose-like crystalline clusters that house the NMoQ, emerge from the desert and serve as the primary inspiration for the architecture. Known as the desert rose, the structure was conceptualised by the same French architect behind the Louvre, Abu Dabu.

Inside, massive art film projections flash on the surfaces of the flowing walls of the galleries, bathing the visitors with stories of Qatar’s evolution. Another striking feature is the indoor landscaped garden mimicking the Qatari landscapes, with alternating low dunes, scanty crops, and gardens inspired by sabkhas and oases.


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One of NMoQ’s permanent installations is Qatar’s Natural Environments featuring models and exhibits about indigenous plants and animals. To enhance the experience, a kaleidoscopic film on the species plays on the backdrop walls. (Image Credit: Museum Of Qatar)

Jean Nouvel developed the structure to be elevated by large interlocking disks in a mix of spherical and curvatures with varying diameters. The system of interlocking disks fans around the historic palace complex, the restored former palace of the king. Out on the open courtyard and, along the shadowy elliptical circuit various outdoor cultural events and major artist commissions come to life.

The Currently On View — Your Brain to Me, My Brain To You (An Art Installation of Lights) by the Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist. Date: Until 15th January, 2024. Book here to reserve your place.


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At the Louvre Museum, the dome is a modern take on the traditional dome, paying homage to the tell-tale sign of Arab architecture. (Image Credit: Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi. Photograph by Mohamed Alalawi)

# 3. Louvre Museum Abu Dhabi — A Museum-City On The Sea

It is often that you see an archipelago that has been built on the sea. On the island of Saadiyat, the Louvre Museum, Abu Dhabi complex spreads across a series of 55 buildings–of which 23 are galleries including an astrolab. Completing the design scheme is a huge silvery dome, enveloping the facade like a shield that has been woven in perforated steel and aluminum. The result is a cinematic profusion of sun rays seeping through the perforations creating a dappled pattern on the museum floor–aptly named the ‘rain of light’. With deep respect for the region’s rich architectural traditions, Pritzker Architecture Prize Winning architect Jean Nouvel’s prime inspiration was the location that acted as a thread of convergence between the Arabian sky and sands meeting the waters of the Arabian Gulf.

Each ray of light penetrates the eight layers of the dome. Styled in a manner that at night with lights, forms stars that are visible from both inside and out. (Image Credit: Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi)

Its wondrous exhibits range from pre-history artifacts to revolutionary works by Pablo Picasso, new stories of cultural connections spanning centuries and continents. The Louvre Museum, Abu Dhabi opens a window into the rich tapestry of human creativity. Covering a multitude of ideas and pop cultures through immersive design and gamification has lured worldwide art lovers and museum-goers.

The Currently On ViewCartier, Islamic Inspiration and Modern Design Co-curated by Évelyne Possémé and Judith Henon-Raynaud. Date: 16 November 2023 to 24 March 2024.
Book here to reserve your place.


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The façade of the Museum of the Future, Dubai is illuminated by 14 kilometres of LED lighting embedded within its iconic Arabic calligraphy. The engraved quotes are intricately 3D mapped onto the curved skin. (Image Credit: Museum of the Future)

# 4. The Museum Of The Future, Dubai — An Eye On The Futuristic World

Dubai is no stranger to innovation in design but the avant-garde Museum of the Future has caught everyone’s eye. Conceptualised by Killa Design, MOTF is recognized as the most beautiful building in the world. The glimmering futuristic building comprises three elements: a green hill, the structure, and the void. The landscaped hill on which the torus-shaped, steel-clad building emerges and culminates into a void at the center. The building speaks Arabic by adorning calligraphy further molded into panels that are styled as windows within the facade.

OSS Hope is a thematic exhibition depicting what life might be like aboard a huge space station in 2071. (Image Credit: Museum of the Future)

Despite its prominent spot on the skyline, the building’s low carbon status is achieved through many innovations ranging from parametric design to passive solar architecture. The 77-meter-tall building stands high without supporting columns–a feat on its own, with a façade executed by the conjoined efforts of architectural ingenuity and robotic technology. MOTF is a thematic state-of-the-art museum that can be labeled an incubator of new-age ideas nurturing the next generation of innovators and visionaries. The museum features futuristic, tech-driven exhibits and immersive experiences that tap into all five senses.

The Currently On ViewA Digital Amazon (The forest is a digital recreation of a real part of the Amazon rainforest in Leticia, Columbia, depicting the ecosystem with unparalleled realism) A Permanent MOTF Installation. Book here to reserve your place.


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Notable elements of the Flying Saucer at the Sharjah Art Foundation, include a wide circular dome floating above a ring of eight columns and crowned by a star-shaped canopy projecting beyond a fully glazed panoramic façade.
Image Credit: (Sharjah Art Foundation)

# 5. Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah — Catalyst of Contemporary Art

Sharjah Art Foundation was established in 2009 to preserve and celebrate the distinct culture of the Gulf region. The foundation’s core initiative is to extend a shared understanding of the transformational role of art. Architecturally, of all its mixed structures, the biggest draw has been the Flying Saucer, a restorative architectural masterpiece designed by UAE-based Space Continuum Design Studio. They restored the Brutalist architecture by reducing some of its claddings to bring out the large space topped by the 7.3-metre high dome. This continues to be the prime venue for the long-running Sharjah Biennial.

Dubbed ‘the green crater’, a sunken circular courtyard also hosts art workshops and exhibitions. (Image Credit: Sharjah Art Foundation).

To let the Flying Saucer stand-alone, new additions to the space have been integrated underground. The underground Launch Pad—a community space that houses a courtyard, a library, a multi-activity cafe, and an activation pod equipped for art workshops. Various programs like film screenings, live performances, and readings are held in the open café or library spaces. Through modern and contemporary art showcases, SAF aims to connect cultures and feature ideas that cross borders.

The Currently On ViewSymbol and Imagery of Telsem Art (An Ethiopian Artform) by Henok Melkamzer. Date: 24 February—16 June 2024


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These five innovative and immersive museums establish that architectural design reveals and establishes relationships between climate and culture, history and geography while captivating audiences. Visitors are invited to embark on a journey into the realms of innovation through its world-class curation, featuring artists of international eminence. The diversity of its curation is a testament to the long history of human creativity that a single narrative cannot explain but only through diverse tales of eras, civilizations, and inspirations.