One reviewer has called it “breathtaking” and a building that “leaves most state-of-the-art museums in the shade.”
Other critics said it was “extraordinary inside and out, ” or, simply, “astonishing.”
The National Museum of Qatar — the kingdom’s latest mega-project — opened to the public on Thursday. The museum tells the story of Qatar, from prehistoric times to the present day, including ongoing political events such as the blockade imposed by Saudi Arabia and other neighbors. But it will get most attention for its architecture.
Designed by Jean Nouvel, the French architect behind the Louvre Abu Dhabi who won the Pritzker Prize in 2008, the building is made of 539 patterned discs that appear to collide with one another at surprising angles. Artifacts and sculpture, including a recreation of a tent once used by nomadic peoples in Qatar, are found in the galleries, but no items are hung on the museum’s slanted walls: Instead, films are projected onto them.
In a telephone interview, Mr. Nouvel said his design was inspired by the desert rose, a mineral formation found in Qatar and elsewhere, that looks like “a random intersection of blades, so the geometry is very unpredictable.”
Inspired by this, he created a building that he described as “almost a geometric game.” Inside and out, it “is very rhythmic,” he added: The spaces flow into one another.
Mr. Novel said that he began the design in 2003, and that bringing it to fruition required the engineering firm Arup and “a very strong computer.”
“A few years before we did this, it would not have been possible to design it,” he said.
Sheikha al-Mayassa Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the chairwoman of Qatar Museums and a sister of the country’s ruling emir, said in a telephone interview that Mr. Nouvel had created a museum for the 21st century. The lack of flat surfaces almost forced the use of video, she said.
But the museum was first and foremost a local one, Sheikha al-Mayassa said: “All of our projects focus on the local first. A national museum has to be about our national identity.”
She said that one of the most important exhibits for her, she said, featured poetry written by Qatar’s founder, Sheikh Jassim bin Mohammed al-Thani, that features prominently in a sound installation. “Now everyone can be exposed to it and reflect on it,” she said.
The museum also contains galleries that deal with Qatar’s oil and gas supplies. One features a film by the American artist Doug Aitken. Sheikha al-Mayassa said the museum could not ignore the role of those resources in Qatar’s development, despite the importance of climate change. “If it had not been for oil, we would not be where we are today,” she said.
“A lot of our young people today are asking us to look in a more environmentally friendly way,” she added.
“We like to be criticized,” Sheikha al-Mayassa said, adding, “If it is constructive.”