Abu Dhabi: A Cultural Oasis in the Desert

“Our grandfathers and ancestors have left a wealth of cultural heritage we are proud of.  We shall conserve it and build on it as it is the soul of this land and its future generations.”  Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan

Often seen as the quiet, more conservative neighbor to glitzy Dubai, Abu Dhabi is establishing itself as a 21st century, world-class cultural center. The discovery of oil in the 1960s and Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan‘s vision for a prosperous nation transformed Abu Dhabi from  a sleepy, pearl-diving fishing village with an uncertain future into the wealthy political, economic and cultural metropolis it is today.

Saadiyat Island is the site of Abu Dhabi’s dynamic cultural development project, the  Saayidat Island Cultural District.  Five Pritzker Prize winning architects were selected to build five venues as part of this visionary project sure to attract architectural, cultural and art aficionados from all over the world.

The Zayed National Museum (Foster & Partners) will celebrate and honor the late founder and UAE visionary Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and celebrate the cultural legacy of Abu Dhabi and the UAE.  The National Museum is partnered with the British Museum for this endeavor and is slated to open in 2016.

Jean Nouvel designed the stunning Louvre Abu Dhabi.  The Louvre Abu Dhabi is partnered with the Musee Du Louvre, Musee d’Orsay and Centre Pompidou in France and will utilize a unique curatorial concept demonstrating the connections between civilizations and cultures.  The museum is slated to open in 2015, although visitors can get a taste of what’s to come by visiting Manarat Al Saadiyat’s current preview exhibit.

Proposed Guggenheim Abu Dhabi/ photo skyscapercity.com

Proposed Guggenheim Abu Dhabi/ photo skyscapercity.com

The architect of  Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Frank Gehry, designed GAD to reflect and “recall the region’s ancient wind-towers… in a fitting blend of Arabian tradition and modern, sustainable design (credit).”  The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi will house permanent collections, exhibitions and educational programs that support its mission of examining modern art through multinational perspective and understanding. This museum is supported by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and is scheduled to open in 2017.  If you are interested in the thought process behind the design, you can investigate that here.

Saadiyat Island model for future development

Saadiyat Island model for future development

Saadiyat Island Cultural District will also house the Performing Arts Center, designed by Zaha Hadid and a Maritime Museum by Tadao Ando.

Things to Know

As you can see from the dates listed above, the key museums have yet to open.  Do not let that deter you from visiting.  The Manarat Al Saadiyat  in the Cultural District is currently hosting two brilliant exhibits.  “Birth of a Museum” offers a preview of the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s initial collection. “The Saadiyat Story”  provides a slick, interactive presentation about the island’s past, present and future.  In all honesty, The Saadiyat Story was my inspiration for this post. The excitement and pride about Abu Dhabi’s past, present and future is contagious.

There is a very nice cafe within the Manarat building, so despite the feeling of being “way out and away” from all things city, you can be well fed and happy.  If that isn’t your cup of tea, you can have exactly that at the newly opened St. Regis just up the road.

The Saadiyat Island master plan is here for anyone interested in the other districts and venues slated for development on the island.

As always, check times and details before you go.