1

This is no great revelation. The same issue is addressed in these blog posts, not about great historical movements but about the current situation:

José Ramón Hernández: Arquitectura política, published on Blog Fundación Arquia [June 2018]
Andrés Jaque: La arquitectura siempre es política, published in Plataforma Arquitectura [October 2017].

The Rose that Blooms Between Trenches or How to Create a National Identity.

The new National Museum of Qatar was visited by thousands of people on its first weekend open to the public

The inauguration of the new National Museum of Qatar, designed by Jean Nouvel, has not gone unnoticed.  The image that fired the French architect’s inspiration for the building is that of the sedimentary rock formation known as desert rose, resized to give it an urban scale.

The museum building cannot be considered in isolation from other unique structures in Qatar like the National Library (Rem Koolhaas), the National Convention Centre (QNCC, Arata Isozaki), the Museum of Islamic Art (Pei), the Faculty of Islamic Studies (MYAA), the Science and Technology Park (QSTP, Woods Bagot) and the Sidra Medical and Research Centre (Pelli Clarke Pelli) – not to mention the buildings for the 2022 FIFA World Cup (Fenwick Iribarren, Foster, Zaha Hadid R.I.P, and others).

These works represent a truly colossal amount of investment, in terms both of money and quality, for a state which, although only the size of the Spanish province of Murcia, has the highest per capita income in the world. It’s as if the Medici had risen from the dead.  Despite the futuristic abstract forms, few buildings anywhere are so reminiscent of Palladio and his Teatro Olimpico, where the important thing is precisely the scenic impact.

Qatar is immensely rich, but only since 1996 when its policy of commitment to liquified petroleum gas (LPG) began to produce results. Two generations earlier, the inhabitants of this rocky little peninsula were virtually starving to death in what was then a forgotten corner of the world, while generations before that they had made a living from pearl fishing and piracy. The Qataris were always nomads, and didn’t establish their present-day towns and cities until the end of the 19th century.  In a culture where the most important thing is oral tradition and where both possessions and accommodation had to be carried around from one place to another, historic heritage simply did not exist. As a result, the creation of a physical infrastructure capable of making Qatar visible to the world became a state policy, a full-scale revolution set in motion by the government to be able to deal with other countries proudly and on an equal footing. If we ask the local residents, they probably won’t know anything about architects, scale or formal narrative, but their eyes light up when they visit these  glistening new buildings.

Qatar’s need for an identity is reinforced by the blockading policies of neighbouring countries, to whom the state seems to be saying “Be careful what you wish for, it might just come true”: and if Nouvel’s new museum is bigger, more impressive, more expensive and more highly publicised than the Louvre Abu Dhabi, all the better.

To a Spaniard, this is surprising because with us it’s the other way around. We have an excess of identity. We find postmodernity almost laughable, and in a kind of pendular swing to the other extreme we reject most identitarian pigeonholing.   Let’s face it, regardless of its scale, all architecture is political1 and here that means throwing one’s weight around.

It’s still too early to be able to judge the success of all this investment. The fact that architecture can play a representative role for a society is a two-way process. More than a background for a photographic self-portrait (selfies, they call them), Qatar’s inhabitants need time to be able to instil the necessary memories into these buildings: to feel the touch of a specific material, to hear words spoken by a familiar voice, to discover something interesting in those spaces, to fall in love and, well, to do whatever each individual needs to do to make the city his or her own.


Text translated by Andrew V. Taylor
Notas de página
1

This is no great revelation. The same issue is addressed in these blog posts, not about great historical movements but about the current situation:

José Ramón Hernández: Arquitectura política, published on Blog Fundación Arquia [June 2018]
Andrés Jaque: La arquitectura siempre es política, published in Plataforma Arquitectura [October 2017].

Autor:
Arquitecto desde el año 2000. Miembro de la Asociación de Arquitectos (aA), ha sido vocal de la Junta de Gobierno del COAM y asambleísta en el CSCAE.

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