Zayed National Museum / Foster + Partners

Courtesy of

Featured here on ArchDaily are the recently unveiled designs by Foster + Partners for the Zayed National Museum.   The monument and memorial to the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding president of the UAE, is located  on , Abu Dhabi, UAE, and will be the first museum completed for the island.

Architecturally, the aim has been to combine a highly efficient, contemporary form with elements of traditional Arabic design and hospitality to create a museum that is sustainable, welcoming and culturally of its place. Celebrating Sheikh Zayed’s legacy and love of nature, the museum is set within a landscaped garden, based on a timeline of his life.

Architects: Foster + Partners
Location: Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi, UAE
Foster + Partners Project Team: Norman Foster, David Nelson, Gerard Evenden, Toby Blunt, Martin Castle, Ross Palmer, Dara Towhidi, Karsten Vollmer, Barrie Cheng, Ho Ling Cheung, Sidonie Immler, Joern Herrmann, Andrew King, Gemma Owen, Jillian Salter, Marilu Sicoli, Daniel Weiss, Bram Van Der Wal, Simon Wing
Engineers: WSP/BDSP AKT
Local Architect: Planar
Landscape Architects: Atelier Dreiseitl
Lighting Designers: Claude Engle
Cost Consultants: RLB
Facade Access: Lerch Bates
Specification Writers: Schumann Smith
Air Flow Consultants: RWDI
Environmental Engineers: Transsolar
Auditorium Consultants: Shen Milsom + Wilke
People Movement Consultants: Intelligent Space
Programme Managers: AECOM
District Master Planners: TDIC Master Planners
Museography: The British Museum
Client: Tourism Development + Investment Company
Project Area: 66,042 sqm
Renderings: Courtesy of Foster + Partners

Courtesy of Foster + Partners

The display spaces are housed within a man-made, landscaped mound. The galleries are placed at the bases of five solar thermal towers. The towers heat up and act as thermal chimneys to draw cooling air currents naturally through the museum. Fresh air is captured at low level and drawn through buried ground-cooling pipes and then released into the museum’s lobby. The heat at the top of the towers works to draw the air up vertically through the galleries due to the thermal stack effect. Air vents open at the top of the wing-shaped towers taking advantage of the negative pressure on the lee of the wing profile to draw the hot air out.

Courtesy of Foster + Partners

Here in the museum these towers are lightweight steel structures, sculpted aerodynamically to work like the feathers of a bird’s wing. The analogies with falcons and flight are deliberate and relate directly to Sheikh Zayed’s love of falconry. This theme is further celebrated by a gallery devoted to the subject as part of a wider focus on conservation. These inner spaces open up to an outdoor arena for live displays with hunting birds.

Courtesy of Foster + Partners

Balancing the lightweight steel structures with a more monumental interior experience, the galleries are anchored by a dramatic top-lit central lobby, which is dug into the earth to exploit its thermal properties and brings together shops, cafes, an auditorium and informal venues for performances of poetry and dance. Throughout, the treatment of light and shade draws on a tradition of discreet, carefully positioned openings, which capture and direct the region’s intense sunlight to illuminate and animate these interior spaces. Objects are displayed within niches and on stone plinths that rise seamlessly from the floor.
The museum contains a variety of performance spaces. A large auditorium, lined with Emirati textiles, provides an evocative setting for presentations and films. The lobby incorporates more informal venues for poetry readings, music and dance, where the audience can gather in a circle to enjoy the spectacle and atmosphere of traditional performances.

Courtesy of Foster + Partners

The interior concept for the restaurant draws on the opulence and hospitality of the Bedouin tent, with carefully selected furnishings. The majlis, or VIP spaces, open onto a central courtyard. This traditional space offers guests a unique perspective, as it is the only place in the museum where one can enjoy views of the wind towers.

Lord Foster said: “It has been a great privilege to work on the Zayed National Museum, to carry forward Sheikh Zayed’s vision and to communicate the dynamic character of a contemporary United Arab Emirates. We have sought to establish a building that will be an exemplar of sustainable design, resonating with Sheikh Zayed’s love of nature and his wider heritage.”

Saadiyat Island is located 500 metres off the coast of Abu Dhabi and is the largest single mixed-use development in the Arabian Gulf. Arranged as seven districts, the Saadiyat Island Cultural District will also include the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Museum, the Louvre Abu Dhabi, as well as a Performing Arts Center and Maritime Museum. The Zayed National Museum is already under construction and will be the first of the museums proposed for the island.

Cite: Minner, Kelly. "Zayed National Museum / Foster + Partners" 30 Nov 2010. ArchDaily. Accessed 22 May 2015. <>
  • Jazzy

    sydney opera house?

  • ISLA

    well, this is so renzo piano..

    • CAVP

      That was my first thought… Renzo Piano with a little mix of the Sydney Opera House. Where are the floor plans and sections? Renders are always a great way to sell a project but when they (the renders) makeup the only resource of communication in a project, there’s definitely something wrong. It’s like an insult… who are you trying to fool?

      • Steph

        Hey CAVP!
        As you might couldn t see, half of your so called “Renderings” are modelphotos. And models are the best way to communicate a building. And you have propably seen no sections, because it is a draft, not a completly designed building!
        But I am sure you can do it better…

  • Tex

    Didn’t Renzo Piano already design this building? Is Foster and Partners turning into a bunch of knock-off artists?

  • RL

    Despite all their effort and bravado, Foster’s work always leave me quite indifferent.

  • Leonardo Ximenes

    It does remind me of Piano’s cultural centre in New Caledonia…without the elegance

  • Mohsen

    Nice but not new kind of project… in addition it is PERSIAN GULF NOT ARABIAN GULF please correct it.

  • Elver Gun


  • guest

    to be more precise, the official reference is “Gulf of Iran”

  • javedani

    also it resembles the sydney opera but a little bit fluid and round shaped.

  • Robb

    Jorn Utzon and Renzo Piano called, they want their designs back. Norman Foster is the Bill Gates of architecture, in a negative term.

  • pouria&yashar

    the most important point is, the golf that is mentioned is the persian gulf , please correct it.
    but the design is look like iranian air hole.

  • @

    Fingernails from some hand desperately trying to claw its way out of the sand. Which, oddly is much like what I imagine the design process for this was, only it wasn’t sand that the design was coming out of.

  • wanghong

    just like a fingernail. i dont like it. but i like forster+ partner

  • Holcim Awards

    Yes, it looks awfully similar to Renzo Piano’s project in New Caledonia, but it isn’t a terrible design. I like the big things sticking out of the planted roof. It also looks like interesting spaces to walk through… I agree they need to show more drawings so we can get a better idea of the building. Also, why no interior shots?

    This would still be an excellent submission for the Holcim Awards for Sustainable Construction:

  • daily fed

    I doubt that Norman Foster himself was on the Project team, but I believe, without any doubt, that he was on the invoice…

    After seeing beautiful designs by Jean Nouvel, Tadao Ando and others for this region, it is kind of disappointing to see this design bringing it all down to the Disneyland factor again…