The small, oil-rich state of Qatar is moving ahead with plans to build three new museums, including a new institution called the Lusail museum designed by the high-profile Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron which will be “home to the world’s most extensive collection of Orientalist paintings, drawings, photography, sculptures, rare texts, and applied arts”. The Art Mill project, a vast new Modern and contemporary art venue planned for Doha, is still in development, seven years after the project was first announced.
The plans were released on 27 March by Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the chairperson of the state body Qatar Museums during the Doha Forum, an online “global platform for dialogue”. The panel discussion moderated by Sheikha Al Mayassa also included the UK footballer David Beckham who has agreed to act as an “ambassador” for Qatar in a deal reportedly worth £150m.
The Lusail Museum will house galleries, an auditorium and library over 52,000 sq. m. Meanwhile, OMA (Office for Metropolitan Architecture), Rem Koolhaas’s architectural practice, will design the Qatar Auto Museum, which will chart “the evolution of the automobile from its invention through today and how it has influenced culture in Qatar”, says Qatar Museums statement.
The Art Mill project was first announced in 2015, with Elemental selected two years later. The Santiago-based company beat eight other finalists to design the new space, which is located east of the Museum of Islamic Art. The Art Mill will measure up to 80,000 sq. m, bringing together “exhibition and performance galleries for Modern and contemporary art, dedicated spaces for learning and artist residency programs, and production facilities”, a project statement says. The silos in the mill will be publicly accessible from October, said Sheikha Al Mayassa at the Doha Forum.
Alejandro Aravena, the director of Elemental, says in a statement: “The Art Mill will not just be a perfectly finished object but an opportunity for young designers, artisans, craftspeople in Qatar to come together to deliver the knowledge they have accumulated and contribute to the building, so that it not only houses a great collection but expands to more popular audiences.”
Qatar has ramped up its cultural offerings in the past two decades, embarking on a hugely ambitious museum development programme. In 2019, the National Museum of Qatar opened, designed by the French architect Jean Nouvel for an undisclosed sum. The timeline and budget for the three new museums have not been confirmed.
The museum programme is part of an ongoing cultural offensive ahead of the Fifa football world cup launching in November. Qatar Museums also announced last year that more than 40 new and commissioned public works will go on show throughout Doha as part of a mass public art programme. These works will go on display “in a variety of public spaces including parks and shopping areas, educational and athletic facilities, Hamad International Airport and Q-Rail stations, as well as select stadiums that will host the World Cup Games”.
Despite the cultural offensive, Qatar has faced charges of neglect of migrant workers brought in to build the new football stadiums. The Qatar government says that it introduced labour reforms in 2017 and progress has subsequently been made regarding the treatment of such workers.