Etihad Museum: documenting the UAE’s establishment

Not to be outdone by Abu Dhabi’s plans to fill Saadiyat with museums, Dubai Culture has put more flesh on the bones of Sheikh Mohammed’s announcement of the Etihad Museum.

It’s a rather lovely building, a flowing canopy over a pavilion that sits on top of underground galleries and is part of a major refurbishment of the whole area.

Etihad Museum, which is due to be open at the end of the year, is described in the official bumf as “a dynamic 21st century museum … focused on inspiring Emiratis and international visitors alike with the story of the founding of the United Arab Emirates. The museum celebrates the dedication, commitment and patriotism of the nation’s founders and invites individuals from all walks of life to follow their example in nation building”.

Through what’s described as “a unique visitor journey”, Etihad Museum will present the chronology of events that culminated in the formation of the Union. Dubai Culture will manage the permanent and temporary exhibitions, education programmes and operations.

Appropriately enough, the museum is located under the iconic flagpole on Dubai’s Jumeirah Beach Road and next to Dar Al Etihad (Union House), where on 2 Dec 1971 the rulers of six emirates – RAK came along later – signed the declaration that established the independent state of the United Arab Emirates.

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Top to bottom: the undulating pavilion sits on top of underground galleries, theatres, educational rooms and archive facilities

The architects are Moriyama & Teshima of Toronto, a firm which has a number of relevant cultural projects in its portfolio including the National Museum of Saudi Arabia in Riyadh and Kuwait’s Al Seera Museum.

The 2,000m2 see-through entrance pavilion rests lightly on a reflecting pool and plaza, its undulating parabolic curves representing the parchment upon which the unification agreement was written and its tapering golden columns representing the pens with which the document was signed.

Much of the Etihad Museum is actually underground; down there is 10,0002 of permanent and temporary galleries, a theatre, event spaces, an education centre and archival facilities. Lightwells of varying shapes and sizes illuminate the expansive underground spaces, which sounds suitably dramatic.

RTA, somewhat oddly, is handling the management of the design and build. The reworking includes the circular Union House, the location of the signing ceremony, and the recreated Guest House (aka Al Diyafa Palace) where the leaders of the emirates resided during negotiations. The new landscaping also features re-establishing the original 1971 shoreline of Jumeirah Beach.

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