The Etihad Museum: an architectural walkthrough


Over the weekend, I went to the Etihad Museum located along Jumeirah street in Dubai. It was a bit out of the way from my apartment– I had to ride the metro, walk to a bus stop, and figure out how to board the right vehicle. Had this been in New York, I would have just walked the entire way through, but with the heat coming into full swing over the summer, that would have practically killed me. Regardless, mass transportation is one of the things I enjoy most about developed cities. Figuring everything out, asking locals for directions, and observing building profiles from high-speed vehicles– I don’t get to do any of this in my own country.

Off to the building lobby I went, where a tour group composed of various expats awaited the local guides. After purchasing student tickets, I proceeded to the central hall where a lovely Arab local volunteer (whose name I didn’t catch!) had appeared. He would be touring us to comply with his company’s chosen value for the year: generosity. Out of respect, I didn’t include his face in any of my photos.

He began the tour with this basic question: what did the Etihad museum resemble when viewed from the outside? I thought of the slanted glass panes, the curving roof panels, and only the name of the late Zaha Hadid surfaced in my mind. Still, it couldn’t have been her; I’d surely have known had that been the case.

The guide held a piece of paper between his index finger and thumb. He pinched its two edges together and let the rest of the paper form a loop, such that no crease appeared on the sheet.

‘If you noticed the shape of the museum, it looks something like this!’

(At this point, I was like ‘????’)

After a minute, I kind of grasped what he was talking about. No, the building wasn’t exactly a loop; it rather resembled a cracked eggshell. Visually, it was something you could easily explain to the public and have fun with. Anything more straightforward might’ve been tacky, and very much Beijing if you asked me. (Not that I dislike Beijing! I just noticed how modern Chinese architecture is so literal. To apply this aesthetic to any other part of the world is iffy at best).

I wasn’t really able to take a photo of the entire building exterior, but have a look at this distorted angle.

The museum is actually underground, and the building visible from outside is just the entrance lobby. I liked the programming of the spaces, as you can imagine yourself standing over some kind of underground city when you enter.

We descended through a beautiful, spiraling staircase, and an Arabic quote greeted us at the base. Concurrent to the theme of the museum, it was talking about unity, and how each Emirati is weaker if they don’t stick together. This quote was stated by a reigning Shiekh of an Arab state (Dubai or Abu Dhabi I think) as he was planting a couple of Union trees (located right beside the wall).

Welcome quote
Union trees

(I’m sorry for forgetting a lot of details! But here goes…)

We walked further into building. These twisty columns and ceiling details look trippy.


A pretty little library that pops from a corner! I love how its rectangular form heavily contrasts the curvilinear shapes you can see at every other area.
All the seven shieks who united the Arab Emirates, their prized possessions stored in a glass box.


Let’s proceed to a more important detail! This curtain-like wall actually envelopes the foundations of the original building, where the 7 shieks concretized the necessary documents for the UAE. This wall is essentially wrapped around the core of the museum.


We walked through more exhibits. Funny fact, it took a while for the last shiekh to join the union, so he wasn’t even part of this picture!


Our group was comprised of people from Germany, Spain, India, Indonesia, and other countries.
Aaaand it’s time for me to be a little poetic about design. I love how the different cubes just compliment each other in this view (rectangular plan, fountain, door frames). There is a certain order to this arrangement that feels sacred to me. With these rectangles, every element is locked into place and the view is static. Also, look at how light the glass material is, and how its lightness is supported by the thin metal frames.


Another pretty picture. Whether intentional or not, I like the silhouettes created by the light passing through this window.

DSCF2738I don’t remember a lot of things from this point onwards, but I hope you can appreciate the beauty of the Etihad museum, if only on an aesthetic level!DSCF2770DSCF2772DSCF2773

The interior of the building projects a western vibe. The Arab officials wanted to exude power and elegance, and much like most Asian countries, European design was seen as the pinnacle of beauty.


I love this photo! The colors and the materials just look wonderful.


An important site, as highlighted by the minimalist lamps and leading lines.


And that’s the museum lobby from afar! I suppose it does look like a lot of things — an eggshell, a distorted book or sheet of paper, a spaceship?


The lobby contains 7 rows of pillars which represent the 7 pens used to sign the documents that united the Arab states.


And that brings us to the end of this post! To be honest, I started writing it about a month back and realized how difficult it would be to finish such a long entry. I don’t think I was as organized or well-put as I’d like to have been, but the photos express the architecture better than my flowery words ever will.

Most of the information written here comes only from my memory, which may not be that reliable. Moreover, writing nicely is difficult, especially when you’re so tired at the end of each day. Still, I use this site to express my thoughts and to appreciate my surroundings. Despite being a perfectionist and knowing how basic my writing has been recently, I try to look past that just so I can finish posts more quickly! (Basically, please don’t judge me! I can do better than this when I’m inspired and excited.)

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the Etihad museum, and did learn a thing or two about programming, circulation, and architectural expression. The building is elegantly designed, and the combination of geometry is noteworthy. It is the use of materials that truly gives character to the place and justice to its monumental history. You exit the museum with a lasting impression of what it means to be united with your countrymen.







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