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Saadiyat Island

If you've never thought of Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, as a cultural hub, you may not be alone. However, as of January this year, the oil capital is to become a major center for the arts. Abu Dhabi’s Tourism Development & Investment Company announced that they have commissioned four internationally-renowned architects to build world-class museums and a performing arts center on Saadiyat Island, which lies just off its coast.

The Cultural District of Saadiyat Island, which will cost untold millions of dollars to construct, is scheduled to be completed within the next decade. Pictured above is the Performing Arts Center, designed by British/Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid. The vast sweeping sculpture (described by the New York Times as 'part spaceship, part organism') will hover above the water and house five spaces (a music hall, concert hall, opera house and two theaters) with a collective seating capacity of 6,300.

French architect Jean Nouvel
is responsible for the design of the landmark Louvre Abu Dhabi (above), which will be created in collaboration with the Louvre museum in Paris. Its design, a vast translucent dome etched with patterns that filter light through to the concourse below it, suggests an archeological field immersed in water. Galleries will house major archeological artifacts from major French museums, as well as (predominantly classical) fine and decorative arts from throughout the ages.

Another unmissable venue will be Guggenheim Abu Dhabi (above, the world's largest Guggenheim museum), designed by none other than Frank Gehry. It will boast 13,000 square feet of exhibition space for contemporary art in a jumble of blocks and awnings.

As if that weren't enough to make the journey worthwhile, there will also be a Maritime Museum (above) designed by Japan's Tadao Ando. The museum will reflect the history of the Arabian Gulf, using reflective surfaces to merge sea and land, and the interior will be like a ship with floating decks.

A series of smaller museums will line the banks of a canal cutting through the island. The entire development on the island (also including hotels, resorts, golf courses and housing) will cost around $27 billion. As Gehry told the New York Times when plans were unveiled, 'It’s like a clean slate in a country full of resources. It’s an opportunity for the world of art and culture that is not available anywhere else because you’re building a desert enclave without the contextual constraints of a city.'

Images: Zaha Hadid Architects; Gehry Partners; Tadao Ando; Jean Nouvel

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