Choreographing the Rain of Light
Pritzker Prize award winning architect Jean Nouvel had a vision to create a unique ‘rain of light’ under the dome of Louvre Abu Dhabi. The objective was to create a complex filter of the intensely bright desert sun, to create a dancing interplay between light and shadow around the galleries, plazas and reflecting pools.
Over the course of the ten year project, BuroHappold Engineering worked side by side with Jean Nouvel and his team in Paris, as well as on site in Abu Dhabi. The complexity of engineering the ‘rain of light’ was monumental, and the ever-changing dappled effect of light under the dome of Louvre Abu Dhabi, is truly dazzling and never fails to deliver a sense of awe.
Execution of Louvre Abu Dhabi dome was one of the most complex projects ever undertaken. Creating the intricately latticed roof entailed years of thorough research and testing. The result is a nine layered dome, with four cladding tiers of specially designed and interconnected stars above, as well as below, a 5m deep steel support structure. Each tier of stars has a different scaling, density and rotation. There are more than 400,000 individual components which translates to a 7,500 tonne, 180m dome, comprised of 7,850 individually sized stars.
Construction of the dome took two years and entailed a tremendous amount of planning and engineering. Each of the 7,850 stars, which varied in size and composition, had a unique placement in the dome. The inner and outer layers of cladding where installed at the same time in the interest of speed and cost savings. Cranes were used to lift the stars in place on the outer layers, however scaffolding was required for the inner layers, which at times involved hoisting weights in excess of 1.3 tonnes
BuroHappold tracked the path of the desert sun over the museum site for 365 days to understand the characteristics and exact angles of light. Subsequently the teams built a true to scale model of a section of the dome to test various design proposals to determine the best configuration of geometric elements and materials to use, to create the right temperatures, levels of light and shade, as well as orchestrate the dynamic ‘rain of light’ as envisaged by the architect. This step took five years of intensive study and testing, employing a wide variety software tools, technology and methodologies.
The dome is open to the elements, and it was important to have more natural light directed over the galleries, with more shadow over the pools and public walkways. Special glass was installed in the windows and ceilings of the galleries to ensure the artwork would be protected from the damaging effects of direct sunlight. There are three layers of blinds built into the glass – two diffusers and one black out blind. The blinds operate automatically depending on the time of day, time of year and how much sun light is present.
Sunlight passes through all eight layers of the cladding. However, to achieve the dancing rain effect, each possible path of light was carefully calculated and redirected. The stars, which are composed of aluminium and steel, are purposely built in slim, medium, wide and mixed dimensions of thickness to guide the streams of light. The sun’s rays initially pass through two openings in the dome, before being blocked by a third layer. However the ray of light soon travels on as the position of the sun changes and the reflective elements of the cladding finishes redirect the light within the museum complex. Thus the ‘taches de lumiere’ or spots of sunlight appear, disappear, grow in size, or diminish, shimmering over the walls, floors and pools. Through years of hard work and exacting science we have created new lighting effects that have never been realised before.
The motto of Louvre Abu Dhabi is: ‘see humanity in a new light.’ Our work on this project inspired and challenged BuroHappold in new and exciting ways. We are privileged to have helped create an extraordinary museum complex that will benefit the community and all those that come to visit the rare collection of art. Honoured to help engineer the vision of humanity in a new light.
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