Museum of Islamic Art Project – Qatar

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Project Information
Ieoh Ming Pei & Jean-Michel Wilmotte
Technical Architect
Jaros Baum & Bolles, NY
Associate Architect
Qatar Engineer & Associates
Sda Protec
Structural Engineer
Leslie E. Robertson Associates
Acoustic Engineer
Xu Acoustique París
Electrical Engineer
Fisher Marantz Stone NY, Isometrix Lighting and Design
Construction Company
Turner Projacs & BAYTUR Construction Co.
National Council for Culture, Arts and Heritage, Qatar Petroleum
Built in
2003 - 2008
Built-up Area
45.000 m²
Doha, Qatar

My Journey Through the Construction of the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar

Embarking on the construction journey of the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) in Doha, Qatar, was an odyssey through time, culture, and architectural ingenuity. As part of the team at both the tender and construction stages, I witnessed first hand the melding of traditional Islamic architectural principles with the rigor of modern construction techniques under the visionary design of the architect I.M. Pei. This project was not just about building a structure; it was about crafting a beacon of Islamic art and culture for the world to see. In this post, I share my experiences, focusing on the architectural, structural challenges, and the hurdles we overcame during construction.

Architectural Vision and Preliminary Challenges

The Museum of Islamic Art stands as a testament to the vision of its architect, I.M. Pei, was coaxed out of retirement to design this masterpiece. Pei embarked on a six-month journey through the Muslim world to draw inspiration, which he found in the 13th-century sabil (ablution fountain) of the Mosque of Ahmad Ibn Tulun in Cairo. His design for MIA was a blend of the geometric and the abstract, a homage to the Islamic architectural legacy with a modern twist.

However, transforming this architectural vision into reality posed its initial set of challenges. The project’s tender stage involved rigorous scrutiny of the feasibility of Pei’s designs, particularly the geometric intricacies and the ambitious use of space. Ensuring the structural integrity of such a unique design while adhering to the project’s scope and budget required meticulous planning and innovation from the outset.

Structural Marvels and Material Mastery

One of the project’s structural highlights is the museum’s dome, an engineering marvel that required precision and creativity. Achieving the dome’s complex geometry, inspired by traditional Islamic architecture, demanded a synergy between our engineering team and the vision of the architect. Additionally, the use of high-quality materials, such as the cream-colored limestone from France for the building’s façade, presented logistical and installation challenges. The choice of materials was crucial not only for their aesthetic appeal but also for their durability in the face of Qatar’s harsh climate.

Overcoming Architectural Difficulties

The construction stage brought the architectural difficulties to the forefront, especially with the museum’s location on an artificial island. This ambitious decision by Pei ensured the museum would stand isolated, free from the encroachment of future developments. Yet, it also meant dealing with the complexities of constructing on reclaimed land, requiring innovative solutions for the foundation and ensuring the stability of the structure against the corrosive marine environment.

Integrating the intricate Islamic geometric patterns into the modern design while maintaining the functionality of the museum space was a delicate balance to strike. The aesthetic elements, crucial to the museum’s identity, needed to seamlessly blend with the modern infrastructure without compromising on space and visitor flow within the museum.

Navigating Construction Challenges

The construction phase was a test of endurance, skill, and collaboration. One significant challenge was adhering to the tight schedule while accommodating the frequent design alterations inherent in such a bespoke project. These changes, while pivotal in achieving the architectural vision, required constant adaptation in planning and execution.

Moreover, sourcing and working with the unique materials specified by Pei, such as the specific grades of limestone and the interior finishes, required a global search for suppliers who could meet the project’s stringent quality and aesthetic standards. The logistics of transporting these materials to Qatar and ensuring their proper installation under the desert’s extreme weather conditions was a Herculean task.

Safety considerations, given the project’s scale and complexity, were paramount. Implementing rigorous safety protocols to protect the workforce while maintaining the construction timeline was a balancing act that demanded constant vigilance.

Conclusion: A Monument to Islamic Art and Culture

The journey to bring the Museum of Islamic Art to life was fraught with challenges, each a learning opportunity that pushed the boundaries of architectural and engineering innovation. The result is a structure that does more than house art; it stands as a piece of art in its own right, embodying the rich heritage and dynamic future of Islamic culture.

As I reflect on this monumental project, I am filled with a sense of pride and accomplishment. The Museum of Islamic Art is not just a testament to the vision of I.M. Pei and the dedication of countless individuals who worked on it but also a symbol of Qatar’s commitment to preserving and showcasing Islamic art and culture. For me, it was an honor to be part of this historic endeavor, a chapter in my life that I will always cherish.


I extend my deepest gratitude to my colleagues, the visionary I.M. Pei, and the people of Qatar for the opportunity to contribute to this landmark project. The journey was a collaborative effort, and its success a testament to the power of shared vision and perseverance.

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