The Museum as a Commodity: The Global Branding of Abu Dhabi and its Culture trough Western Institutions and their Architecture.
Frank E. Reitsma 1503359 Architectural Theory Thesis Faculty of Architecture, Delft University of Technology December 20, 2013
Abstract In a world faced with increasingly global economic markets, a growing necessity arises for cities and nations to brand their desired image on the map. Focusing on Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, this thesis investigates the development of its Saadiyat Island Cultural District, as a manifestation of the intended status of the emirate as a global cultural capital. Internationally renowned architects and museum institutions are attracted, through providing financial benefits, to partnerships affiliating their brand image to Abu Dhabi. Specifically the franchises of the universal museums of the Louvre and the Guggenheim, and their star architecture, are examined against the background of tree elements of research. Firstly the current development of the museum institution is elaborated, finding that notions of global competition have demanded an economic, audience driven approach of incorporating mass education and entertainment, resulting in the inception of the universal museum shaped by star architecture. Secondly the social and political situation of the emirate is investigated, dominated by a paradoxical relationship between an international economic orientation and traditional autocratic political organization. The third element of research concerns the possibility of branding through the unique image of Abu Dhabi within the framework of orientalism, seen by western nations as an exception to the assumptions about Islamic culture, that are dominated by fundamentalist threat. In the light of these three elements the complex system of motivations for the development is elaborated. The universal museum franchises and their architecture function as a commodity, providing paradoxical branding opportunities for architect, museum institution, Abu Dhabi and its culture.
Keywords: Globalization - universal - museum - star architecture - orientalism - city branding - Abu Dhabi - UAE
Chapter 1: The Museum; Globalization and the universal
Developments in museum history
Implications of globalization
The universal museum in city branding
Chapter 2: The case of the Abu Dhabi and the United Arab Emirates
Historical situation: Tradition and culture
Economic and political situation: East meets west
Chapter 3: Orientalism, Islamic culture and diversification of the image
Orientalism as discussed by Edward Said
Diversifying the image of Islam
Chapter 4: The Saadiyat island universal museums in the practice of branding
Branding Abu Dhabi; travelers welcome
The Louvre Abu Dhabi by Jean Nouvel
The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi by Frank Gehry
Architecture as a paradoxical brand
List of figures
Introduction “Unprecedented in scale and scope, Saadiyat Island Cultural District will be a centre for global culture, drawing local, regional and international visitors with unique exhibitions, permanent collections, productions and performances. Its iconic institutions will be housed in buildings constituting a statement of the finest architecture at the beginning of the 21st century. Crafted by the world’s greatest architectural minds, Saadiyat Island Cultural District is a shining beacon on the international arts scene, home to the Zayed National Museum, Louvre Abu Dhabi, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and Performing Arts Centre” (TDIC, 2013a). Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, intends to profile itself on the global map trough the development of its Saadiyat Island Cultural District. Engaging in partnerships with internationally renowned architectural firms and branded universal museum institutions, the local government is capitalizing on their natural resources to transform the image of their local culture (Skluzacek, 2010). The social and political connotations of this development in the autocratic Islamic nation bring a sense of controversy to the project (Ponzini, 2011). In this thesis the implications brought on by the realization of The Saadiyat Island Cultural district, and the universal museum institutions it houses, are elaborated. The research is proposed in three elements, framing a background for the investigation into the developments in Abu Dhabi. Firstly the origins of the museum are addressed in chapter one, attempting to unveil the historical essence and the nature of its change over time. The investigation specifically targets the societal context of increasingly global economic markets, leading to the inception of the universal museum as a contemporary phenomenon. The background of the United Arab Emirates forms the second element of research and the second chapter, elaborating on the political and social systems, transformed trough the nation’s rapid growth into a hybrid construction of global economic orientation and traditional culture. The final element stated in chapter three of the research addresses the framework of Orientalism, as discussed by Edward Said, proposing that knowledge about an ‘other’ culture is always obtained in a highly motivated fashion. Elaborating on the misconceptions and exceptions in this framework regarding Islamic culture, the possibilities of actively steering the orientalist image through branding are investigated. The fourth chapter contains an investigation into the links between the three subjects described in the preceding chapters. Against the background of the different elements of research, the universal museum franchises of the Saadiyat Island Cultural District are explored as the manifestation of Abu Dhabi’s aspiration to profile itself as a global cultural capital. Special focus is placed on the sought affiliation with the international brand image of the museums of the Guggenheim and the Louvre. Finally the conclusions are stated within the last chapter. The implantation of universal museum and its architecture, within the political nature and social structure of the emirate, are elaborated, investigating the branding of the architect, the institution, the emirate, and its culture.
The Museum; Globalization and the universal
The definition of a “museum” is hard to capture, throughout history it has taken on many different forms. The International Council of Museums defines the museum as a “non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment.” (ICOM, 2007). These characterizing activities have been displayed long before the institutionalization of the museum. In a concise overview the origins of the museum are investigated, attempting to grasp its essence and its change over time. A special focus is placed on the implications of globalization in the development of the institution. This history of the museum provides a framework for investigation into the societal context and motivations that have accommodated the rise of the multinational universal museum and its star architecture as a contemporary phenomenon.
Developments in museum history In the earliest societies, originating in Mesopotamia, the activity of collecting emerged. Public collecting by kings arose as a way to assert image and power; demonstrating reach by access to networks and distant sources, greater identity of the society through accumulation of sacrifices to god, and importance in burying rare and special objects with the dead. (Healy, 2013) This implementation of collecting as a royal ideology to present an image, is a recurring theme throughout history. In the Italian Renaissance also privileged citizens adopted the activity of collecting to this end. In a small cabinet room called a ‘studiolo’ the elite displayed a variety of objects they deemed relevant for study; scientific and musical instruments, fossils, manuscripts and art objects. This collection presented a refined and educated image to privileged guests, displaying the patron’s good taste, classical knowledge, and apt understanding of phenomena. The height of sophistication of these collections was reached in private contests for collecting, by the juxtaposition of the images of elite collectors (Macdonald, 2006). In the earliest public museums this competitive aspect can also be identified. Emerging out of private collections the ‘public’ museums inherited the tradition of creating an image of power and privilege. These museums were conceived as places for study and display of precious objects, accessible only for the middle and upper classes. Their architecture was strongly influenced by the palatial royal residences that used to house the collections, supporting the privileged image. Accessibility for the general public was initiated in the year 1791, when the French ‘Assemble Nationale’ decreed that “the Louvre and the Tuileries together will be a national palace to house the king and for gathering together all the monuments of the sciences and the arts” (Skluzacek, 2010). The new function of the Louvre in the post-revolutionary nation became a monument to democracy, as the royal collection transformed into a national treasure open to the general public. In this light the museum forms a tool for the redistribution of the image of power created by the collection from the elite to the people. The museum had to represent the democratic principles of ‘liberté, égalité et fraternité’ and not aristocratic superiority. This institutional shift exemplifies the change from glorification of the privileged few to the display of civic pride and edification. The newly gained accessibility for the general public was seen as a privilege, not as a right. The architecture of the museum, being former royal palaces like the 2
Louvre or being palatial in their design, adopted a new function in this approach. The buildings and their historical fame and grandeur invite humbleness from the visitor and a sense of gratitude for allowing entrance. The collections and exhibitions were to attract admiration from a cultivated public, while criticism was discouraged. The emphasis on the social importance of the appreciation of art and art history increased accordingly, cultural self-identification was no longer defined by religion alone. Mass education was incorporated as a goal by museum institutions, not only to cultivate the general public, but also to prevent revolutionary movements. To accommodate this goal the museum has partially shifted to its function to becoming a place of public diversion and entertainment to attract the masses (Skluzacek, 2010). The creation of an entertainment experience alongside initial museum functions has brought dramatic transformation to the institution and its perceived role in society (Grodach, 2008). A paradoxical balance had to be found between the incorporation of the general public and the persistence of the image as a sacred treasury for art and knowledge. In its architecture the institution reflects its role in society; trying to honor the museum’s invaluable collection of masterpieces. Gaining cultural importance, the museum buildings attempt to act as symbols and containers of civic authority, preserving the secular truth, reminiscent of the role of temples and churches in religion. The rise of the secular truth in society above religious authority invited scientific elements to the collections. Catalogues ordering nature and exhibitions of the natural specimens came to the museum reflecting the advancing idea of human perfection. Scientific and humanistic inquiry advanced as new functions of the institution, protecting society’s collective memories and values. The collection became a “grand narrative about the natural order of people, objects, and events” (Skluzacek, 2010). Grand gestures and classical elements were used in the architecture; the monumental character was conceived to create a break from the mundane into the transcendent world of the museum. The implications of an increasingly global competitive market have reduced the potency of this classical character. The references to monumental temples or palaces have lost their canonical edifices. In this light the classical museum is perceived decreasingly as a transcendent experience by the public (Skluzacek, 2010).
Implications of globalization With the rapidly increasing access to global economic markets the museum institution had to position itself in a new context. Economic factors in society and on the institution gained in importance. The institution transformed from being collection based, to being more audience driven, facilitating economic needs. Initially the museum responded to pressures in the social or political context, now the economic pressures are the focal point (Skluzacek, 2010). Globalizing practices glorify the organizations that operate most successfully across national borders. The audience driven approach targets the attraction of visitors to generate revenue as an important new function. In the pursuit to enhance their economic position on the global market “museums continue to build larger signature buildings, welcome corporate sponsorship, establish branch facilities and provide more opportunities for consumption through blockbuster events, cafés, stores and merchandizing” (Grodach, 2008). To facilitate the institutions primary activities of acquiring, conserving, researching, and communicating in the global economic market, the activity of creating an entertainment experience to generate revenue has become necessary. The former education of the masses now translates to entertainment. Katherine Myers, director of marketing and public relations at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, remarked;; “Our priority is not education. It is economic development. 3
We are interested in getting people in the doors.” (Thompson, 2008). The collection is increasingly used to establish financial wellbeing, administration and ability to attract visitors. Global competition for funding among museums requires the justification of cultural relevance of the institution in society. The museum functions as a frame to order and justify the city or nation it represents, positioning its image on the global market. (Skluzacek, 2010). This results in a paradoxical relationship of the nonprofit nature of the museum with the economy driven context. In December 2002 eighteen directors of prominent museum signed the ‘Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal museums’, conceived during a meeting of their collaborative platform; the Bizot group. The declaration addresses the pressure to repatriate artifacts that have been ‘dislocated’ in former times. The objects were taken from their cultural context and put onto display in a now universal collection. The directors stress that: “The universal admiration for ancient civilizations would not be so deeply established today were it not for the influence exercised by the artifacts of these cultures, widely available to ail international public in major museums” ("Declaration", 2002). This statement functions as the validation of the universal museum practices and their evading response to claims of cultural repatriation. The institutions motivations for this self-designation as justified owner appear, in regard to the competitive global context, to prioritize its own financial wellbeing and cultural relevance in society. In developing an audience driven approach the function of museum architecture altered. The museum has become a more integrated and less “grand narrative” experience of art and architecture. Conceived not as an impressive stronghold of culture, but as a modern day integrated experience of art. Strong importance was placed on the institutions architecture as it mediates the visitors’ first and last impression of the museum. This implied a departure from the traditional intimidating building format, toward the implementation of star architecture. Spectacular images by renowned architects functioned as a tool in legitimizing the unique social qualities of the museum as a public place. The public enters an impressive space in which the collection provides a cross section of all cultures. The art on display and the architecture of the museum transcend the local context and represent a global and universal museum institution as a new typology. This development induces an increasing homogenization, attributed to the effects of a growing economic globalization (Skluzacek, 2010). The universal museum has provided an increase in inclusiveness and accessibility for its public. In its cultural relevance the institution relates to more than local culture, as the art and aesthetic wealth of the world are displayed. Including its public and granting access to its collection from all cultures. The growing decontextualization and homogenization of the institution however are apparent. Economist Theodore Levitt stated in regard to the globalization of economic markets: “Everywhere everything gets more and more like everything else as the world’s preference structure is relentlessly homogenized” (Levitt, 1983). This phenomenon can strongly be identified in the universal museum.
The universal museum in city branding In the development of the universal museum the Guggenheim museum, under the leadership of Thomas Krens, presented a striking example. Focusing on an audience driven approach the institution started deaccessessioning core pieces from its collection to improve its financial position. New contemporary pieces were acquired to attract a larger audience. Upon criticism Krens stated: ''The fundamental equation of only deaccessioning to buy art is being maintained'' (SRGF, 2013). The increase in revenue allowed the museum to expand the permanent collection with fifty percent. Adapting to the economic pressures provided the institution with opportunities for growth. Driven by 4
financial motivations the institution intended to build a distinctive international image on the global market. The Guggenheim foundation branded itself as a multinational institution creating an image of quality and cultural relevance. In the words of Thomas Krens: "A good brand becomes an article of faith among a consumer audience. If you buy a BMW or a Mercedes, or stay at a Four Seasons hotel or go the Louvre, you can be pretty much guaranteed a quality experience" (SRGF, 2013). The international image of the museum has taken shape most prominently in Bilbao. The Basque administration in Spain was seeking an economic rejuvenation of its capital. Affiliation with the brand of the Guggenheim provided possible economic advantages for the city as a tourist attraction and a positive addition to the image of the city brand. A franchising agreement was made between the city and the museum; the Basque administration was to offer operating support and capital, in return the management was executed by the Guggenheim Foundation, also offering support in curating and acquisition. The museum was to host five Guggenheim collection exhibitions per year, while in addition locally curated events took place. The museum building was designed by star architect Frank Gehry. The architecture was to play an important role in the image of the museum, and in the image of the city as it would have a landmark function. The result was a spectacular structure made of titanium, glass, and limestone, enforcing the brand of the institution. The cooperation resulted in a large success for both parties; the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao attracted 9.2 million visitors between 1998 and 2006 (Thompson, 2008). The Guggenheim museum and its powerful image have provided Bilbao with a city brand alluring as a tourist attraction. The impact of the institution on the economic rejuvenation of the city has been regarded vital. Since the realization of the Bilbao franchise the influence of the universal museum has become apparent. Museum’s architecture provides an opportunity to create a landmark, asserting the brand of the museum. In the branding of the city on the global market this landmark adopted an important role. The Guggenheim museum, and its image, has proven successful in this strategy; utilizing the image of a universal museum and its star architecture in city branding (Thompson, 2008).
Conclusions The museum institution has accumulated different functions over time, adapting to its societal relevance. Especially the incorporation of education and entertainment are regarded as profound transformations. The image of the collection, exuding power and privilege, has shifted from the individual to society. In its architecture the museum reflects cultural intent. The implications of an increasingly global competitive market provided a new context for the institution to locate itself in. Responding to economic pressures the museum has become more audience driven then collection based. Priorities shifted towards its own financial wellbeing and cultural relevance in society. An increasing homogenization and decontextualization appear in the integrated experience of the universal museum and its architecture. The image of the universal museum has been utilized to create a city brand alluring to tourist. In this strategy the museum and its star architecture have proven to be lucrative identification and economic tools.
The case of the Abu Dhabi and the United Arab Emirates
The United Arab Emirates have existed as a political entity relatively shortly, since 1971. The seven sheikhdoms the federation embodies have a far longer history of tradition and culture. In a historical overview the unification of the sheikhdoms and the characteristic social systems are investigated. The rapid development of the nation is researched, concentrating on the financial facilitation of growth by the discovery of fossil fuel resources and involvement in international economy. The intention is to profile the unique political organization of the nation and the position of its native Emirati citizens. Within this framework the focus of the nation on its position on the global economic market and openness to western politics are addressed.
Historical situation: Tradition and culture The geographical area that is now known as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), along the southern coast of the Persian Gulf, is isolated through the desserts of the Arabian Peninsula. The area has a long cultural and traditional history, positioned between Central Asia and Africa near early civilizations. With its extreme climatic circumstances it formed the habitat of nomadic tribesmen. The sheikhdom and city of Abu Dhabi, now the capital of the UAE, existed as a small village, with an economy based on fishing, pearl diving, and framing on oases. The social structure consisted of familial and tribal relationships, cultural industries and religion. Tents or houses made from locally available materials formed their build environment. The area has subsequently been under Ottoman, Portuguese and British rule until 1971. On December 4th of this year the seven sheikhdoms, which already cooperated as Trucial States, became a single independent sovereign unit (Ponzini, 2011). The United Arab Emirates became a political entity under a central government consisting of the ruling families of the sheikhdoms. Before the unification there had been disputes over territorial boundaries and tribal structures fostering paternalism. This rivalry was much displayed by the two most influential Sheikdoms; Abu Dhabi, having the greatest land mass and Dubai having the most developed trading network. With the discovery of the sixth largest crude oil reserve in the world located for ninety percent under its dessert, Abu Dhabi gained the most influence (Ponzini, 2011). The feudal and tribal systems of government still active under British rule, transformed into a mild autocratic regime under Sjeikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi. Trucial States Bahrain and Qatar opted for independence. The seven other Sheikhdoms were unified in the UAE. Sheikh Zayed promised to share the oil of Abu Dhabi with the Emirates that had none, grant their ruling families considerable autonomy, and promised to divide key federal post among the families (Miller, 2008). The founding of the United Arab Emirates creates a federation of Sheikdoms which are absolute hereditary monarchies. Abu Dhabi’s Al Nahyan family inherits presidency and Dubai’s Maktoum family prime ministership. This form of political organization is a hybrid construction of social and cultural tradition and a constitutional monarchy (Harris, 2013). Sheikh Zayed’s commitment to his promises provided political stability in the UAE, facilitating a fast paced process of development. The crude oil reserves created the financial means for the federation to modernize and provide the region with basic structures and facilities (Ponzini, 2011). In the 1970 the conditions in the UAE were still classified as underdeveloped in comparison with western nations. When the government of Zayed and its involvement in the global economic market increased, this 6
situation changed. More profitable agreements with international oil companies improved the financial position of the nation. After the demolition of the original settlements, an infrastructural and a development plan for land use were conceived. The autocratic position of the Sheikh enabled him to set out structured plans for the future of the nation (Hashim, 2012). The organic development of other nations was compressed in a five year period. Abu Dhabi transformed through international techniques and knowledge into a modern city, a completely new capital of a new nation. This rapid process was accompanied by a sense of homogeneity in Â the Â nationâ€™s appearance and loss of uniqueness and identity, as can be seen in figure 1. The homogenizing effects of an increasing globalized economy have however had little effect on cultural and familial bonds. Among the most important indicators of status in society remain the history of the family, its alliances, and relationships (Al-Khazraji, 2009).
Figure 1. Abu Dhabi before and after the discovery of its oil reserves, visualizing the transformation of the Emirate. (Source: Alex Westcott/Gulf News & Archives)
Economic and political situation: East meets west The rapid development of the UAE can be contributed to the discovery of its oil. Other countries, in which this significant economic source was discovered, have not achieved a comparable level of fast modernization though. The amount of economic freedom imparted on the individual Emirates, under the political stability provided by Sheikh Zajed, enabled effective use of the abundant oil (Ponzini, 2011). Openness to increasingly important global economic markets and politics has characterized the visions of the emirates. This attitude is understandable in the light of the high amount of globally scarce fossil fuels of the nation and the deficiency of other local resources. The strong position on the global economic market has provided the Islamic Autocratic nation financial resources for explosive growth. In their individual visions Dubai profiled itself most distinctly as a global financial hub. For all Emirates the unique position on the global map has brought a vast wealth to the nation, facilitating the development process (Hashim, 2012). For the execution of the elaborate development plans the native population of nomadic tribesmen was not regarded qualified. Sheikh Zajed invited the participation of its neighboring nations and migrants from the Arabian Peninsula and Asia to accumulate a skillful workforce (Hashim, 2012). In this 7
strategy the immigrants were attracted by the alluring financial opportunities of the nation. The result was an incredible growth in the population of the UAE; doubling between 1986 and 2005. With the promising image of economic and political stability the workforce keeps expanding. Workers, mainly from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, were lured by jobs, contracts and social stability. Expatriates from the west were also attracted to bring in knowledge and expertise. Every month approximately twenty five thousand people from different cultures arrived in the Emirates, causing the population to double again between 2005 and 2010. Due to the large influx of mostly temporary workers the current population now amounts to 1.4 million people, of diverse cultural backgrounds, from which less than ten percent is native Emirati (Ponzini, 2011). The interconnectedness of the UAE in global economic markets amplified thoroughly when Sheikh Kalifa Bin Zajed Al Nahyan succeeded his father as the president. Reforms in real estate regulations increased the openness to western economies and business models of the nation, as new rights for nonEmirati individuals and companies were introduced. The internationally oriented and educated new generation of ruling elite sought greater economic diversification and growth (Ponzini, 2011). Investment of oil revenue in foreign companies was implemented to realize this diversification, leading to further increase in the nation’s financial resources. The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), led by the ruling family of Abu Dhabi, has turned into the world’s largest and most secretive sovereign wealth fund. The Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute listed ADIA’s assets at 627 billion dollar, including investments in all international markets; equities, fixed income and treasury, infrastructure, real estate, private equity, and hedge funds (Miller, 2008). Investment in military defense has further improved the UAEs position on the global economic market. Two sizable examples are the acquisition of F-16 combat aircrafts from the United States and Mirage 2000 combat aircrafts from France. The economic benefits for western nations in providing military equipment have strengthened their political ties to the UAE accordingly (Miller, 2008). The native Emirati population has shared fully in the prosperous developments. In Abu Dhabi the newly arisen upper class of native citizens were given their own property during the development process in the 1980s, to develop as they saw fit. Citizens receive numerous privileges denied to the general population. Yousef al Otaiba, director of international affairs at the office of the crown prince, explains: “For Emirati there is free education, free health care, and many other benefits” (Miller, 2008). The other benefits include housing, guaranteed monthly salaries, and subsidized food and fuel. The 420,000 citizens now have an average per-capita income of 52,500 dollar, positioning them among the wealthiest in the world (Harris, 2013). These benefits and low taxation, due to the large income from oil revenues for the state, have resulted in a low work rate among native citizens. As there is no necessity to work, unemployment under young UAE citizens is at sixty percent (Miller, 2008). This high per-capita income for native citizens provides a dramatic dualism in the UAE. The largest part of the population, consisting of an international workforce and western professionals, are denied citizenship, creating a distance between large workforce and the native elite (Ponzini, 2011). Tensions have been developing in regard to the large international workforce. The Human Rights Watch has accused both Abu Dhabi and Dubai of tolerating unlawful practices neglecting the workers’ rights. Examples are presented of employers confiscating workers passports or forcing potential hires to pay large fees in order to be considered for employed under low wages (Miller, 2008). Problems concerning labor present a conflict of interest in the UAE, as the native elite owns companies as well as holding posts in the government. Addressing this issue the minister of labor ruled in 2008 that none of his employees could have an active interest in more than ten companies. He stated that “the 8
ministries responsible for the wellbeing of workers should not also be owners of companies that employ Â them.â€? (Miller, 2008). The hybrid political organization of the UAE, based on social tradition and western economics, does not offer its population the democratic liberties that define the western nations encountered on the global economic market. Lacking in the autocratic monarchy, the establishing of citizenship and its inherent social and political rights are seen as the base of the western political organization of western nations. Through revolutions, like the French and the American Revolution, political structures transformed over time. In the socialist revolutions in Russia and China land distribution and economic rights for the population became a necessary component for political legitimacy. Social contracts were enforced regarding education, healthcare, voting rights, guaranteed jobs, and association of labor by popular consent of the governed (Harris, 2013). Unlike western or other Arabic nations the UAE did not experience a revolution or demand of power by its population. In the rapid development of the nation there has been little focus on the economic and political freedoms for the population that have been essential aspects in the development of both socialist and capitalist nations. From their Islamic nomadic roots the UAE have transformed into a construct of a crossroads of finance and culture between East and West. Developing a strong global economic position for the nation, orientated to the west, but maintaining its traditional political and social organization (Harris, 2013).
Conclusions The UAE were united in 1971 under a mild autocratic government led by Sheikh Zayed of Abu Dhabi. With the discovery of the world sixth largest crude oil reserve a rapid development of the nation was initiated, focusing on an international orientation but maintaining the social and political values of their traditional culture. Within the development of basic necessities modern structures based on international techniques replaced the original settlements, causing a loss in the uniqueness of the identity of the nation and providing a sense of homogenization. The economic situation of the UAE facilitated a notable position on the global economic market. Driven to expand its financial growth the economic and political interconnectedness with western nations increased. The hybrid political organization of the UAE, based on social tradition and western economics, does not offer its population the democratic liberties that define the western nations encountered on the global economic market. A non-citizen workforce now occupies 90% of the population is being dismissed the social, political, and financial benefits the nation offers its native citizens.
Orientalism, Islamic culture and diversification of the image
In increasing global contact between nations, western cultures encounter others that appear different than its own. This phenomenon requires a position to be taken on notions of self-identification and perception of the ‘other’. The issue of orientalism, as it is portrayed in the works of Edward Said, proposes a framework through which this knowledge about the ‘other’ culture is produced. In investigating this framework of assumptions, the misconceptions that arise in the generalized knowledge are addressed. The focus lies on how Islamic culture is perceived by western nations, dominated by incidents of fundamentalist threats. The unique position of the UAE provides possibilities of the diversification of this image. Looking at the consequences of the distinct political and traditional situation of the nation, its international orientation and the effects of branding as active influence on the image of culture are elaborated.
Orientalism as discussed by Edward Said The issue of orientalism as presented in the works of Edward Said addresses the framework of prepositions and stereotyping in western nations of those cultures and nations, which we see as the other, oriental cultures. The main focus in his book “Orientalism” (Said, 1979) is the way we come to understand people, who look different than us by virtue of the color of our skin. The main themes presented, attempt to answer the questions: “How does one represent other cultures? What is another culture? Is the notion of a distinct culture (or race, or religion, or civilization) a useful one, or does it always get involved either in self-congratulation (when one discourses one’s own) or hostility and aggression (when one discusses the ‘other’)?” (Said, 1979). In increasing global contact between cultures there is an attempt of western nations to acquire knowledge of different cultures and to form a perception of the ‘other’. Said proposes that the way this perception is acquired is through orientalism, which he conceives as a highly motivated lens. In the framework of orientalism, the ‘Orient’ exhibits a set of inherent characteristics to western nations. Its culture is perceived as monolithic, static, inferior and simple, exotic, and mysterious. The western nations approach cultures other than their own with this underlying set of assumptions. The origin of these prepositions in the Occident (the west) lies in the attempt to define itself as different from the Orient (the east). During times of colonization these assumptions have been aligned towards justifying the continued presence of the imperialists, legitimizing the continuation of the colonization of the Orient. The assumptions made in attempt to create a distinction between Occident and Orient result in “a style of thought or perception by which westerners come to understand, perceive and define the Orient” (Said, 1979). This style of thought has been institutionalized in academia and politics, permeating throughout western scholarship to non-western cultures also. The increasing general acceptance resulted in the presumption that the west, on basis of its inherent superiority can ‘objectively’ study and define the Orient (Taib, 2002). Said asserts that this generalizing framework causes many misapprehensions. The image or perception of a culture is never acquired without bias, although the knowledge is presented as being objective. Preconceived notions motivate the way we come to understand the ‘other’. The main misconceptions in these generalizations are important to define. Important is the notion that no culture is static and monolithic. In regard to Islamic culture there have been many representations in movies, books, and 10
paintings causing generalization of the image of the culture. These romanticizing portraits continue to influence our view of the Arab world. But as western culture develops, Islamic culture changes as well. Orientalism creates an ideal ‘other’ that is frozen in time, though the Orient is not static. Because a culture has no fixed identity, there is no fixed relation between cultural identities. The monolithic nature of an oriental culture also presents a blurred image. As Islamic culture is as widespread as the world, it manifests itself in different forms and different cultures. A generalized orientalist statement of a culture is therefore inherently flawed. Another important notion is the existence of an official culture. Defining official culture presents a mayor contest incorporating canonical elements of good and evil, belonging and not belonging, and the ‘self’ against the ‘other’. The result of such a definition is an official culture that speaks for the whole. Frozen in time and official statements this representation of culture does not incorporate unofficial culture, lacking the cultures dynamics and plurality in form (Said, 1979). In recent developments global economy and political agendas form the main motivations that influence the orientalist image of Islamic culture. The perception of Islamic culture in the west is effected by media coverage focused on political and social extremes. Knowledge about other cultures is never acquired without bias; here the focus of media attention provides an example. Since the attacks in New York on September 11 of 2002, by the militant Islamic organization Al-Qaeda, the representation of Islamic culture in global media has been focused on fundamentalist groups and threats of terrorism. Attempting to fill the knowledge gap between the cultures and create an image of the other, generalizing assumptions were greatly influenced by the unknown, as a source of possible danger. Figure 2 shows an illustrative example of the Islamic prophet Mohammed, wearing a bomb in his turban. As in the times of colonization the assumptions of the orientalist framework are aligned toward justifying interference in the oriental culture. The perception of Islamic culture as a fundamentalist thread legitimized this position (Khiabany, 2003).
Figure 2. Danish cartoon of the Islamic prophet Mohammed wearing a bomb in his turban. (Source: Kurt Westergaard, Jyllands-Posten.)
Diversifying the image of Islam The orientalist image of Islamic culture as it is perceived today, displays exceptions. In the case of the United Arab Emirates significantly different global economic and political priorities have formed the motivations within the orientalist framework. The nation and its openness toward the west and involvement in global economic market have provided a generalization based on a set of assumptions different than in other nations that share its traditional culture. In exporting its globally scarce fossil fuel resources, the UAE have acquired an important economic and political position on the global market. This position and the willingness to economic involvement with the west provide unique image. Within the vastness of the generalized Islamic world the nation forms an exception within the orientalist image. The unique image asserts how the nation is perceived as the ‘other’ by the west. This perception has been actively influenced by creating an image of ‘self’ that is internationally oriented. In a world with globalizing access to information the political and social organization of the UAE remains firmly rooted in traditional Islamic culture. The permeation of the orientalist image of Islamic culture into global politics and economy require a position to be taken regarding the focus of the west on fundamentalist and terrorist notions. This position has to facilitate alignment of the unique international image of the UAE with the image of traditional Islamic culture they share with other nations. In defining their official culture the autocratic nation faces perceived discrepancies between nations sharing their traditional culture and western nations they encounter on the global economic market. Active cultural transformations mark the positions in the defined official culture. Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi addresses these transformations, implying detachment from fundamentalist notions: “We are in a war with those who have hijacked our religion [and traditional culture]. To succeed, we must also eradicate concepts like wasta and baksheesh – family influence and bribes”, “and we are succeeding.” (Miller, 2008). The developments in transformation of the image of the culture have to be regarded in the light of the traditional political organization of the nation and the declining percentage of native citizens. Since its inception the UAE have sought compromise between remaining an autocratic tribal Islamic society, while searching connection to the global economic markets led by democracy. The influx of the noncitizen workforce from diverse cultural backgrounds now amounts to ninety percent of the population, providing additional tension. In a number of political and social fields conservative notions remain visible. Freedom of speech and censorship in media are issues causing debate. Self-censorship however appears to form the largest challenge. Journalist Judith Miller cites the unofficial taboos of the culture of the nation as “the tree I’s: Islam, Israel and Internal Affairs” (Miller, 2008), questioning the viability of a culture in which these topics cannot be debated. Eckart Woertz of the Gulf Research Centre, a Dubai based think tank, states in this regard that the UAE are not likely to produce a truly open and innovative society. He assumes that “the liberal lifestyle needed for that to develop organically does not exist here, given the strong conservative traditions and the UAE’s proximity to Saudi Arabia, where fundamentalist mind-sets are widespread” (Miller, 2008). Operating within this complex framework of cultural tradition and transformation, the UAE are actively trying to identify their unique image. This unique image refers to an official culture providing a generalized image that is inherently flawed. Active involvement in the fabrication of this image however can have positive effects on perception of the nation by others. The strategy of branding provides possibilities to enforce this positive image as a signal to western nations. The UAE are attempting in this strategy to modify the orientalist set of assumptions about its traditional culture, as 12
western nations impose a strict set of rules and culturally defined norms upon a culture in order to regard not as the ‘other’. This can be seen as an opportunity to further deduce the orientalist view of Islamic culture as a monolithic and static whole. As the nation brands its culture on the global map, the individual Sheikhdoms follow their own vision. Dubai profiles itself as a truly global state focused on the financial elite and luxury. The sheikhdom functions as a business, not focusing on the social and political aspects of a traditional state. Abu Dhabi shares Dubai’s focus on financial development, but sees itself as an enlightened and still traditional Arab nation and the cultural and educational hub of the region. The intention is to profile the Emirate as an Islamic Manhattan, with traditional culture at its center. These branding strategies, as a counterpart to Islamic fundamentalism, provide an alternative orientalist image to the west. The UAE are diversifying the image of Islamic culture, within the framework of orientalism, through the use of branding. (Miller, 2008)
Conclusions Faced with increasing contact between cultures, nations are looking to define a perception of the ‘other’. The framework of orientalism proposed by Edward Said addresses that the knowledge to form this perception is gathered through a highly motivated lens. The motivated nature of the framework produces misconceptions that arise in the produced generalized knowledge. The assumptions that an ‘oriental’ culture is monolithic and static provide a perception of the other culture as singular and unchanging. This conjecture is amplified by the existence of official culture, frozen in time and official statements this representation of culture does not incorporate unofficial culture, lacking the cultures dynamics and plurality in form. Within the orientalist image of Islamic culture the UAE have a unique position, not dominated by notions of fundamentalist threats but by its international economic and political organization. The position is the result of the active connection of the nation to the global economic markets led by democracy but causes compromise in remaining an autocratic tribal Islamic society. The strategy of branding is implemented to facilitate alignment between the cultural influences and providing possibilities to enforce the new cultural image as a signal to western nations.
The Saadiyat Island universal museums in the practice of branding
The aspiration of Abu Dhabi to manifest itself strongly as a global cultural capital is captured in the future vision for the emirate. The current developments undertaken to realize this vision are investigated against the background of the historical situation and international economic and political orientation of the United Arab Emirates. Within the vision, the implementation of the strategy of branding is elaborated against the framework of orientalism, as a means for the nation to assert an alternative image of Islamic culture. Regarding this complex context the proposal for the Cultural District of Abu Dhabi, Saadiyat Island, forms the focus of the investigation. The museum institutions the district comprises of are proposed as cultural landmarks shaped by star architects. Especially the attraction of the international universal museums of the Guggenheim and the Louvre play an important role in the branding strategy of the emirate. Within the autocratic political nature and traditional social structure of the emirate, the branding of the architect, the institution, and the city are addressed.
Branding Abu Dhabi; travelers welcome The vision of Abu Dhabi for the future has been laid out in “Plan Abu Dhabi 2030” (UAE, 2007). In this plan the nation is pursuing to brand itself as an enlightened modern society, attempting to diversify its economic resources by positioning itself as a global cultural destination and attract business. The official brand logo of Abu Dhabi has therefore been conceived as “travelers welcome”, as seen in figure 3. The unique position of the UAE is addressed in the plan, providing the opportunity of “an authentic and safe but also progressive and open Arab city; a personality garnered from the desert and the sea; a traditional way of life but with the latest 21st century options; and a place of business but also of government and culture.” (UAE, 2007). In executing the plan, Abu Dhabi determined overarching principles in the urban planning process: The intention is to manifest its role and stature of capital, while maintaining a measured sustainable economic growth. Being scaled and shaped by its natural environment, the Emirate seeks to enable the values, social arrangements, and culture of this Arab society. Influencing the image of its culture the nation strives to towards a contemporary expression of an Arab city (UAE, 2007).
Figure 3. Brand logo by the Office of the Brand of Abu Dhabi, which by their definition “embraces the Emirate's vision for the future and respects the culture, heritage and traditions of its past”. (Source: Office of the Brand of Abu Dhabi.)
The plan Abu Dhabi 2030 exhibits a strong emphasis on culture and education. A remarkable investment in human development can be identified. According to Christopher Davidson, UAE expert at Durham University, this emphasis has manifested because throughout the nation the need for educational reform is so urgent. He states that: “The UAE has the best indicators for economic growth, and some of the worst for educational growth”(Miller, 2008). The investment in human development is an attempt to modernize the traditionally conservative under skilled native population, as the necessity for education and employment has been low under young natives. This presents a notable change in the interest in education, as teaching has been regarded as low status employment and budgets in the sector have been frozen for years (Miller, 2008). The nation means to edify and mold its citizen to be able to flourish in an increasingly globalized and diverse world and to be secure in their Islamic heritage. Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Nahyan stressed the importance of education for Abu Dhabi’s citizens: “The real wealth for a country is not its material wealth;; it is its people. They are the real strength from which we draw pride and the trees from which we receive shade. It is our firm conviction in this reality that directs us to put all efforts in educating the people” (UAE, 2007). The importance allocated to education and edification in the plan for 2030 has led Abu Dhabi to forge partnerships with some of the most renowned cultural and academic institutions in the world. Seeking to exude an image of a modern and enlightened Islamic culture, international institutions with a highly regarded brand name were attracted. These brands provide the Emirate affiliation with the historic social and cultural importance of the institution. Facilitated by its strong financial position and international economic and political orientation the nation formed corporations with among others the University of Paris IV - Paris-Sorbonne, the New York University, and the New York public library. Financial benefits for the international institutions reach beyond the investment in franchises created in Abu Dhabi. As additional incentive investments in faculty and programming for the original institution are provided (Miller, 2008). In the collaboration with these renowned cultural and education institutions controversies have arisen regarding the traditional cultural roots of the nation. In 2006, 12 gay Arab men were arrested in Dubai at a secret gay wedding. They were imprisoned and threatened with hormonal treatments, leading New York University students to legally challenge the partnership of their university with the nation. The behavior of the UAE toward Israel, in comply with the boycott of the Arab League, has also raised controversy in the cooperation. The institutions collaborating with the nation have been accused of appearing to condone the policies of a state that boycotts Israel (Miller, 2008). The ‘plan Abu Dhabi 2030’ focusses in its investment in human development not only on educational institutions. In the strategy the importance of the cultural institution of the museum occupies an even more assertive role. Prioritizing mass edification in its cultural image the museum institution has become a focal point in the future vision. The museum is seen as a means for modernizing the citizens of the nation and as a tool for economic diversification trough global tourism, presenting an image of Abu Dhabi to the world of a modern and enlightened Islamic cultural capital. The Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) is the government organization responsible for realizing this cultural image, grounded with a mandate of Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan in the plan for 2030. The TCA Abu Dhabi’s mission is: “To promote the heritage, culture and traditions of the Abu Dhabi emirate worldwide. Its activities are designed to support the emirate’s evolution into a world-class, sustainable destination which makes a unique contribution to the global cultural landscape while conserving its singular character and ecosystem” (UAE, 2007). The activities of the authority are aimed at nurturing a cultural environment enriching to both citizens and visitors. In pursuit of this purpose, the TCA Abu Dhabi has initiated a development project concentrated on creating landmark museums in the Saadiyat Island Cultural District. These landmark museums include universal museum 15
franchises of internationally renowned brand institutions like the Louvre and Guggenheim (TDIC, 2013b). Affiliation with the brand image of these institutions provides cultural identification to tourists as well as citizens. Mubarak Hamad al-Muhairi, director general of TCA Abu Dhabi, elaborates on the intentions of the project: “We want an impact on our society, not just on visitors” (Miller, 2008). With the 27 billion dollar development project of the Saadiyat Island Cultural District the TCA Abu Dhabi is looking to position the emirate as an international tourist destination, attracting citizens and tourists. Saadiyat Island, meaning Happiness Island, will comprise of a two and a half square kilometer cultural complex just of the coast of the capital, housing museums, hotels, golf courses and housing accommodating more than 125,000 residents. It appears that the economic impact of the influence of the Cultural District on the image of Abu Dhabi is an important motivation for this investment. Jumpstarting cultural tourism of an expected 3 million cultural visitors annually is intended to aid the development of local economy (Miller, 2008). The plan Abu Dhabi addresses the intention to attract this economic value of the development project. It regards the aim of the Cultural District to be: “A destination everyone in the world of art and culture would have to visit, annually and more than once, by building a series of permanent institutions - museums performing art centers, exhibition halls, educational institutions in the arts - that through collections, architecture and programs will become one of the greatest concentrations of cultural experience anywhere in the world” (Thompson, 2008). Crown prince Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan emphasizes however that the cultural, rather than the economic value, is the aim of the project. “The aim of Saadiyat Island must be to create a cultural asset for the world. A gateway and beacon for cultural experience and exchange. Culture crosses all boundaries and therefore Saadiyat will belong to the people of the UAE, the greater Middle East, and the world at large” (Thompson, 2008).
Figure 4. A visualization of the Saadiyat Island Cultural District master plan developed by the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority in cooperation with the Guggenheim foundation. (Source: TCA Abu Dhabi)
In the realization of the Cultural District TCA Abu Dhabi involved Thomas Krens of the Guggenheim foundation. The Board of the Guggenheim announced in 2008 that Krens would be stepping down as director, in order to take a more active role as the Senior Advisor on international affairs of the foundation. The TCA Abu Dhabi invited his expertise, noting his experience in conceiving and facilitating the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao. The Saadiyat Island Cultural District intends to recreate and magnify the positive influences the universal museum has had on the image of the city and its economic rejuvenation. The Guggenheim foundation has been appointed to aid in the development and refinement of the master plan for the Cultural District, visualized in figure 4. Advising the Sheikh on the possibilities of the universal museum, Thomas Krens played an important role in the planning process (Thompson, 2008). In the conceptual stage Krens was to assist in the 16
planning and the recruitment of museums and internationally renowned star architects. Regarding the master plan Thomas Krens stated: “The Guggenheim signed an agreement to develop the master plan for the cultural district, which called out for a modern or contemporary art museum, a classic art museum, a national museum, a maritime museum, a performing arts center and a Biennale pavilion” (Thompson, 2008). He conceived franchises of the universal museums of the Louvre and the Guggenheim to be the new cultural landmarks attracting global tourism and asserting the desired image of the emirate. Expressing his idea behind incorporating these internationally renowned institutions and their star architecture Krens elaborates: “My driving concept was to create a critical mass that by definition would be - rather aggressively - the greatest concentration of contemporary cultural resources in the world.” (Thompson, 2008)
The Louvre Abu Dhabi by Jean Nouvel The invitation of the institution of the Louvre to Abu Dhabi within the development plan has been facilitated by the large financial resources of the UAE. Investments are not limited to the museum and its brand image, but also provide financial benefits for the rejuvenation of the original institution. The incentive of an approximately 1.3 billion dollar package of investments forms an important impulse for Louvre, struggling for financial means (Riding, 2007). The political and economic relation between France and the UAE has proven mutually beneficial for the nations; providing further motivation for the realization of the franchise. The French government has, in providing military equipment to the nation, attributed great importance to the economic relations. Cultural and political differences have however formed obstacles in the developments. More than 4,600 French academics, art historians and others produced a petition opposing the creation of the Louvre franchise. In this petition was stated that the French cultural heritage was ‘not for sale’ regarding implications that economic motivations dominated the developments. Concerns also about artistic censorship in Abu Dhabi led the French government to create a special advisory panel to ensure observance to the standards of the original Louvre. In official contracts the UAE have however reserved the right to refuse art that offends local sensibilities and religious or cultural norms. Prioritizing economic incentives the French government has agreed to facilitate the creation of the Louvre Abu Dhabi (Miller, 2008). The architectural designs of the museum institutions provide the most tangible assets of the Saadiyat Island development project. Presenting trough landmark architecture the image Abu Dhabi seeks to exude, illuminating its social, political, and cultural aspects. The exterior of the museum is regarded a visual summation and potential tool to mediate the public’s impression of the institution and its cultural context. For the design of the Louvre Abu Dhabi internationally renowned French architect Jean Nouvel was selected. In previous works, Nouvel became familiar with Arabic design elements and the climatic characteristics. His design for the ‘Institut du Monde Arabe’ in Paris garnered critical acclaim and provided the architect a defined brand image. The exterior of the glass and steel design presents its most catching feature; the light sensitive metallic apertures within the façade expand and decline in size according to the daylight and interior light requirements. A strong cultural reference is made in this system of diaphragms to the shifting patterns of an Islamic pierced screen. The ‘Institut du Monde Arabe’ was conceived to improve the exposure of France to increasing influence of Islamic culture in the nation, while acknowledging colonial interventions in the past. The realization of the Louvre Abu Dhabi reflects a different view and profound shift in relation between the cultures (Skluzacek, 2010).
In the design for the Louvre Abu Dhabi Nouvel draws on his architectural brand of incorporating the traditions, history and climatic features of the site into the physical structure a project. Nouvel describes the main theme of the design as an ‘Island on an Island’ integral to traditional forms of Arabian architecture (Skluzacek, 2010). Arranged similarly to local ancient cities the project comprises of a collection of buildings, ponds and landscaping, these elements will be covered by a large semi-transparent dome located on the Coast of Saadiyat Island. The museum structure will house exhibition space for permanent collections as well as temporary exhibitions, encompassing more than 24,000 square meters in total. The exterior of the museum presents in this project, like in the ‘Institut du Monde Arabe’, the most distinctive characteristic. Its dome, 180 meters in diameter, forms a permeable skin shading the open and closed museum elements in the island landscape, shown in figure 5. Inspiration from traditional culture influenced the dome’s design, resembling the motives of the mashrabiya, a locally used decorative window screen providing shade without inhibiting air-flow (Skluzacek, 2010).
Figure 5. A visualization of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, designed by Jean Nouvel. (Source: Ateliers Jean Nouvel)
In order to improve the function as a universal museum franchise of the original Louvre the exhibition design was commissioned to French museographer Nathalie Crinière. Working together with Nouvel the development of a lighting scheme, graphic identity, and curatorial and directional signage was initiated, appropriate to the identity and image of the Louvre as well as that of Abu Dhabi. The exhibition design provides the opportunity to further brand the museum as a franchise of the Louvre and enhance the conceptual design of Jean Nouvel. The diffuse lighting system provided by the mashrabiya-like qualities of the dome facilitates a shaded buffer zone between the museums interior and exterior landscape elements. In the extreme climatic conditions this zone allows greater interaction between inside and outside and produces what Nouvel describes as ‘a rain of light’ (Skluzacek, 2010). By lighting the open spaces between galleries trough the dome structure, the different layers of the dome allow a decreasing amount of the sunlight to pas to the interior. The effect of this process is a constantly changing pattern of light recalling the way the sun filters through canopy of the date palm. The shaded buffer zone created is conceived as a conceptual referral to the Middle Eastern markets or souq. Nouvel intends the conceptual references to traditional culture and local climate in the universal museum franchise as a fusion and a symbolic link between cultures (Skluzacek, 2010).
The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi by Frank Gehry The role of the Guggenheim Foundation in the development of the Saadiyat Island Cultural District demonstrates the value that the TCA Abu Dhabi attaches to this universal museum and its international brand strategies. The financial means of Abu Dhabi provide a lucrative opportunity for corporation to the Guggenheim museum. The political and economic relation between the UAE and the United States of America exhibits similarities to the relation of the nation with France, providing mutual benefits in economic and political transactions regarding amongst others military equipment. The motivations for realization of the franchise appear similar, though the Guggenheim museum has been less transparent to the press then the Louvre about negotiations. Thomas Krens disclosed that Abu Dhabi has agreed to invest 600 million dollar in the Guggenheim Foundation over the next ten years to acquire art. The dimensions of the entire package, including the franchise museum, its Guggenheim brand image and additional investments in the original institution have been estimated as well over 1 billion dollar (Miller, 2008). In the United States cultural and political differences have also provoked opposition to the cooperation. The labor conditions of the non-citizen Abu Dhabi workforce form the focus of human rights activists discouraging the Guggenheim institution to facilitate this ‘exploitation’. In the process constructing the master plan for Saadiyat Island, the Guggenheim Foundation insisted that the rights of workers need to be respected. Human Rights Watch reports regarding the discussions stated: “While nothing we do guarantees that workers will be well treated, Sheikh Sultan has said he agrees with us” (Miller, 2008). The ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ on the rights of the work force with the Abu Dhabi government has reassured activists. “Since human rights monitors are now ‘on the ground’ in Abu Dhabi if rights are violated, I assume we’ll know about it” (Miller, 2008). Against this background the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi takes position in the Saadiyat Island Cultural District. Setting out to become “one of the greatest new institutions in the world” (Miller, 2008), according to Thomas Krens, the institution offers the UAE a competitive position on the global economic market. The main focus to achieve this goal Krens places on the physical structure of the museum, gathered from experience in the field of city branding through the universal museum and its architecture for the development of the Guggenheim in Bilbao. “After Bilbao, everyone recognized that we need museums that are architecturally unique - but that also offer content that appeals to people… That is the effect I wanted to achieve. It is technology, cosmology, science and religion, all thrown together. Breathtaking” (Miller, 2008). The Guggenheim identifies the architecture of its museums as an important aspect in their sustainability, striving for the innovative and spectacular. The image of the museum building attempts to present a profile as strong as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim and Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Bilbao (Miller, 2008). The architect selected to design the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi is Frank Gehry, having a strong affiliation with the Guggenheim brand and experience in transplanting this universal institution into other cultures. Gehry is challenged to repeat and magnify the effects of his architectural intervention in Bilbao. His conceptual approach displays similarities to the method of Nouvel; influenced by traditional Islamic architecture and producing a spectacular modern building. The interior organization of the structure is adapted from an organically grown local village, displaying open corridors that resemble streets, alleys, and plazas between the galleries. The exterior of the building however provides the focal point. Consisting of a vast collection of cubic volumes connected and unified by dramatic conical forms, as shown in figure 6. The cones serve in cooling the museum and its covered plazas as sustainable method of natural ventilation, inspired by wind towers traditionally used for this
purpose in the region. The image of the architecture leads the public to wonder what is hidden inside this building, shaped with few square angles and expressive forms. (Skluzacek, 2010)
Figure 6. A visualization of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, designed by Frank Gehry. (Source: Gehry Partners, LLP)
The interior experience of the building is described by Gehry as: “An adventure, a kind of walk through a town with art along the way” (Skluzacek, 2010). Comprising of 42,000 square meters the franchise of the Guggenheim museum will be the largest in the institutions collection. The scale of the new universal museum is promising to exceed its predecessor in Bilbao and any other existing contemporary museum of art. The museum holds the most prominent position and largest exhibition space of the master plan for the Saadiyat Island Cultural District. Within the collection contemporary art from around the world be presented, while special preference is given to exhibiting works that demonstrate developments in Arab and Islamic contemporary arts. The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi will, next to their typical universal museum functions, place special emphasis on education and collaboration with local and regional art institutions. Conceived as a landmark of global innovation, Frank Gehry has attempted to set a benchmark for future universal contemporary art museums (Skluzacek, 2010).
Architecture as a paradoxical brand The universal museums of the Louvre and the Guggenheim have positioned themselves within a complex system of interests and intentions. In the design of the museums architecture different actors are presented branding opportunities to shape their image. The UAE offer the museum institutions the financial privilege to redefine themselves as a universal museum of global importance, allowing an impressive landmark building to present the visual brand identity of their international orientation. In its architecture the museum franchise asserts recognizably the characteristics of the original institution, while allowing the expression of its future vision. The innovative architecture signals a departure from the intimidating, traditional museum experience. Abandoning the sculpted lions and columns, the universal museum projects transport visitors from the ordinary into the fantastical experience inside. The architecture of the museum has also become a critical element in the campaign of the institution to legitimize its existence as a unique social space by exhibiting its spectacular image (Skluzacek, 2010). The star architect is provided similar opportunities for its brand image. The developments in Abu Dhabi present a large financial and creative freedom through the ATC Abu Dhabi’s focus on the economic, political and cultural implications of the design. For the star architect the design presents an 20
opportunity to create a spectacular portfolio project asserting its brand image (Fainstein, 2013). A unique aspect of the Cultural District project is location of the Louvre and the Guggenheim on an island without any existing structures, extending the creative freedom of the architect. The focal point of the design is on the proposed implications, on magnifying the effects of the Bilbao franchise of the Guggenheim. Therefore the architectural expression can be formed in the brand image of the architect and institution limited by its iconic and spectacular character. Abu Dhabi is capitalizing on the effective use of the universal museum and its star architecture as a landmark and a signaling device in creating a destination. To successfully execute ‘Plan Abu Dhabi 2030’ the TCA Abu Dhabi is proposing to implement the Louvre and Guggenheim museum franchises to brand the Saadiyat Island Cultural District, Abu Dhabi and the greater UAE. The sought brand image is focused on cultural richness of tradition and involvement with the west. Attempting to diversify the orientalist image of Islamic culture, the strategy provides a social inclusion for the native citizens to western culture and for tourists to Abu Dhabi. The already unique position of the UAE in the orientalist framework offers an alternative image to stereotypical Islamic culture facilitated by its large financial resources. The developments intend also to educate and edify the native population in a western manner, seeing this as essential in closing the knowledge gap between Abu Dhabi and the western nations it encounters on global economic markets. “Radical Islamists want to drag Muslims back to the dark ages; Muslim Abu Dhabi is racing into the future”(Miller, 2008). The intentions of the TCA Abu Dhabi in the design of the universal museum franchises exhibit the characteristics seen in capitalist money economy globalized by western nations. Within an increasingly global economic market the self-signing of cities has become essential to financial growth. The role of architecture is to expose the prestige and power the nation wants it brand image to exude. In this global competition the universal museum and its star architecture have become the marketing commodities as the visual expression of that image. Within the capitalist paradigm of attracting financial benefits from tourism, the universal museum embraces the vision of Abu Dhabi and offers the opportunity to be an urban catalyst. The museum institution has inherently been rooted in its connection to exposing image and power, as seen in the ‘studiolo’ and early public museums. The notion of exposing and displaying objects of special importance provides positive connotations for its collector. The special value attributed to the objects on display transforms them into a commodity; “When the object world goes on display, then we have the beginning of commodity, fetishistic capitalism”(Healy, 2013). To an extent this principle now translates to the physical appearance of the museum. In the ideal case, when looking at the definition ICOM provides of the museum, the economic and identity benefits the institution is offering, should be regarded as a byproduct of a job well done by an educational institution or a rationale for the importance of museums in a city, rather than the primary motivation for its inception (Thompson, 2008). Abu Dhabi is in the transformation of its culture walking the fine line between traditional norms and values of Islamic culture and a global capitalist culture displayed by western nations. The autocratic nature of the nation has provided complications in the cooperation with western institutions, demanding equality on the social and political values of their partner. The utilization of universal museum and its star architecture imply a departure from tradition and an outreach to western commercial brand culture. A reduced uniqueness to place in representing the entire universe, the universal museum facilitates a visually homogenizing image of a global cultural capital. The political situation of the large non-citizen workforce of the UAE exemplifies the cultural disparities Abu Dhabi is faced with. The construction of the universal museum franchises displays the large distance of the institutions public and the workforce that produces it. Branding the emirate as a modern enlightened 21
culture, although the nation does not recognize the 90% of the population as citizen, denying them the rights the native population are offered (Miller, 2008).
Conclusions In the plan ‘Abu Dhabi 2030’, the emirate is pursuing to brand itself as an enlightened modern society. A strong emphasis on culture and education are placed to diversify the economic resources of the nation in positioning itself as a global cultural destination. The focus on human development attempts also to facilitate, for the uneducated traditional native population, the opportunity to flourish in an increasingly globalized and diverse world and to be secure in their Islamic heritage. The plan ‘Abu Dhabi 2030’ incorporates the strategy of affiliation with the brand image of renowned cultural and education institutions. Forging partnerships with these institutions provides cultural identification to tourists as well as citizens, but also raises controversies regarding the nation’s traditional cultural roots. This development takes shape in the 27 billion dollar project of the Saadiyat Island Cultural District. Influenced by Thomas Krens of the Guggenheim foundation the government organization TCA Abu Dhabi conceived franchises of the universal museums of the Louvre and the Guggenheim to be the desired cultural landmarks for the project, attracting global tourism and asserting the desired image of the emirate. Attracted by Abu Dhabi’s financial resources the franchising opportunities are regarded lucrative by the Louvre and the Guggenheim. Investments in the institution are not limited to the museum and its brand image, but also provide financial benefits for the rejuvenation of the original institution. The political and economic relation between the nations and the UAE provide stimulation for the development, though cultural and political differences have formed obstacles. Under the guidance of Thomas Krens the main focus in the realization of the franchises was placed on the exterior of the physical museum structure, gathered from experience in the Guggenheim Bilbao franchise. Conceptual references to local traditional culture and climate intend to function as a symbolic link between the international institution and its context. Both Jean Nouvel and Frank Gehry, as the selected architects for the franchises, incorporate these notions of context, but exhibit in their designs moreover their own brand and the image of the international institution. The universal museums of the Louvre and the Guggenheim have positioned themselves within a complex system of interests and intentions, presenting branding opportunities for all actors involved. The intentions of the TCA Abu Dhabi in the design of the franchises resemble the characteristics of capitalist money economy. Regarding background of the museum and its architecture, its proposed role is to expose the prestige and power the nation wants it brand image to exude. In its reduced uniqueness to place in representing the entire universe, the star architecture of the universal museum facilitates a visually homogenizing image of a global cultural capital. Abu Dhabi is in the transformation of its culture walking the fine line between the traditional norms and values of Islamic culture and a global capitalist culture displayed by western nations. The universal museums and their star architecture have in this process become commodities in the brand image of the architect, the institution, Abu Dhabi and the UAE’s unique position in Islamic culture.
Conclusion In concluding the different topics of research are summarized; addressing the development of the universal museum, the social and political organization of the United Arab Emirates, and the proposed strategy of branding within the framework of orientalism. In the development of the universal museum franchises of the Louvre and Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi are discussed, as the branded landmarks of the emirate’s Saadiyat Island Cultural District, the different elements of research are applied, leading to a conclusive statement. Adapting to its societal relevance the museum institution and its powerful image have added the functions of education and entertainment to their initial cultural intent. Responding to increasingly global economic pressures the museum has become more audience driven than collection based, prioritizing its financial wellbeing to accommodate cultural relevance. The image of the universal museum and its star architecture, presenting an increasingly decontextualized experience, has proven to be a lucrative tool to provide an alluring city brand. The international orientation of the UAE has its roots in the discovery of the young nation’s vast crude oil reserves, attempting to expand its financial growth. The economic and political interconnectedness with western nations facilitated rapid development plans for international basic necessities, causing a loss of cultural identity. In this process of homogenization the social and political values of the traditional culture were maintained. The resulting hybrid political organization does not offer the entire population of the UAE the liberties comparable to western nations. The framework of orientalism addresses the subjective knowledge produced by assumptions to form a perception of ‘other’ cultures, focusing on the main misconception that ‘oriental’ cultures, presented officially in generalizing statements, are monolithic and static. The orientalist image of Islamic culture, dominated by fundamentalist threat, provides an exception to the UAE, acquired through their active positioning compromising traditional autocratic culture with connection to global economic markets. To align both cultural influences, and enforce their unique image to western nations, the UAE attempt to use the strategy of branding. The different elements of research come together by a research study on the Saadiyat Island Cultural District, conceived to provide Abu Dhabi a brand image of an enlightened modern society as rooted in the plan of the emirate for 2030. In the cultural district partnerships are forged with globally renowned institutions, affiliating their brand image, to educate and edify the native population providing cultural identification in their mixed cultural identity and diversify the financial resources of the nation in becoming a global tourist destination. The Abu Dhabi government, guided by Thomas Krens of the Guggenheim foundation, selected franchises of the universal museums of the Louvre and the Guggenheim as providing the suitable brand image. The institutions were attracted by large financial benefits of the franchise, including investments in the rejuvenation of the original institution. Economic and political international relations stimulated the franchising agreement, forgoing cultural differences that formed obstacles. Attempting to repeat and magnify the effects of the Guggenheim franchise in Bilbao, Krens placed special importance on the star architecture of the museum. Conceived as a symbolic link in the design, conceptual references to traditional culture and climate were to link the international institution and its context. The contextual references are however overshadowed by the iconic value of the design, representing the brand of the architect and the international institution.
Positioned within a complex system of motivations the universal museums of the Louvre and the Guggenheim are presenting branding opportunities for all actors involved. The economic benefits of an expected 3 million cultural visitors per year appear to be of most interest to the Abu Dhabi government, resembling global capitalist priorities. Within this system the role of the museum and its architecture is to exude the cultural richness and prestige the nation desires for its brand image. Representing the entire universe, the star architecture of the museum provides a certain homogeneity and reduced uniqueness to space to the new global cultural capital. In proposing a cultural transformation trough branding to its natives and the world, Abu Dhabi is balancing on discrepancies between traditional culture from its Islamic heritage and global capitalist culture. In this process the universal museum and their star architecture can be regarded as commodities used in the brand image of the architect, the institution, Abu Dhabi and the greater United Arab Emirates.
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List of figures Figure 1. Abu Dhabi before and after the discovery of its oil reserves, visualizing the transformation of the Emirate. Source: Alex Westcott/Gulf News & Archives, retrieved October 22, 2013, from: http://m.gulfnews.com/polopoly_fs/1.680295!/image/4142077372.jpg_gen/derivatives/box_310/4142077372.jpg Figure 2. Danish cartoon of the Islamic prophet Muhammad wearing a bomb in his turban. Source: Kurt Westergaard, Jyllands-Posten, retrieved November 4, 2013, from: http://media.avisen.dk/billeder/jyllands-posten_78441_26.ashx Figure 3. Brand logo by the Office of the Brand of Abu Dhabi, which by their definition “embraces the Emirate's vision for the future and respects the culture, heritage and traditions of its past”. Source: Office of the Brand of Abu Dhabi, retrieved November 5, 2013, from: https://web.tifs.com.au/rsvp/images/AbuDhabiWelcome09.gif Figure 4. Visualization of the Saadiyat Island Cultural District master plan developed by the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority in cooperation with the Guggenheim foundation. Source: TCA Abu Dhabi, retrieved November 5, 2013, from: http://www.aecom.com/deployedfiles/Internet/Capabilities/Architecture/images/Saadiyat%20Island-690.jpg Figure 5. A visualization of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, designed by Jean Nouvel. Source: Ateliers Jean Nouvel, retrieved December 6, 2013, from: http://louvreabudhabi.ae/PublishingImages/391258c4-69b6-4310-8e41-bd08f7c61f19.jpg Figure 6. A visualization of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, designed by Frank Gehry. Source: Gehry Partners, LLP, retrieved December 6, 2013, from: http://www.guggenheim.org/images/content/Affiliates/abu-dhabi/viewfromtheeast.jpg