Head to the center of Doha, the capital of Qatar, and you’ll find a handful—539, to be exact—of saucer-shaped buildings. You haven’t run into an alien fuel station, but rather the new National Museum of Qatar designed by French architect Jean Nouvel.
Measuring in at nearly a mile of space, the new museum is ambitious. Not only did it take 18 years to build, according to The Guardian, but it’s telling what seems to be the entire story of how Qatar came to be one of the most wealthy nations in the world. That’s a lot to cover.
From above, the museum looks more like a sculpture than anything else. In an interview with The Guardian, Nouvel shared that his original thought was to build the museum underground. That idea was scrapped; the client wanted the finished product to be something everyone could see and appreciate, whether they were physically visiting or reading about the project from their couch.
The finished design was inspired by the desert rose, a crystal sand formation that appears to be a rose made of saucer-shaped growths. It’s a special form to the area, given that it grows under a shallow layer of sand in salt basins. This museum is not only a nod to the regional form, but also pays tribute to the communal meeting areas so integral to the local culture. You’ll find a central courtyard in the museum meant to mimic a caravansary, or an inn located in the desert built to give passersby a place to trade and rest.
All in all, the building budget amassed $400 million and required Frank Gehry’s office to complete (there aren’t many architects who could handle 76,000 concrete panels). Take a peek inside the museum with its sky-high ceilings, hundreds of galleries, and intricate textile details and it’s not hard to imagine where the money was spent.
If you’re looking for a decadent museum experience, head to the National Museum of Qatar, which is now open to the public.