ACCIONA Producciones y Diseño has been commissioned to provide the technical development and museographic implementation for the Msheireb Museums, which opened three years and a half ago and have already attracted more than 80,000 visitors.The museum features innovative audiovisual and interactive resources that encourage visitor participation and ensure a unique experience in order to raise awareness about Qatar’s history and cultural heritage.
Qatar is the world’s largest exporter of natural gas, with an annual production of around 77 million tonnes, and one of the countries with the highest income per capita on the planet. It is currently immersed in a grand transformation process towards a more diversified economy and is committed to recovering part of its heritage and history.
This is the spirit behind the Msheireb Museums project, which opened three years and a half ago, for which ACCIONA Producciones y Diseño carried out the technical development and museographic implementation. The museum is located in the exceptional district of Msheireb, in the heart of Doha, in an area that is set to become Qatar’s governmental and cultural centre.
Developed by Msheireb Properties (Qatar Foundation), the complex consists of four traditional houses from the early 20th century that have been refurbished to house the thematic museums covering a total area of 3,000 m2. Each one offers a journey through the country’s history, focusing on a specific aspect from its past.
Bin Jelmood House – the history of slavery in the Indian Ocean
The first of these museum-houses, Bin Jelmood House, shows the history of slavery through a careful selection of audiovisual resources that include 3-D reconstructions, graphical animations, historical reconstructions and real testimonies.
The audiovisual technologies used by APD in the project introduce visitors to an immersive experience through synchronised multi-screens, touch sensitive devices and projections adapted to the building’s architecture that synchronise with the lighting of the exhibited pieces.
For example, an animation video recreates the tough working conditions of the African slaves brought from Zanzibar to the waters of the Persian Gulf to collect pearls –the main local economic activity together with camel breeding- until the mid-20th century.
Company House – the discovery of oil
When oil appeared in the 1940s the country grew exponentially. The wooden boats that collected pearls were replaced with luxury ships, and the camels with luxury cars.
The second of the museum-houses, Company House, pays tribute to the Qatari workers who laid the foundations for this development and became the pioneers of oil exploration and extraction.
At the heart of this museum are images and documents related to the discovery of oil and its early exploitation, and the immersive audiovisual exhibition entitled “With their bare hands”.
Filmed in high-resolution and projected with three 4K resolution projectors and 7.1 sound onto three screens in the shape of a trapezium, it shows the tough working conditions of the pioneers of the oil industry. In addition to the narration, it combines real images, archive images and 3-D to evoke the senses and emotions.
Mohammed bin Jassim House – the past and present of Msheireb
Mohammed bin Jassim House, the third of the museum-houses, is a place for living memories, both past and present. Visitors can discover the history of the Msheireb neighbourhood through interactive exhibits and re-creations, learning about the project to restore the district.
It features the “Media Dish”, an overhead interactive projection onto a circular five-metre disk that allows up to six users to simultaneously interact using their gestures. It is an interactive scale model that brings each concept to life, in which the experience becomes increasingly rich as more users participate.
The projection shows a 3-D reconstruction of the Msheireb neighbourhood, which emerges from the desert sands; the placement of the buildings; the modes of transport; the waste collection system; the green areas or the use of alternative energies, among others. The hall is completed with a projection onto the wall with time lapse photos of the actual development of the project.
Visitors can also use a photo booth to record and share their impressions of the development project and watch recordings by other visitors, becoming part of the narrative and debate about the museum.
Radwani House – everyday life
Spurred on by the oil boom, the majority of Qatar’s population -which previously consisted of nomadic Bedouins- turned to urban lifestyles. Around 90% of Qataris now live in the capital of Doha or its suburbs, which has led to the depopulation of villages in the north.
In recent years, the landscape has changed so much to become unrecognisable. Glass and steel towers have risen up in the place of what was once a totally flat coastline covered in sand. It is a country that has urbanised at enormous speed, but it also has everyday stories to tell.
Radwani House recreates a traditional Qatari house using original furniture and belongings, decorated in the typical regional style, paired with recent archaeological findings.
Tradition and modernity are combined in a single space, in a balanced and historically respectful way, to demonstrate how daily life used to be for Qataris less than 100 years ago.
ACCIONA Producciones y Diseño’s work at the Msheireb Museums has one clear focus – the visitor. Its aims were to strengthen visitor interaction with the museums’ content in a personal way, reflecting visitors’ needs, facilitating accessibility and personalising their experience.
Based on the figures, this has been accomplished.
In the last three years and a half since its official opening in 2015, some 80,000 people have visited the museums. The Msheireb Museums have become one of the leading cultural attractions of Doha, the capital of a country with two million inhabitants, of which only 250,000 are Qatari, and which is now looking to tourism as an alternative source of prosperity.
Qatar has invested billions of dollars in infrastructure, it has organised major events such as the 2006 Asian Games and it is hosting the Football World Cup in 2022. In this context, understanding its history is also part of this commitment.
The Msheireb Museums have agreements with academic institutions; they carry out training programs; and host temporary exhibitions, conferences and an extensive programme of activities, through which they have managed to forge an important bond with the local community. Qatar’s own citizens have contributed to the project, donating personal belongings and artefacts inherited from their ancestors, as well as actively participating in the documentation process.
All of this has formed part of the exhibition experience created by ACCIONA Producciones y Diseño that puts visitors at the centre and made interactivity a defining feature.