Islamic Sciences Museum, Kuwait
In 2015 Charlotte Callaghan from Jasper Jacobs Associates and I had a meeting about a new project in the Middle East. JJA was designing an Islamic Sciences Museum for Cultural Innovations, who were involved in creating the world’s largest museum complex in Kuwait.
It was brilliant to hear more about this ambitious and beautiful museum exploring the golden age of Islamic civilisation and the scientific ideas and cultural developments of the period from the 8th to the 14th century. I became the content and exhibit developer, and later the text writer for the project.
I was also working with Cultural Innovations on the text strategy for the museum complex as a whole – the Sheikh Abdullah Al-Salem Cultural Centre – and so I was able to bring a consistency to the text style, as well as insights from the project’s cultural advisor, Shermeen Al-Shirawi.
The ambition of the project is revealed in the fact that the museum contains one of the largest interactive tables in any museum. To JJA’s concept design, I developed content linking discoveries from the golden age to inventions in robotics, medicine, pharmacology and green engineering today. Newangle developed the exhibit into a beautiful token-activated table.
The museum contained much relating to the architecture and design of the golden age. I was able to explore the history of minarets, and the ways in which their design – square, spiral-shaped and cylindrical, with distinct features – related to local geography and customs.
An eye-catching map-based exhibit nearby incorporated intricate cutaway models of mosques from across Islamic civilisation, from Spain, Turkey, Syria and Tunisia, as well as those in Mecca and Medina. We also explored the development of Arabic script, and showcased the incredible calligraphy that is such an artform. It was great to work with Andrea Chappell from ACME studios who created the maps, illustrations and other graphic design.
Interactivity is absolutely key to the success of the whole Kuwaiti museum complex, but the pace of the Islamic Science Museum tends towards the reflective. I supplied content for a crafts area intended for younger children, in which visitors can play with shape, colour and pattern. I also developed interpretation that opened up the dazzling tradition of tessellating designs, showing their mathematical symmetries and locating examples in famous buildings around the world.
The museum aimed to show how language, education, currency and communication systems united a vast civilisation, allowing discovery and invention to flourish, fed by the encounter of Arab thought with other world traditions. Pepper’s Ghost projections (below) brought ancient scholars to life, while the design placed a display of replica objects in a library of interactive books.
The project development was complete at the end of 2016, and the new museum was revealed in 2018 after an intensive production and fit-out process.
Photographs marked (c) David Copeman at Cultural Innovations.