Here are 3 Islamic Museums Worth a Visit


Where else but internationally renowned Islamic museums to look for impeccable translation of ancient Islamic design elements weaved with contemporary influences? Take a look at three of such museums, located on three different continents but possessing the same architectural appeal.

Museum of Islamic Arts

Doha, Qatar
Architect, IM Pei

The Museum of Islamic Arts is itself, a masterpiece designed by Pritzker Prize-winning IM Pei that houses masterpieces celebrating the cultural diversity of Islamic art. Opened in December 2008, the museum collects exhibits from three continents from between the 7th and the 19th century. Sprawling about 35,000 sqm, the Museum of Islamic Arts protrudes from the shoreline and threads above the water surface in Doha Bay in the Arabian Gulf. The design deliberately isolates the building to prevent future construction in the area from overshadowing the museum, all the while seizing a picturesque view of the Gulf and West Bay area.

The museum grounds start with a line of palm trees on each side and a stretch of water feature in between. The elevated pathway leads to the museum building, which consists of a two-storey education wing and a five-storey atrium. The two counterparts are connected by an inner courtyard that is a common element in Islamic designs. The atrium is crowned with a coffered dome that enjoys an unobstructed view of the surrounding oases and dunes. The oculus is multi-faceted, allowing a play of light when sunlight fills the desert sky. At night, chandeliers made of perforated metal hanging from the ceiling illuminate the vicinity.

Upon designing the museum, Pei visited Grand Mosque in Córdoba, Spain; Fatehpur Sikri, a Mughal capital in India; the ribat fortresses at Monastir and Sousse in Tunisia; and the Umayyad Great Mosque in Damascus, Syria. Pei settled w ith the 13th century sabil of the Mosque of Ahmad Ibn Tulun in Cairo, Egypt, for its “austerity and simplicity”. The resulting façade depicts a cubist approach, with angular features painted in a cream shade. To match the world-class design, the materials used are of fine quality, including Magny and Chamesson limestone imported from France, Jet Mist granite from the United States, and locally sourced concrete from Qatar.

Islamic Museum of Australia

Thornbury, Australia
Desypher Architects

Meanwhile down under, a drive away from the Australian city of Melbourne, is another artistic museum that pays tribute to the heritage and history of Muslims. Opened in May 2010, the Islamic Museum of Australia is partially built in a renovated bottling warehouse. A sliver of the industrial persona remains in the rusted corten that hugs the museum’s exterior. The material choice is deliberate; being weathered and resilient, the corten is inherently Australian. The perforated design on the veil is a nod to ancient paintings depicting the story of the Muslim civilization that dates back to the Makassan and indigenous Australians.

The majority of the materials used in the museum are natural; the interior shows balustrades made of plywood, polished concrete and hardwood flooring. Melbourne-based Desypher Architects had a vision to keep everything natural and unostentatious to ascertain that the design framework does not compete with the museum’s artifacts and other exhibits. The museum was designed to be in line with an “Islamic Exploratorium” where visitors are encouraged to participate with interactive installations.

Like the typical Islamic layout, an inner courtyard is to be expected inside the Islamic Museum of Australia. The open-roofed area links the new administrative edifice with the remodeled warehouse, while providing the area with ample ventilation. Five permanent galleries reside in the building, together with a small theatre, workshops and a cafe.

Aga Khan Museum

Toronto, Canada
Fumihiko Maki, Charles Correa, and Moriyama & Teshima Architects

Wrapped in glistening white Brazilian granite, the Aga Khan Museum is a striking architectural landmark that stands out from its suburban neighbours along the Don Valley Parkway of Toronto. The 17-acre complex was designed by Pritzker Prize-winning veteran architect, Fumihiko Maki, and similar to IM Pei when designing the Museum of Islamic Arts in Doha, Maki was also inspired by light. Light appears to bounce off the compound’s stark white exterior, soothed by five granite-lined pools and a 10-acre public garden area designed by Lebanese landscape architect, Vladimir Djurovic. The parkway is shared with the Ismaili Centre, a faceted crystalline dome by Charles Correa and Moriyama & Teshima Architects.

The overall serene ambience and play of light continue inside the Aga Khan Museum, with an inviting al fresco courtyard at the heart of the interior. The glass walls enclosing the courtyard are printed with a repetitive arrangement of eight-pointed star patterns. In the daytime, graceful shadows of the ornamental designs are reflected on the interior walls. A contemporary capsule housing an ancient collection of the Islamic history is a translation of the museum’s aim to bridge the gap between Islamic culture and all other civilizations. By introducing new perspectives through the exhibits, the museum aims “as a catalyst for mutual understanding and tolerance”, in the words of His Highness Aga Khan, overseer of the Aga Khan Development Network, spiritual leader of the globe’s
15 million Ismailis and an admirer of architectural works. The Aga Khan Museum is the youngest of the three; its grand opening was September 2014. It is also North America’s first home to Islamic arts.

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Natasha Gan
Natasha is a writer with 5+ years of experience and a digital marketing professional currently based in Toronto, Canada. You can view her past works on

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