First look at the Zayed National Museum

The museum, which opens on Saadiyat Island in late 2014, will honour the life and achievements of Sheikh Zayed while celebrating the rich history of the UAE.

ABU DHABI // The reign of Sheikh Zayed was marked by his ability to reconcile progressive and traditional ideals, build strong ties and promote the need for a knowledge-based economy.

That is the legacy that will be celebrated when the Zayed National Museum opens on Saadiyat Island in late 2014.

"He was a school, the school we want all generations to learn from - to learn his thinking, to learn his sharing, to learn everything that was around him," said Mohammad Ahmad al Bowardi, the secretary general of the Executive Council, at the official unveiling of the museum's design and programming.

Mr Al Bowardi called Sheikh Zayed "100 men in one man" and said the museum would be a testament to the nation's enduring strength, nearly 40 years after the UAE was first federalised.

The new museum, which is being developed with the help of the British Museum, will include five galleries, a library, educational facilities and a fine dining restaurant. The cornerstone of the Saadiyat Island cultural hub, it will simultaneously honour the life and achievements of Sheikh Zayed and celebrate the rich history of the UAE.

The Sheikh Zayed: Life and Times lower gallery is the heart of the museum, and complementing it will be exhibitions featuring archaeological material, interactive displays and art. The museum's centrepiece, the gallery will focus on the life story of the beloved ruler while also telling the tale of the emirates' unification through film, audio, multimedia and artefacts from around the region.

The museum's architecture, designed by the renowned UK firm Foster and Partners, is meant to resemble the wing tips of falcons, a symbol of UAE heritage and culture. Five towers, made of lightweight steel and made to look like feathers, will rise up from a man-made hill that will house a public lobby. The tallest of the five wings will be 124 metres.

In an effort to incorporate sustainable design in the museum, the structure will use natural ventilation through a system of buried ducts. Solar panels and heat exchangers are part of the building's green design. The aerodynamic wings will be designed to take advantage of prevailing breezes and the region's plentiful sunshine, which will reduce energy consumption.

The Zayed National Museum's galleries will be based on some of Sheikh Zayed's priorities - the importance of traditional values and heritage, the history of the region and an emphasis on humanitarianism. Falconry, a passion of Sheikh Zayed's, will be the focus of a Falconry and Conservation lower gallery dedicated to appreciating nature and wildlife.

"The Zayed National Museum is a museum to showcase to the world the history of the UAE, the people and the tribute to the founder," said Mubarak al Muhairi, the managing director of the Tourism Development and Investment Company, which oversees the museum's development.