Doha is today world-class metropolis, where innovative building shapes have changed the skyline of the once small pearl and fishing village. An eclectic mix of architectural designs are constantly changing Doha’s skyline as the city firmly positions itself on the map of international architecture and urbanism.
Countless construction sites of new roads, schools, hospitals, malls, hotels, sports facilities, business and residential buildings – modern structures are sprouting in every direction with Doha growing at an immense rate.
Doha has not grown over time like old cities around the world; Doha is speeding up on its history and an army of architects is currently shaping Qatar’s capital present and future urban structure. Skyscrapers in the West Bay, luxury hotels and buildings at the Pearl, the New Msheireb project, Education City, the Museum of Islamic Art, the reconstructed Souq Waqif, New Hamad International Airport, new metro, and of course stadiums for the FIFA World Cup 2022 – all of them are products of well-known world renowned architects working in Qatar and the Gulf region.
Qatar’s contemporary architecture is in many ways similar to the other developed parts of the world, but at the same time it is trying to bridge the gap between the historic heritage and modern world, with more and more architects basing their ideas on historic Qatari building designs.
Preparation is essential
“Aesthetic values of the Western world are different to those in Qatar and other Gulf countries,” says Otto Baric, a Croatian architect working both in Zagreb and Doha, where he, among other things, designed the Duhail handball sports hall. This sports venue, worth around USD 180 million, completed in a year, can accommodate 5,500 spectators and has been built to be a world-standard training hub for handball.
With the years of work experience in the major cities of the region like Jeddah, Abu Dhabi and Dubai, Baric explains that foreign architects cannot force Western design in Qatar – they have to understand the local history and culture and implement them in their work. “You have to come prepared; that is the way to be successful, and that is the way to get your project to be chosen.
Qatar offers so many possibilities for the architects – various new developments are often announced – so for architects this really is the land of opportunity,” says Baric when describing main architecture trends in Qatar.
“Qatar is very definitely its own market,” agrees Nick Reid, head of architecture at WS Atkins in Qatar. “The combination of huge government infrastructure and large private commercial developments is unlike anywhere else. No doubt Qatar will show an equally unique approach in the mid-level commercial, hospitality and retail markets in the coming years.”
Qatar is, over next ten years, planning to spend USD 200 billion on huge infrastructure development and that includes an extensive railway system with the Greater Doha Metro, roads, stadiums, housing and hotels. Doha’s growth seems unstoppable with the skyline crowded with cranes and petrodollars pouring in new architectural achievements.
Among them Atkins’ transport infrastructure projects are most important ones: last June, the British engineering giant won a USD 135 million contract to lead the design of the Doha Metro’s Gold Line, whose total capital cost is more than USD 4.2 billion. This is the second metro project in Qatar for Atkins who is already working on the Doha Metro as the lead designer for the Red Line South for a consortium led by the mixed local and French company QDVC.
Planning the future
Reid says that Qatar’s huge investment in built infrastructure continues unabated. “Roads, rail, utilities and their architectural components are being developed at a breakneck pace to bring the 2030 Vision to fruit well in advance of FIFA 2022. This will all enable the major sports and leisure facilities needed for the FIFA event to be a great success.
The recent boom in Mall developments will put the whole country in a strong position to service the huge influx of visitors at and in advance of the event. In general the commercial, hospitality and residential markets are oversupplied at the high end but under supplied at the low to mid level. These areas are however beginning to show some evidence of movement. It will be interesting to see if they become the next boom market in Qatar as they have been in UAE,” says Reid.
Lack of mid-level hospitality and residential facilities has been also pointed out by Baric, who is currently designing one of the numerous new hotels in Doha. “The city needs budget accommodation; it needs small business hotels that can accommodate visitors who are coming to Doha for two or three days to attend some seminar or meeting. Those people won’t go to the luxury establishment, because they don’t need to.”
According to Reid, the Qatari consulting market is still not oversupplied although some large practices have been stretched recently and it is not expected that this will change for the foreseeable future. “The challenges remain as with anywhere.
Talent is always difficult to attract with the UAE being perceived as having a strong pull for well-qualified staff from across the globe.
Qatar will need to plan its future carefully if this is not to affect the clear progress its leaders wish for in the next five to ten years.”
Reid says winning work in Qatar is a bit different to any other country. “Constant contact and support of local clients is the key. Regulatory approval still remains a challenge. These challenges are known and the government is committed to addressing them to avoid programme and schedule issues with the upcoming rash of large projects in advance of FIFA 2022”.
Clear sustainability targets
Baric also emphasises the importance of close collaboration with clients. “With such huge number of large-scale projects rolling out, clients can afford to be picky. It takes lots of hard work, international recognition and experience to win the contract.” He is not satisfied with finishing work done on various projects across Doha.
“Investments are so big and it is a shame that finishing work is not done well. Because of poor quality or inadequate materials some of the buildings are deteriorating very fast in the desert climate and in the five or ten years, without in many cases very costly restoration works, they will be in very poor state.”
Baric and Reid list environmental sustainability and energy efficiency as the most important factors when it comes to designing Qatari public and residential infrastructure. “Qatar has pioneered the GSAS (latterly QSAS) Gulf Sustainability Assessment System to address this very issue.
This is now front and centre of government thinking for all new development projects. It’s part of the very fabric of the standards embodied in the latest issue of the Qatar Construction Specification. In doing so Qatar is very firmly nailing its colours to the mast by setting clear sustainability targets for the future across a wide range of topics in addition to construction,” explains Reid.
Nowadays, topping the list of the most desired architectural projects in Qatar is new football infrastructure designed for FIFA 2022 World Cup. The total cost of building five new stadiums and upgrading seven existing ones with necessary amenities like solar-powered cooling systems, will be USD 4.2 billion.
Football stadiums are for now the “talk of the town”, and when finished they will, like other iconic projects, leave their mark on the urban infrastructure of Doha. Qatar’s capital has huge potential to become a true model for a modern city, the place where architectural students can come and learn about sustainable, environmentally-friendly design, and see the place that struck the balance between large-scale projects and urban development that embodies quality design and its citizen needs.