MEA explores some of Doha’s highly regarded contemporary buildings including IM Pei’s Museum of Islamic Art, Woods Bagot’s Qatar Science and Technology Park and NORR Group Consultants’ Al Hitmi Complex.
Museum of Islamic Art
Architect: IM Pei
Date of completion: 2008
The project: If you were to take a survey on the most popular contemporary building in Qatar, or even the entire GCC, a strong contender would be IM Pei’s Museum of Modern Art.
The imposing geometric structure contains a collection of over 1000 artifacts from the Muslim world, but it could be argued that the greatest treasure is the building itself.
The museum’s attention-grabbing location – on a purpose-built palm-lined island adjoined to the mainland – was the request of Pei himself; he felt that Doha’s developing skyline would overshadow his building if it was on the corniche.
In order to get under the skin of Muslim design, Pei embarked on a tour of the world’s great Islamic buildings, from the Grand Mosque in Cordoba, Spain, to Fatehpur Sikri in India. Perhaps surprisingly, Pei found his inspiration in the small ablution temple of Ibn Tulun in Cairo, which he described as an “almost Cubist expression” of geometric forms.
Qatar Science and Technology Park
Architect: Woods Bagot
Date of completion: 2008
The project: Unlike the other recent icons, this project doesn’t occupy a prominent waterfront site in central Doha. Located in Education City, the Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP) is a key initiative of the Qatar Foundation and provides an environment for companies to develop technology.
Woods Bagot’s design for QSTP has certainly won many admirers since its completion. This is reflected in the collection of accolades it has received, including a Middle East Architect Award for Best Completed Project in 2008.
One of the most distinguishing features of the design is the wave-like roof structure, which is described by the architects as a ‘veil’. This provides shading to the outdoor areas and visually connects the different components of the complex.
It also swells to signal the heart of the scheme, the Incubator Centre, and the major entrance through a 34-metre-high atrium. The roof is supported by elegant treelike columns which are reminiscent of Foster + Partner’s seminal Stanstead Airport terminal design.
In response to the Qatar sun, most of the complex is enveloped by double skin façades. It also contains a series of elaborate internal atria that takes cues from the traditional Islamic courtyard. The buildings are elevated on a landscaped pedestrianised podium, with the under croft area dedicated to public spaces and retail tenancies.
Al Hitmi Complex
Architect: NORR Group Consultants International
Date of completion: 2010
The project: Located on the corniche, directly facing IM Pei’s masterpiece, this strikingly angular complex was designed as a seven-storey office block anchored by a 15-storey residential tower.
The concept required the architects to create a commercial building that responded to its surroundings and corniche setting while exuding a civic presence and quality. The complex was completed last year and is now occupied by a Qatari government ministry.
Three types of stone are used in the facade, which adds to the Al Hitmi Complex’s rich character and unusual texture. The muscular presence of the building is carved up by the atrium, which brings in natural light to the deep plan and glows invitingly at night.
The atrium is almost an extension of the public civic space of the corniche, with the hard-scape and the water feature running inside the building.
The complex’s cladding is curtain wall with the unusual addition of stone. As a result the curtain wall had to be reinforced; although the granite panels were thin cut, their weight is still substantial. This meant the architects had to closely collaborate with the manufacturers.
The ground floor of the building is entirely glass, creating further structural challenges. To give the building the illusion of hovering over a reflecting pool of water, the architects hid the structure, so the columns are not visible from the outside. These cantilevers involved complex structural engineering.