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Stable environment

by John Bambridge on Apr 16, 2012

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Horse-breeding on the Arabian peninsula is a serious passion, and with region-wide investment behind it, innovative equestrian construction has become a key dynamic in not just maintaining, but developing, this time-honoured tradition.

The region’s latest high-profile equestrian facility, the Al Shaqab Equestrian Academy, was finished in September 2011 at an estimated cost of $407m.

Located in Qatar’s Education City development, the 80ha horseshoe-shaped complex focuses on more than just its 350m-long performance arena; the development is aimed at sowing the seeds for the future of the equine industry.

“It is an educational establishment, not just a recreational establishment, it is part of Education City; they train grooms, they train horses, they breed horses, and they are trying to continuously improve the breed,” said John Layland, GM Middle East at Leigh & Orange Architects, the firm responsible for master-planning the project.

In a similar fashion to parallel equestrian developments such as Meydan, which was opened in March 2010, the Doha facility is set to be further expanded to include additional facilities.

Current amenities include a riding academy and equestrian club, veterinary clinic, hospital and research facilities, endurance training centre and a breeding centre. The scope and complexity of the different elements involved in the integrated equestrian complex is impressive.

“It is an interesting world, the equestrian world. So far all the people who have been involved on the project, although they did not start off as equestrian experts, are quite keen to go on to other equestrian jobs, because it has got unique challenges,” said Layland.

The performance arena required a space for all-weather conditions, with facilities for 8,000 spectators. Leigh & Orange’s solution was to propose separate outdoor and indoor competition arenas which could be viewed from the same grandstand.

Al Shaqab’s grandstand seamlessly addresses both arenas, while accommodating the individual requirements of VIPs, sponsors, spectators, media, athletes and judges in the one compactly-planned building. The dramatic 400m roof, which also encompasses a warm-up arena, resembles a Bedouin tent and visually links the complex.

“It has an unusual roof structure and support. Instead of being a straight-forward vertical building, you have these curved main girders that enter the retaining foundation at an angle,” said Layland. “It is the thing which gives it its attractive appearance; these huge roof beams which were actually made on-site.”

The colossal steel framework was fabricated and assembled by Turkish contractor Nurol, and allows the roof to be structurally efficient and to minimise the enclosed air-conditioned volume. “A unique feature of the whole facility is that all of the lighting is actually enclosed within the structure; there are no lighting masts. It is a very clean structure,” said Layland.

The lighting that overhangs the outdoor arena also doubles as a wind spoiler. Skylights over the indoor arena provide diffuse natural light, alongside installed lighting necessary for television broadcasting from the arena. The indoor stadium also hosts stratified air-conditioning, which further reduces the conditioned air volume, as well as the temperature gradient at the roof.

A final significant feature of the grandstand is that the insulated glass façades are on a hinged system, allowing them to accommodate the movement of the roof as it expands with the heat. This feature is shared by the Meydan racecourse, which adds significant scale to architectural ingenuity.

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