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Site visit: National Museum of Qatar

Qatar’s iconic new museum in Doha takes shape

The museum has been designed by architect Jean Nouvel as a series of disk-like structures.
The museum has been designed by architect Jean Nouvel as a series of disk-like structures.

Of all of the projects springing up around the GCC region, arguably the most iconic promises to be the National Museum of Qatar that is taking shape on Doha’s Corniche Road.

The main contractor for the striking build is Hyundai Engineering & Contracting, with ASTAD Project Management overseeing the design and construction process.

French architect Jean Nouvel designed the museum using modern elements rooted in tradition. The idea behind the new museum is to represent the desert rose, which is not a flower, but a mineral formation created by salt evaporation in the sand layer. The building mimics the natural growth of crystals in that it is a pattern of crystalisation that acts like the maths that defines frost patterns.

Looking closely, it can be noticed that the design is a series of interlocking disks. These can be found in the walls, ceilings, roofs, and floors; all of them vary in their exact curvature and diameter, and are complimented by glazed facades. These have been recessed into the ceilings, floors, and walls to create a sense of translucency when looking in from the outside.

To achieve the vision, a huge amount of steel, fabricated and erected by Eversendai, has been used, 28,000 tonnes to be exact, which is around four times the amount that was used to construct Paris’ Eiffel Tower.

Such an idea is not an easy one to execute, according to Ali Al-Khalifa, CEO of ASTAD Project Management. “The structure of the steel structure is really complex, and that presents many obstacles. But what we’ve tried to do is use the obstacles as a way to improve the design,” he says, while showing Construction Week around the bustling site.

“One way we’ve been able to take that approach is using BIM – a project like this just would not be possible without it. ASTAD is a leading example of BIM within Qatar and we have adapted the technology on many projects, including the Qatar Foundation HQ and the Faculty of Islamic Studies. People sometimes assume that BIM can only be used to detect clashes in buildings but that is not the case. BIM cannot solve everything and you have to work with it and live with it, using it over long cycle projects.”

But while BIM has been helpful in achieving the architect’s vision, skilled professionals have more than played their part, complementing the 3D technology.

“We have faced challenges with BIM on the museum as the drawings only really showed one angle. In real life, the image could not show us the full picture. So we had to use the clash detection process to work out the coordination between the steel structures and other trades, while also relying on the expertise of our engineers. BIM is not going take over engineers, some people might think they don’t need employees with years of experience but that is not the case.

“BIM can certainly be used for tasks that engineers cannot achieve, but it’s not a substitute for experience and expertise,” comments Al-Khalifa.

“ASTAD has embraced BIM technology, and will hand over all of the BIM models to the client once the job is completed. The BIM modelling will be used by QMA Facility Management for its own operation,” says Michel Sfeir, director of construction management at the site for ASTAD Project Management.

“The logistics and management of the equipment is something that we’ve had to work very carefully on as the site is not that big,” he adds. “We are working on the hard and soft landscaping at the same time, while we have to have the right space and access for equipment and tower cranes.

“That’s not an easy exercise. To help with this process, the contractor has a number of storages outside the site to ease congestion. We have around 2,800 workers on site working on shifts and it’s proven to be a really safe project.”

Sfeir says that the construction process is coming along well, with parts of the structure already covered by the cladding that will transform the museum from a collection of metal discs to a traditional desert rose.

“The National Museum of Qatar is a project we are really proud to have in our portfolio, and it’s one the nation has taken to heart,” says Al-Khalifa.

“It will be a cultural and social hub, easily accessible by an efficient metro station, and is sure to become a star attraction on the Corniche that both local residents and visitors will appreciate.”

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