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Doha: Architectural landscape battle continues

Cultures battle for dominance in Doha’s architectural landscape

The huge, sprawling Ministry of Interior building along the Corniche is void of any Western influence in its architecture.
The huge, sprawling Ministry of Interior building along the Corniche is void of any Western influence in its architecture.

There is nothing low-key or demure about buildings in Doha. You just have to look over at the West Bay skyline to see that. Each building strives to outshine the other, jostling for pride of place (and often space) to win the competition for the biggest, the most magnificent, the most lavish, the most ‘unique, ‘innovative’, ‘iconic’ or at least, to be seen as a ‘landmark’.

Never has written language been so stretched for adjectives to describe the structures that are rising from the desert, to create one of the most breathtakingly magnificent cities in the Middle East. However, the word that immediately springs to mind is ‘eclectic’.

From near impossible engineering angles, to buildings draped in mashrabiya lattice work, the city is home to a melting pot of taste and culture.

There are some truly remarkable structures in this little country; buildings that have been designed with sustainability and function at the core, while others serve as a design masterpiece for the viewer and yet others find a balance of both.

Take the Doha Convention Centre as an example. With a concrete Sidra tree as its focal point, this incredible facility perches in its branches.

While striking, this building is also designed around sustainability and functionality, reaching a perfect balance between visually arresting and utilitarian.

Another gem (pardon the pun) is the National Museum of Qatar. Resembling a desert rose crystal, once completed, is going to be on every architect’s ‘must see’ list, while the extraordinary Faculty of Islamic Studies structure reaches into the sky proclaiming its supremacy over gravity.

A building that also appears to defy gravity is the Al Hitmi Complex. With its unusual, futuristic form emulating grantie blocks, and cantilevered levels, it has long been an architectural marker for central Doha.

The eye-catching Al Dana Tower (Rasgas) has a gigantic sphere designed as a meeting room suspended between its two office towers, while other building in the West Bay twist and bend in an attempt to stand out amongst their spectacular neighbours.

Beauty they say is in the eye of the beholder, and nowhere more than in Doha is that truism tested.

For instance, there is a hotel that has life-size fibre-glass horses standing at its entrance. Once you get past the initial surprise, be prepared to put on your sunglasses, because inside, every surface is covered in either crystals, mirrors, gold paint, gilt or some other magpie collection of baubles.

As a whole, one cannot help but feel that you have entered into the pages of an Arabian Nights story, but on closer inspection, each ornament or piece of furniture is an astounding piece of individual workmanship, from intricate marquetry to inlaid shell work. It’s just overpowering all bundled together, as everything struggles to outshine (literally) its neighbour.

This is true of so many buildings in Doha – one has a sense of overwhelm when confronted by this much lavishness.

Qatar is struggling with retaining a sense of the region while battling with the lure of the West, the East, the Far East and anywhere else where sparkly adornments can be bought or ordered, no matter the price.

But when left to its own devices, calling on it Middle Eastern influences, that is when Qatar shines.

Along the corniche, blocking out the sky is one of the biggest buildings in Doha, belonging to the Ministry of Interior.

Designed to resemble a fort, this humungous building rises like a behemoth out of the ground, huge, imposing and yes, intimidating and, with not a shiny surface in sight, this structure looms over traffic along the Corniche. Until night time that is, when strings of brightly coloured lights outline its structure, almost in an attempt to soften the foreboding image it presents during the day.

Looking around Doha, it is evident that design is struggling with the excitement of international influences – influences that have come flooding in on a wave of excess money and imported skills – and with retaining a sense of culture and legacy, of being true to itself, retaining its identity.

In the meantime, while Qatar strives to overcome the dichotomy, we will continue to feast on the diversity of cultures and tastes, while savouring the design melting pot of nations.

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Construction Week - Issue 764
May 31, 2020