What is spurring Qatar to greater design heights?

The sought-after GSAS star classification is spurring Qatar to reach greater design heights in an effort to benefit from the rating system

The tower is strategically positioned at the corner of Marina District providing views of Doha and is accessed by Lusail Expressway and University Highway while an LRT station is planned on the north side of the project .
The tower is strategically positioned at the corner of Marina District providing views of Doha and is accessed by Lusail Expressway and University Highway while an LRT station is planned on the north side of the project .

Lusail City, once completed, is set to be the first true smart city in the Gulf region and the transformation of the landscape as towers rise from the desert is remarkable. Every which way you look, there appears to be yet another ‘iconic’ building going up. A mishmash of shapes and angles and facades and heights, as each strives to be better, smarter or more dramatic in appearance than it neighbour – and all have the Global Sustainability Assessment System (GSAS), star rating in their cross-hairs.

Nestled in the diverse melting-pot is a block of land comprising four separate plots, three of which are presently under construction with towers occupying each site, and the fourth plot standing empty.

The tower on plot 52, while bearing a similarity to its neighbour on plot 50, is different on a number of levels, as Osama Saleh, lead project manager, Arab Engineering Bureau (AEB) is quick to point out: “It is not that similar. The concept of the three buildings is the same, as all are commercial offices, but once you see inside the building, they are completely different.”

The buildings, while marginally comparable, share similarities in the colour palette used, as all three complement each other and ‘blend’ without jarring the eye.

No coincidence here, as all are within AEB’s portfolio.

Vladimir Savcic, senior project architect AEB explains that with different developers come different options as it is the developer who sets “certain limits” and standardisations, for example, as to what materials the tower body and podium will comprise; also colour schemes etc and comments: “So when you make the selection from all the variants the outcomes are very different, despite the use being the same, namely commercial.

While there are different specs involved in each tower, from materials used and their applications, as Saleh points out, “Mostly it’s about the cost issue,” as each has a different GSAS rating.

While plot 50 has a GSAS 5-star rating, the first in Lusail to achieve this, plot 52 has a GSAS 3-star rating, a full star above the entry-level mandate for all structures in Lusail, namely 2-stars.

So what is the importance of GSAS?

The Global Sustainability Assessment System (GSAS) is a green building certification system developed for GCC countries and is billed as the world’s most comprehensive green building evaluation method, developed after rigorous analysis of 40 green building codes from all over the world.

The pursuit of GSAS is well-aligned with Qatar’s 2030 National Vision, where sustainability forms one of the key pillars and, an additional upside is that the more sustainable the building, the more leasable space is granted. Lusail’s guidelines offer incentives for developers who are awarded additional floor area ratio (FAR) that ultimately increases leasable area if they target a higher GSAS rating than the mandatory minimum 2-star requirement in the city: GSAS 3 stars earns a developer an additional 5% FAR, while GSAS 4 stars gains an additional 10% FAR and GSAS 5 stars an additional 15% FAR. Thus the building on plot 52, with its GSAS 3-star rating has earned it an extra 5% leasable space.

With a private developer as a client, AEB has taken over from the original design for plot 52. Saleh is emphatic when he says that the modifications to the building’s design under AEB’s stewardship are substantial and this is echoed by Savcic: “We are designing the façade and interior, modifying the design from the original designer’s much simpler vision. We have included Qatari patterns and influences from the local environment in our architecture, totally changing the façade by adding stone, mashrabiya panels and also three different colours of glass in the glass curtain wall.” He points out however, that the adaptation of an existing design brings its own set of challenges: “Geometrically and material-wise the building is completely different (to the original design), which is a big challenge to adapt as we are dealing with different elements, from vertical glass to canopies. It is difficult to reverse something that is already very solid; to get a different expression of design,” he muses.

Saleh adds that one of the biggest challenges was discovering that systems in the initial design didn’t comply with Kahramaa and Qatar Civil Defense, which resulted in upgrading the design to comply appropriately: “Now it is totally compliant to all regulatory standards,” he assures.

The building’s façade predominantly comprises a glass curtainwall spanning an area of 8000m² with a variety of installations, depending on the elevation. For left and right side elevations the glass curtainwall is a unitised system, while the rear elevation comprises a standard curtain wall secured by a spider glass system. The front elevation comprises three different colours of glass, designed in a colourful mosaic-like configuration.

While the different colours of glass are for decorative purposes, all have the same UV factor and meet the relevant GSAS criteria. From outside the three colours are very evident but once inside the building, looking out, the colour difference is negligible.

All the glass comes from France which, alongside Belgium is renowned for its glass manufacturing quality.

The contractor Alumco, responsible for installing the glass panels, is using the German-made Shuco aluminium frame system that holds the unitised glass panels in place, making up the curtainwall, and the aluminium composite material (ACP) is by Alucobond. “The components are manufactured in Germany and imported via specified outlets in Bahrain and the UAE,” Savcic explains.

With the glass curtainwall comprising almost 80% of the tower, Savcic maintains that this material selection was made owing to the flexible qualities of glass: “It is very versatile and very good for this environment because it needs very basic maintenance, namely washing,” he says.

“Glass is a composite, artificial material, with its use well-established through the centuries. In this environment it controls heat much more efficiently than natural stone or wood.

“Another benefit is its faster production with controllable qualities,” he adds – and the integrity of the building’s envelope for water and air ingress was tested by a third-party specialist, Osama assures.

The glass façade is complemented with 3500m² of limestone cladding, Desert Pearl, from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which is also a GSAS criteria that specifies the inclusion of local/regional resources within a design.

“This type of stone is appropriate for the GCC weather conditions as it has low water absorption and porosity properties which ensure that the material maintains its pattern and colour intensity without major change.

“The risk for marble, polished stones and some granite is that weathering can impact on the material, causing it to lose colour intensity as well as affect its specific pattern or grain,” he explains.

Savcic describes how the interior design of the building required material that was neutral to accommodate the various tenants’ décor, so greys and muted tones comprise the overall look of the interior. Nevertheless, the marble selected has a very prominent natural ‘wood’ grain to it, sourced from quarries in North India, Pakistan and the South China region, and supplied by a local company in Doha.

On the podium, which comprises seven levels of parking, striking metal mashrabiya panels cover a total area of 4000m², forming an enclosure around the parking area, while affording natural light into an otherwise normally dark part of the building.

The mashrabiyas contribute to the Arabian influence of the building’s appearance, a hallmark of AEB design.

So while similarities exist, Savcic stresses: “Whereas on plot 50’s building the outside has a façade of recyclable tiles, plot 52’s building has a combination of natural stone and glass – a configuration not common to the area; a mix of elements that are pre-fabricated with almost hand-crafted elements,” he elaborates with passion.

The start date for the development was 1 July 2014 and completion is expected by the end of July 2016. When this happens, Lusail’s collection of towers will be able to boast another three stars to add to its growing GSAS constellation.

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