14 June 2008


Just back from Doha (had gone there for a project I'm working on). Though it was my first visit to the Capital of Qatar everything seemed suspiciously familiar – it felt like I was in Dubai, but in the past (probably 10 years ago).

The city (like many others in the Middle East) is going thru a moment of rapid transition from a small city of National importance to one of the new arenas for Global capitalism. And exactly as in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain ….etc etc Architecture is very much at the forefront of this transition.

I will take you thru bits of my first day there to try and give a sense of the city (at least in terms of its urban form)

As I drove out of the airport and thru the city centre (or should I call it the ‘old’ city centre) I went past a very generic 1950s to 70s city fabric – modest in scale (max 6 floors); small shops on ground floor selling all sorts of everyday stuff; mostly uninteresting architecture made of very basic concrete structures, rendered walls, pre-cast lattice panels covering quiet a bit of the facades and dusty balconies with never ending clotheslines. While passing this stretch I was transported by fleeting images in my head of Deira (in Dubai), outskirts of Ajman, parts of Cairo, run down housing blocks in Chandigarh, bits of Sao Paulo ….

......Then suddenly I hit the Corniche and was back in Doha. The first thing that caught my eye is the yet to be opened Museum of Islamic Arts designed by I M Pei (the same architect who designed the glass pyramids outside the Louvre Museum in Paris)....

Once I passed this interesting building I saw across the bay on its extreme west a monstrous city made of glass and steel as if it had just landed there newly made in nearby Dubai. This is the new Doha shining bright in the scorching sun …the same story as in Dubai.. the same questions in my head -- why is this here?? Is this the future everywhere?? And so on and so on …But then I stopped my self asking – ‘But what the hell were you expecting?’…

There is however one very interesting building in West Bay – the Sheraton hotel – built in the early 80s, it was considered a complete waste of money back then and it was far away from the city and you had to have a 4WD to get to it (check this link for an amazing photo of the building during its construction- http://www.qatarliving.com/node/1396 )..but today surrounded by new strange towers I’m sure even its most adamant critics have been silenced.

Later I made my way out of the city towards the desert to attend some meetings near the Education City. A small (for the new Middle Eastern Standards) but impressive architectural Zoo. Housing probably some of the most interesting architectural pieces to be built in this region in recent years and unlike similar projects in Dubai, Sharjah, etc this complex (though quiet disjointed) has a nice collection of small scale buildings designed by some of the most important architects of the previous generation. Here’s a couple of snaps of Arata Isozaki’s projects –

And this one below is by Ricardo Legorreta

After that I headed back into the ‘old’ city driving pass huge billboards selling me an amazing life on the beach : ) ...
anyways.. I was going to see an area called Souk Waqif. I have yet to make sense out of this bit of Doha … it’s a new development which uses the logic and aesthetic of what was existing in Doha in its pre-oil days and turns into a tourist friendly shopping/eating street disguised as a traditional Middle Eastern Bazaar… sort of like Bastakiya in Dubai… but much bigger and much more everyday…
very strange. very kitsch… yet very pleasant.. I liked the feel of the place yet something about it extremely disturbing.. I guess I’m quiet prejudiced to anything that attempts to be vernacular …

I spend most of my evening here before joining my work colleagues for dinner before heading for my first night in Doha at a hotel in West Bay.

Here are a few snaps of the city I managed to click while I flew out.

Doha's generic part

The Museum by IM Pei

West Bay

And not to forget Doha has its own version of the infamous Palm island, this one is called 'The Pearl'

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