The opening of the Jean Nouvel–designed National Museum of Qatar, in Doha, Qatar, marks another step in the country’s mission to set itself apart from its neighbors and solidify its cultural position in the world. For one to understand the motivations behind the design and construction of the newly opened National Museum, one must first understand a bit about the geopolitical context that it has been built in. Like many of its neighbors in the Persian Gulf region, Qatar has been building at a pace and level of quality that is nearly unmatched in the world. Yet, unlike the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar is not building to attract tourists or even business interests. Since 1971, when Qatar gained its full independence from the British, it has worked to distinguish itself as a fully autonomous nation. The intensity of this drive has been amplified in the past few years by a series of events and political upheavals that have isolated the small country. In June 2017, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt imposed economic and political embargoes on Qatar after years of growing tension over international trade and other international relations. In an act of defiance, Qatar countered by leaving the Gulf Region’s oil cartel, OPEC. These events have led to stronger internal support for Qatar’s ruling emir, who has taken a hard line with the blockading neighbors, and solidified the country’s resolve to stand culturally and economically independent from the region. The National Museum is designed and programmed specifically to display the country’s unique culture and history to international visitors and, perhaps more importantly, to Qataris. Broadly covering the nation’s natural and political history, exhibitions reach back tens of thousands of years through the discovery of oil and natural gas off the coast in the mid-20th century to explore what it means to be Qatari. Perhaps ironically though, Qataris only make up around 12 percent of Qatar’s of 2.7 million residents. The rest are foreigners, most of which are migrant service and construction workers. It remains to be seen whether a forthcoming planned gallery covering the country’s current events will highlight the immense contribution of migrants to the past decade of development. Notably, Qatar has been criticized for the use of underpaid labor and unsafe construction practices, particularly pertaining to the many 2022 World Cup stadiums currently under construction. Recent years have seen laws passed down directly from the emir to protect workers’ rights, and while progress has been made, some human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, say there are still issues to be addressed. Whether one argues the museum’s contents show a complete image of the nation or not, the building itself has a lot to say. Like many “signature” architecture projects, it may be the architecture of museum that will be most memorable for those who visit. A bombastic tour-de-force of engineering and construction, there is little argument about the visual impact of the project as a whole. Unapologetically designed to look like the crystalized mineral formation known as a desert rose, the museum is composed of dozens of large discs. Intersecting at various angles, the discs produce the facade, roof, walls, ceilings, apertures, and structure. Enable by engineering help from Gehry Technologies and ARUP, the geometric theme and is relentlessly executed. One is hard pressed to find any public facing spaces that are not completely shaped by the seemingly random arrangement of discs. There are no columns, no rectilinear apertures, no perpendicular intersections, and no flat ceilings. In many spaces even the floor ramps and bends in a choreographed play with the walls and ceiling. All artifacts and exhibition pieces are shown in the round, while the tilting walls are filled with carefully mapped projections of artist-made films. The effect is quite successful and makes for a strong retort to those who argue that museum walls should always be flat. The museum’s galleries are organized into an irregular crescent, which produces a large Baraha (courtyard) with the help of the 20th-century royal palace of Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani, a cultural landmark in its own right. This outdoor room provides a new civic space able to accommodate thousands. This is an important aspect of the project, considering Doha lacks similar spaces, besides the main Souq, over a mile away. The museum’s position near the waterfront is also significant. While still separated by the city’s major traffic artery and a thin waterfront parkway, many of its neighbors are government or administrative buildings, which are cut off from the city by high security fences. In stark contrast to the oft-foreboding nature of the area, the museum’s grounds include large gardens designed by French landscape architect Michel Desvigne, and includes multiple children’s play areas, large desert plantings, and a lagoon complete with a monumental fountain sculpture by French artist Jean-Michel Othoniel. Despite the formal exuberance, many of the spaces have a similar feel, in part to the limited material, color, and building palette. This is to say, once you have seen part of the project, there are few surprises. The formal complexity does not translate into complexity in plan. For the most part the entire building is one path, even if that path is varied in width and direction. Each gallery intersects with the next with no hard thresholds or transitions. Occasionally, a change in ceiling height or a slant in the floor differentiate one gallery from the next, but overall the experience is generally consistent throughout the project. This is a bit disappointing considering the innumerable possibilities the project’s formal language implies. On the other hand, this may be excusable as the expressed goal of the museum is to present a clear vision of Qatar’s past and present. Though a few more moments of unexpected shortcuts, detours, or unique spaces could have been a pleasant release from the project’s surprisingly simple plan. The few places where relief can be found from the disc organization are in the gift shops, designed by Sydney-based Koichi Takada Architects. Riffing on the theme of desert rock formations, the shops take the shape of the Dahl Al Misfir (Cave of Light), a dramatic cave system in central Qatar. Undulating contoured wood walls push and pull, providing space for lighting and shelving, while the tall spaces reach up to irregularly shaped windows and skylights, mimicking the cave’s dramatic illumination. Takada is also responsible for two cafes and a restaurant in the project that all stick closer to the Nouvel design, while still departing from the strict aesthetics of the galleries. If the intent of the National Museum is to educate the Nation of Qatar and celebrate the work of the Qatari people, the message it sends is one of a proud young nation that is finding its place on the world stage while contending with less than friendly neighbors and has been shaped by a seemingly insatiable appetite for iconic buildings designed by A-list international architects. Along with the Arata Isozaki master-planned Education City, the OMA-designed National Library, and the I.M. Pei-designed Museum of Islamic Art, this latest addition to this uncanny desert menagerie raises the bar for civic iconography with its structural and metaphorical gymnastics. For all these reasons the project seems to fit into its context perfectly, and in the same sense could be nowhere else.
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Foster + Partners revealed renderings of the much-anticipated Lusail Iconic Stadium, an 80,000-seat soccer venue that will house the opening and final games of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. The project, commissioned by Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, will be situated within the center of the up-and-coming Lusail City, an under-construction modern metropolis set nine miles north of Doha. The British firm designed the centerpiece structure to mirror the ancient Arab craft of bowl weaving. It will feature a shimmery, gold palette wrapped around a slightly undulating exterior and a saddle-form retractable roof that will float above a concrete seating bowl. According to the architects, the stadium will boast a highly-efficient energy saving system, a requirement for FIFA World Cup constructions. Since Qatar’s climate is so intense, the building will help cool players and fans. Solar canopies will also hover over the parking and service areas to produce energy for the stadium and power the surrounding buildings. With Lusail Iconic Stadium, Foster + Partners joins the star-studded roster of studios that have designed projects for the tournament, including Zaha Hadid Architects and its controversial stadium in Al-Wakrah, which is near completion. Fenwick Iribarren Architects, a Spanish firm, is building a modular, 40,000-seat stadium made of repurposed steel shipping containers. After the tournament, the arenas are expected to be reused by the cities in which they’re built. The seats within Lusail Iconic Stadium, for example, will be removed and the structure will be used as a community space with room for shops, cafés, athletic and education facilities, as well as a health clinic. The project is slated for completion in 2020.
Oil-rich cities of the Persian Gulf that fifty years ago were sleepy fishing and pearling villages have remade themselves into spectacles of architectural pomp in the 21st century as they seek to cement their geopolitical prominence. Cities like Dubai and Abu Dhabi have become synonymous with the decadent post–Guggenheim Bilbao era in which municipalities have used spectacular architecture by brand-name architects to lend their locales international glamour, and the close concentration of rival states in the Persian Gulf has spawned a sort of starchitect arms race, with neighboring cities jockeying for aesthetic supremacy. Pritzker winners like Zaha Hadid have raced to the area to show off the full extent of their talents, despite reports of widespread abuse of construction workers. The National Museum of Qatar, designed by Ateliers Jean Nouvel, fits squarely in this moment, although it has not been associated with reports of labor abuses. When it opens in March, 2019, it will set a new benchmark for stylistic exuberance in the area. The design, an almost literal translation of desert rose sand formations, is dizzyingly intricate, almost unbelievable in its complexity. Nouvel said of the design in a statement: “Qatar has a deep rapport with the desert, with its flora and fauna, its nomadic people, its long traditions. To fuse these contrasting stories, I needed a symbolic element. Eventually, I remembered the phenomenon of the desert rose: crystalline forms, like miniature architectural events, that emerge from the ground through the work of wind, salt water, and sand." The 430,000-square-foot institution will house displays that tell the story of Qatar's rise from its deep geological history to its cosmopolitan present. Displays will emphasize the power of the Qatari royal family, showing the nation's history culminating "in the very heart of Qatari national identity, the thoroughly restored Palace of Sheikh Abdullah," according to Qatar Museums, the state organization led by Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani focused on promoting Qatari culture. Iwan Baan, the photographer-par-excellence of architecture's millennial gilded age, has captured the nearly-completed building in images that testify to the architects' ability to realize the bedeviling design. This is not Nouvel's first foray into the area. His Louvre Abu Dhabi, another daring dish design, opened last year in that United Arab Emirates capital city. Museums by Frank Gehry and Norman Foster were scheduled to join Nouvel's work there, but construction on those projects appears to have been indefinitely delayed. The National Museum of Qatar joins I.M. Pei's Museum of Islamic Art, OMA's Qatar National Library, and Nouvel's own Burj Doha in Doha, Qatar's capital city. The country is in the midst of a construction boom as it prepares to host the 2022 World Cup.
After Saudi Arabia cut ties with and blockaded the adjacent peninsula of Qatar in May 2017, the Middle Eastern kingdom is reportedly looking to physically sever the nearby country from the mainland. According to the Makkah newspaper, five international firms have been invited to submit proposals, due Monday, to dig a 38-mile-long canal on the Saudi side of the border. Saudi Arabia will choose its winning firm in 90 days and begin work on the tentatively-titled “Salwa Channel” immediately after, with construction planned to take less than a year. If the canal is actually built, it would bridge the Persian Gulf with a 650-foot-wide, 130-foot-deep channel that would allow ships to pass through. This form of “weaponized landscape architecture” would turn Saudi Arabia’s eastern neighbor into a full-blown island. All of this is still in the planning stages, and, as the Washington Post speculates, plans for the $750 million canal could be a ploy to pressure Qatar psychologically. No final use for the channel has actually been proposed; there have been alternating reports that the new waterway could be used for tourism, a military base, or a dump for nuclear waste. As has also been pointed out, Saudi Arabia has already blocked Qatar’s only land route, and it’s not clear if adding any other physical barriers along an inaccessible stretch would do much to impact Qatar’s ability to move goods and people in and out of the country. Qatar itself had proposed building the same canal in years past, but ultimately decided against it over the high cost.
Ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, host country Qatar has officially revealed that its seventh stadium for the event will be the world’s first fully modular stadium. The 40,000-seat arena will be constructed mainly from shipping containers and should be fully capable of being disassembled and reconstructed elsewhere. Announced on Sunday by the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC), the organization responsible for Qatar’s World Cup infrastructure, Ras Abu Aboud Stadium is the latest piece of Qatar’s $200 billion World Cup project to be revealed. The third venue to be designed for the 2022 World Cup by Fenwick Iribarren Architects, the stadium will be located on the waterfront of Doha, the country’s capital. By using modular shipping container blocks containing removable seats, concession stands, bathrooms and merchandise booths, the stadium’s layout can easily be adjusted in the future. Each of the pieces will arrive by tanker and be assembled on site. SC Secretary General H.E. Hassan Al Thawadi stressed the advantages of modular construction in a statement given to FIFA yesterday. "This venue offers the perfect legacy, capable of being reassembled in a new location in its entirety or built into numerous small sports and cultural venues. All of this in a stadium that delivers the atmosphere fans expect at a World Cup and which we will build in a more sustainable way than ever before,” he said. Because fewer materials will be needed in the stadium’s construction, and because Qatar has made integrating the newly-christened Stadium District into the fabric of Doha a top priority, Ras Abu Aboud Stadium will receive a four-star Global Sustainability Assessment System (GSAS) certification upon completion. GSAS is a far-reaching set of rigid green design, build and operations guidelines for cooperating Gulf countries. Qatar’s involvement with the 2022 World Cup hasn’t been entirely without controversy, however. Despite locking in big-name architects such as Zaha Hadid to either renovate existing stadiums or build modern arenas from the ground up, even FIFA’s own advisory board on human rights has raised questions over how construction workers in the country are being treated. With the country currently facing an embargo from the United Arab Emirates, building materials have also become harder to come by in recent months. Ras Abu Aboud Stadium is currently under construction and still on track for an early 2020 completion date, a full two years before the World Cup kicks off.
After a few weeks of suffering the slings and arrows that occasionally punctuate the lives of starchitects, things are looking up for Zaha Hadid. First, the BBC issued a formal apology to her on behalf of one of its reporters, who implied that numerous construction workers on Hadid's Al Wakrah soccer stadium project had suffered fatal accidents on site. The network published a clarification, which stated that the "1,200 deaths...refers to migrant workers across the whole of Qatar across several years...We are sorry we didn't make this clear in the interview with Dame Zaha Hadid. The Qatari Government say there have been no deaths on World Cup construction sites." Zaha's second victory was perhaps even sweeter. Her Wangzing SOHO complex in Beijing won the Emporis Skyscraper Award, beating out projects by SOM, Foster + Partners, and Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, to name a few of the offices that submitted a total of more than 300 entries. The award recognizes structures that rise at least 100 meters (328 feet) tall.
Qatari officials considering an underwater TV station, among other outlandish pitches, as its $200 billion 2022 World Cup approaches
Seven years away and already commanding a reported $200 billion budget in preparations, the FIFA World Cup 2022 has Qatari officials deliberating over proposals for an underwater TV station. Los Angeles–based artificial reef and aquarium design firm Reef Worlds is pushing designs for a $30 million underwater broadcast studio which, post–World Cup, will be turned into a public aquarium. The studio itself will occupy a carved-out rocky cavern on the ocean floor. According to Patric Douglas, CEO of Reef Worlds, Qatar World Cup authorities warmed to the preliminary designs and “the notion of doing the World Cup underwater with sharks swimming around.” In terms of funding, Douglas predicted that it would be covered by broadcasters who want to use the film location as a base during the World Cup. “You could underwrite the entire thing with one Sky or Latin broadcast network, they will pay you enough money to finance this thing,” he told Arabian Business. Qatari officials, who have a generous appetite for the superlative and the submerged, will decide in either July or August whether to greenlight Douglas’ plans. A European real estate agent based in Dubai is developing a collection of three-story properties with one floor submerged as a cross between a boat and a villa. Each unit will reportedly sell for $1.4 million. Meanwhile, Polish architect Krzysztof Kotala is soliciting investors for his plans to build the world’s first underwater tennis stadium. Qatar’s current budget of $200 billion for the FIFA World Cup amounts to an eye-watering $100,000 per capita. This, of course, all comes as FIFA finds itself in a massive corruption scandal, and renewed scrutiny over why Qatar, a country with a terrible human rights record and a very hot climate, was awarded the 2022 World Cup. Should the proposal meet a dead end, Reef Worlds is nevertheless bent on developing “sustainable underwater tourism sites” in Dubai, UAE, and the wider Gulf. The firm recently completed designs for the world’s first underwater amusement park, which is modeled after the mythical city of Atlantis and inspired by motion pictures such as Avatar and Pirates of the Carribean. If approved, the park will be built on The World, a series of man-made islands off the coast of Dubai in the shape of a map of the world.
The Rotterdam and New York City–based West 8 has unveiled plans for a botanic garden in Doha, Qatar to feature plants mentioned in the Qur’an. According to the firm, the Qur’anic Botanic Garden project will break ground this year, roughly five years after the idea for the project was proposed by UNESCO. "The experience through the Qur’anic Botanic Garden represents a Journey of Life; from birth to death and back to the beginning," said West 8 in a statement. "The journey starts with water and progresses through the gardens which display a rich botanical diversity." Visitors enter the new gardens via two long ramps that descend to what is being called a "water patio." From there, they can head to a reception area or the Garden of Reflection, a lush circular courtyard centered around a small pond. This garden then connects to a sequence of five others gardens throughout the complex, which is surrounded by 370 Date Palms.
One of the biggest architectural head-to-head matches of 2014 has come to an amicable end. As AN reported last fall, Zaha Hadid sued New York Review of Books critic Martin Filler for defamation for comments he made about her in a review of Rowan Moore’s Why We Build: Power and Desire in Architecture. In his piece, Filler knocked the starchitect's record on workers' rights, writing that an "estimated one thousand laborers” had died working on the Al Wakrah Stadium (above) she designed for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. As it turned out, construction on that project hadn't even started yet. Filler acknowledged his error and apologized. Now, Hadid has withdrawn her lawsuit and the two parties have settled out of court. While we don’t know the amount of the settlement, we do know that Hadid and Filler are making a donation to “a charitable organization that protects and champions labor rights.”
Zaha Hadid has sued the New York Review of Books. The complaint, filed last month in Manhattan Supreme Court, takes issue with a piece by architecture critic Martin Filler that allegedly mischaracterized her comments on the deaths of hundreds of migrant construction workers in Qatar, where she has designed a soccer stadium for the 2022 World Cup. According to Hadid’s lawyers, the article is a “personal attack disguised as a book review” of New York Observer architecture critic Rowan Moore’s Why We Build. It apparently quotes the Pritzker Prize winner as saying that architects “have nothing to do with the workers” and goes on to characterize her as being a generally uncaring and difficult person. The lawyers went on to point out that no workers have died on Hadid’s project, which, as a matter of fact, has yet to begin construction. The suit has stirred up quite a bit of activity on social media, including a tweet from Paul Goldberger, who said that the suit was unwise as it will earn Hadid a reputation as “the architect who sues critics.” The NYRB has since issued a retraction.
Zaha Hadid Architects has unveiled its design for a 40,000-seat soccer stadium to rise in the Arabian kingdom of Qatar. The project is slated to be complete in time for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and is only one of several such facilities that the oil-rich nation plans to build—in addition to miles of roads, a seaport, airport, and a rail system—in a $140 billion spending spree to lay down the infrastructure necessary to support the event and the international crowds it attracts. Hadid's office has stated that the design of the stadium is derived from the dhow, a type of fishing vessel that is common among the peoples of the Arabian Peninsula. Several commentators have pointed out, however, that the renderings more closely resemble the mounds, folds, and cavities of a certain very private part of the female anatomy. Since the World Cup is played during the summertime, one of the chief challenges of the design will be keeping the interior environment cool enough for comfortable spectating. Ambient temperatures in Qatar can reach as high as 120 degrees fahrenheit. According to Hadid's office, which is working on the project with AECOM, the shape of the roof—which will be a composite structure of steel and engineered timber—has been specifically designed to encourage passive cooling. This combined with mechanical air conditioning systems will keep the interior temperature at around 85 degrees fahrenheit. Hadid's feminine formed stadium falls among an illustrious company of other buildings that have attempted to counterbalance the predominantly male derived motifs of architecture. (Didn't someone once point out the phallic nature of the skyscraper?) Oddly enough, as with Hadid and her dhow diversionary tactics, few designers actually advertise that their lady like buildings are inspired by this impulse, and most commentators commend them for other reasons. The clearly feminine crown of A. Epstein & Sons' 1983 Smurfit-Stone Building in Chicago was also allegedly designed to reference sail boats, these in Lake Michigan, rather than a vagina. And Philip Johnson's award-winning 1975 Penzoil Place in Houston was lauded for helping architects to break away from the rectangular modernist box, rather than applauded for looking like a girl lying on her back with her knees in the air. While the profession of architecture roils with calls for more recognition of women's roles in great buildings, can't it also come a little cleaner about when it uses the feminine form as inspiration?
The Arab state of Qatar is in full swing with its plans to host the FIFA World Games 2022. Selected in 2010, it is the first time in the history of FIFA that a Middle Eastern Country has been chosen to host the tournament. Three existing stadiums will be expanded and nine new ultra-modern stadiums will be built, including one designed by Zaha Hadid Architects. The stadiums will reach capacities from approximately 45,000 seats for the group matches, to more than 85,000 seats for the finals. The design vision involves keeping all the stadiums within a one hour drive from the FIFA headquarters, allowing fans to attend more than one game a day. The state has submitted a substantial dossier concerned with all relevant issues ranging from accommodation, transport, security, environment to the stadium infrastructure. Part of the giant venture includes the construction of a a new, 200-mile-long metro system, expected to be completed in 2021. Al Shamal Stadium is one of the proposed stadiums to be completed in 2017. The design of the structure is inspired by the local fishing boats (dhows), commonly used in the Persian Gulf, and will accommodate approximately 45,000 people. Another proposed venue is the Al Khor Stadium which will take on an asymmetrical seashell form, providing capacity for over 45,000 fans, and an additional 1,000 seats for press.