The time has come to shift the debate about sustainability and environmentally-sound practices into real action, says Msheireb Properties CEO Issa M. Al Mohannadi. In an exclusive interview with CW, he updates progress on the company's ambitious Downtown project, and the impact of the World Cup on Qatar.
Can you give us a brief overview of your involvement with Msheireb Properties to date?
I have been involved with the project since its inception, and it has been an amazing journey, seeing the blueprint evolve and take shape. The present phase is exciting with the construction in progress, and to think ahead, as in a few years the project shall assume a concrete form.
Can you tell us a bit about how the project came about?
Our chairperson, Her Highness Sheikha Moza Bint Nasser, identified the need to fill an architectural gap in Qatar, and lead the regional and international trend to a new, better form of urban development in contrast to the globalised world that too often abandons the heritage and local identity that makes a place unique. A Qatar Foundation subsidiary, Msheireb Properties was given the mandate to bridge this gap and build cutting-edge developments that hold local culture and sustainability at the heart of its developments. Working on the mandate from Her Highness to understand how modern, innovative technologies and thinking can be blend with the best of the past, Msheireb Properties has spent three years researching a new Qatari architecture and urban planning language with the foremost experts in the industry.
The signature project Msheireb Downtown Doha is a $5.49bn mixed-use development regenerating the historically important centre of downtown Doha. It will use a modern Qatari architecture language rooted in traditional Qatari heritage and employing modern technology. The very idea behind the project is to bring people back to their roots. Until the 1950s, Qataris used to live in the heart of the city, where the new development is now taking place. With the city centre emerging as a trade hub, Qatar has started moving elsewhere, mostly to city suburbs.
What impact did the downturn have on the project?
Qatar has been somewhat insulated from the economic downturn given its sustained high rate of growth and continued heavy investment in infrastructure. So the economic conditions for Qatar and the prospects for its real-estate market are somewhat different from elsewhere in the region and in global markets. As a privately-held company, the funding for Msheireb Downtown Doha thus far has been through shareholder equity. At Msheireb Downtown Doha, we develop with an eye on the future and take the long-term view. Downturns are part of the natural economic cycle, and it is always prudent for any company to make provisions for future downturns. This is why we believe that our approach of providing sustainable, transformational communities that are sensitive to local needs and norms offer the best safeguard against any possible market downturn in the future.
How has Msheireb incorporated Qatar's 2030 Plan? What impact will the World Cup have?
We were obviously delighted with the win, which symbolises the dedication to the promotion of Qatar which we are also contributing to. Regeneration of downtown Msheireb was part of the infrastructure pitch for the 2022 FIFA bid and was taken into account by the evaluators. The government's strategic plans for 2022 include economic diversification.
Qatar's national vision is to become an advanced society capable of sustaining its development by 2030 - one that provides a high standard of living for its people and future generations, supported by knowledge-based industries which enable ongoing social, economic, environmental and human development. Our projects will enhance the quality of life of communities in Doha and Qatar; actively promote environmental awareness, sustainability and conservation; and realise genuine innovation in the real estate industry, together with high-value employment and expertise.
What is the timeframe of the project? Who is on the professional team?
The construction of the Msheireb Downtown Doha project began in 2010 and the development will be completed in five phases through 2016. It is on schedule: construction of over 40% of fthe irst phase is now completed, with over 14 million man hours worked on project so far. Detailed design of Phases 2 and 3 is in progress and on schedule.
The $425m construction contract for the first phase of development was awarded to a consortium comprising Hyundai Engineering & Construction Co, a major South Korean firm, and HBK Contracting, a Qatari contractor. Such JVs between international and local contractors have been part of our strategy to help develop local capabilities and expertise.
Drake & Scull Water and Power, part of Drake & Scull International, was commissioned to build the development's highly energy-efficient district cooling plants. C.A.T. International was contracted for Phase 1A infrastructure works, while Bauer International was commissioned for enabling works on that phase.
What are the next major tenders?
At the beginning of the year we announced the appointment of Burns & McDonnell to serve as executive architect for the second phase (Phases 1B, 1C and Superblock Q). We are targeting to award the construction contract for Phase 1B before the end of this year. The design of the third and fourth phases has been awarded to Gensler with Buro Happold. The design of the fifth and final phase has been awarded to HOK, with Ramboll as executive architect and the leading consultant on Phase 4. Among other consultants recruited for the project, the master development consultants (MDC) are a collaborative team of Arup, AECOM (EDAW) and Allies & Morrison. Architecture and design is being handled by a pool of architects across different phases, including Adjaye Associates, Allies & Morrison, John McAslan & Partners and Mossessian & Partners, Eric Parry Architects, Squire & Partners and Mangera Yvars.