By Orlando Crowcroft
In terms of construction, Qatar has arguably the biggest challenge of any World Cup host yet
It was always thought to be a long shot, an outside bid, audacious Qatar mixing it with the big boys, but make no mistake, FIFAs decision to award the country the 2022 World Cup has changed everything.
The sheer scale of investment is difficult to fathom, $42.9 billion on roads, $3 billion on railways, a new causeway linking the country with Bahrain and $9 billion for the extension of the new Doha International Airport, which will soon be able to handle 50 million passengers.
Then there are the football stadiums, the Al Rayyan, with a high-definition TV screen built into the facade; the Al Khor, with its elaborate sea shell form and the Doha Port Stadium, which draws water from the Gulf and jets sea water over the roof to aid cooling. All but two of these will continue to serve Qatar’s domestic league after the tournament finishes.
Last week I spoke to the architect who helped design the stadiums for the 2022 Qatar bid, and while he was obviously excited, there was just a hint a trepidation in his voice as he outlined the plans going forward. Putting together the designs was one thing, he said, now they had to go off and figure out how to turn those designs into a working reality.
It was only a hint, because the Qatar 2022 bid was not a pie-in-the-sky scheme to wow FIFA and the world. Much like the much-needed infrastructure work – the causeway, the roads, the airport – many of the stadium projects were due to go ahead anyway. Qatar is a growing country, and it intended to continue that growth with or without the World Cup.
For evidence of this you only have to look at the amazing projects due to come online in 2011: Qatar Energy City; the new high-rise district near Doha corniche; and numerous other ambitious buildings – many of which we have featured in these pages in recent weeks.
Qatar has one of the most dynamic construction industries in the Gulf – a point that was no doubt made clear by the 2022 bid committee, which featured business leaders from a number of high-profile local companies, including Qatari Diar.
But another comment made by the architect from Albert Speer and Partners, the stadium designers, is that everything Qatar has planned has to go ahead, in order to make it ready for the World Cup. Stadiums without transport, transport without hotels or hotels without infrastructure will not be sufficient to host a tournament that will bring millions to this tiny country.
In terms of construction, Qatar has arguably the biggest challenge of any World Cup host yet, and as it stands at the end of 2010, it is nowhere near ready.
That said, of all the bold plans outlined by various entities in Qatar over recent months, few are ideas alone. The work on the transport infrastructure and the airport has already begun, and the cooling technique that will be employed in the stadiums has already been devised and tested in a 500-seater model facility in Doha.
Created by engineering giant Arup, the stadium demonstrated to FIFA, during its visit to Qatar, that despite 44 degree heat outside, it is capable of achieving 23 degrees on the pitch, while targeting carbon neutrality through pumping energy into the national grid all year round, and drawing from it on match days.
It has been a common complaint in the last week or so that FIFA’s decision to award Qatar the right to host the finals ‘was all about money’, and in a funny way that criticism rings true.
The country has proven that it is ready to invest billions to better the transport system, improve tourism, develop its airport and provide a causeway to Bahrain – all of which was no doubt instrumental in the country’s success. Not only that, it is one of the few countries that actually has the money in the bank.
More generally, the World Cup coming to the Middle East for the first time is a great opportunity for the proud footballing nations of the Gulf to make a strong showing, on what will almost be home turf.
FIFA has given Qatar a significant challenge, and here’s hoping it is able to rise to it.
Orlando Crowcroft is the editor of Architect Middle East.