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Learning tree

Woods Bagot's new science park looks to stimulate creativity and share knowledge among some of Qatar's brightest scientific minds.

Learning tree
The Incubator Centre Shelters users and connects the surrounding buildings.
Learning tree
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Learning tree
The steel screen facade of the ITTC buildings.
Learning tree
Early concept sketches of the orientation for the ITTC buildings.
Learning tree
Early concept sketches of the orientation for the ITTC buildings.
Learning tree
The Incubator Centre hovers above its podium like a bridge between two primary axis.
Learning tree
The Incubator Centre hovers above its podium like a bridge between two primary axis.
Learning tree
Sketches illustrating the versatility of the ITTC buildings.
Learning tree
The veil-like roof acts like the canopy of the forest.
Learning tree
The veil-like roof acts like the canopy of the forest.
Learning tree
The client wanted the finished project to look like its masterplan when seen from above.
Learning tree
The client wanted the finished project to look like its masterplan when seen from above.
Learning tree
Interior and exterior components of QSTP.
Learning tree
Interior and exterior components of QSTP.
Learning tree
Interior and exterior components of QSTP.
Learning tree
Concept sketches.
Learning tree
Concept sketches.
Learning tree
The Incubator Centre forms the nucleus or the heart of QSTP.
Learning tree
The Incubator Centre forms the nucleus or the heart of QSTP.

Woods Bagot's new science park looks to stimulate creativity and share knowledge among some of Qatar's brightest scientific minds.

From day one, the brief called for Oxford Science Park. It called for a network of typical 2-storey glass boxes that overlooked a series of car parks.

In fact, the client cited the UK's Stockley Park, Cambridge and Oxford Science Park as models from which the first concept designs of Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP) should be moulded.

The patterns are used everywhere. It’s the sort of thing where you notice a different pattern or a new use of geometry around every corner. You’re constantly amazed at what you’re seeing. - Peter Nielsen.

Soon after the concept design stage, however, it was clear to the team at Woods Bagot that something didn't fit.

It knew Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser al Missned-wife of the Emir of Qatar and chairwoman of the Qatar Foundation for Education-wanted something that would establish Qatar as an international hub for scientific exploration and create a sense of community between the academic faculty and independent research groups.

It also knew that given the climate of Qatar and the benchmark status intended for this particular project, Oxford Science Park in the Middle East simply didn't fit.

"We researched those sites and found them to be very typical.... They had duck ponds, with ducks in them; loads of surrounding greenery and a series of roads for driving your car from one place to another," explains Mark Mitcheson-Low, director in charge of QSTP.

"There was nothing really groundbreaking.... We looked at them and then looked at our site and realised how poorly that type of project would suit this region."

Bringing people together

The first design decision undertaken by Woods Bagot was to consider the external climate and realise the need for subterranean parking and thus, shorter walking distances between buildings.

The importance of this realisation was ultimately twofold: creating shorter distances between buildings meant doing away with a need for cars and-in keeping with long-held traditions in Islamic architecture-allowed for greater connectivity between the users of QSTP.

Mitcheson-Low explains the impossibility of fostering a connection in the traditional science park typology.

"How do you create [a connection] if you've got a series of buildings?" he asks.

"The idea was to get rid of the cars and put them under the building. That created a more pedestrian-friendly campus-type structure."As designs for QSTP evolved, Alf Seeling, design director and concept masterplanning (Middle East), began to recognise the inevitability of mimicking a typology that has been used in the region for centuries.

"We tried to get rid of the cars and, in doing so, we looked at the way Islamic cities had been built up over time and we found a kind of patterned order in the way those cities grew and expanded."

That research led Woods Bagot to develop buildings in clusters around internal courtyards, which connect to further clusters in the overall masterplan.

It had to be a facility that offered more than any other facility in the world. It had to be groundbreaking on what it offered for any researcher or organisation. - Mark Mitcheson-Low.

The desire to retain a strong connectivity between the buildings and users led to the decision to connect what would traditionally be a series of teaching and research facilities under one undulating roof. This led to the creation of what came to be known as the Incubator Centre.

The literal nucleus of QSTP, the Incubator Centre is located at the centre of the site on an elevated podium, just beneath a rippling veil-like roof structure.

It is set against flat perforated screen façades and punctuated by three atria, which reinforce the Islamic architectural notion of using ‘hard' exclusionary façades to protect ‘soft' introverted living spaces.

"The Incubator hovers above the carpark which gives it back to the public and further highlights its role as the nucleus of the project," explains Peter Miglis, project director (Australia).

"It had to be something that evoked technology. At the same time, it had to have a level of tradition to it.

It was hard to draw on the exisiting vernacular as an inspiration but we did draw on the language of the Arabian courtyard."

Replicating the pattern

The Incubator Centre is flanked by clusters of ITTC laboratory buildings that are clad in patterned steel screens to create eye-catching geometric shapes while protecting and facilitating high-level research.

The client's brief called for flexible spaces that could develop, expand and interchange as the needs of the user did likewise.

In trying to provide the most flexible open-plan workspace, Woods Bagot and the client chose to incorporate both interstitial floors and peristitial walls, which allow for servicing both upper and lower floors and position mechanical services to external locations around the perimeter of the building.

The solution was a benchmark in Qatari architecture and ultimately made load-bearing columns within the workspace unnecessary. By providing a 27m column-free floor plate and flexibility for maintenance and refitting along the outside perimeter, the buildings remain both fully adaptable and fully secure. The exterior façade offers solar shading for inhabitants, but also hides from view servicing equipment like gas cylinders, exhaust ducts, high pressure air hoses and everything else the laboratories or maintenance staff might need," explains Seeling.

The laboratories feature the potential for double volume space, with high load capacity available in large areas. Core clusters of tenancies are provided with a central communal atrium, which admits natural light and functions as an informal meeting space.

"This works in harmony with the architecture.

With QSTP, it was important to Qatar that they show the rest of the world a different way of doing things….Qatar wanted to announce that this is the new benchmark for a science park. It needed to belong to this region and this country. - Alf Seeling.

The external walls offer a sense of privacy and humility, while the inside is rich and engaging," says Seeling.

"The ITTC buildings operate the same way: they're hard and subdued externally, but then offer meeting spaces throughout the interior atria."

The activity hubs within the ITTC buildings form the heart of the creative communities; they offer places where tenants can interact, ideas can be exchanged and knowledge can be shared.

From an architectural perspective, the clustered buildings look and function a bit like an Islamic pattern that can be repeated and modified.

Though both belong to the same family of buildings, their varied functions certainly justify them being classified as different species.

Where the Incubator incorporates interior/exterior space for offices, amenities, retail and interaction, the clustered buildings have the potential to be an office one day and a full-scale wet/dry laboratory the next.

"It had to be a facility that offered more than any other facility in the world.

It had to be groundbreaking on what it offered for any researcher or organisation," explains Mitcheson-Low.

Signature roof

Much more than a shiny Gehry-esque aesthetic statement, QSTP's gently undulating roof provides shading to the outdoor areas, announces a 34m atrium and allows the buildings to be physically and symbolically connected.

It features two layers of perforated, patterned stainless steel which creates a sense of movement from below and starkly contrasts the horizontal landscape from afar.

Despite its unique ‘swelling', the veil roof is both aesthetic and functional.From day one, Sheikha Mozah made a ruling on the buildings, a ruling which-according to Mitcheson-Low-wasn't met by a number of the competing architects and ultimately led to Woods Bagot winning the project.

There wasn't to be any equipment on the roofs of the buildings. The masterplan needed to be legible from the air. As a protective skin, the veil roof encases the buildings themselves and, at the same time, hides plant and maintenance equipment.

It also acts as a shell that reduces heat gain and overall energy consumption of the building.

Through technology, we were able to create a new vernacular for the region and for the typology. - Peter Miglis.

"The concept emulates the covered souqs of the region that are made comfortable by throwing a shading device over them," explains Seeling.

"It reduces the heat load on the roof and windows, but it also extends beyond the building envelope and then spreads out into the other buildings clusters."

A final word

QSTP is about layers of meaning. On one hand, the roof was built to mimic the undulation of the sand dunes and the flowing fabrics that shield against the sun. On the other hand, it was designed to envelope the surrounding space and reduce overall heat gain.

Likewise, the ITTC laboratories are clad in perforated steel curtains to offer privacy and protection to the high-level research inside them, yet they were built to state-of-the-art specifications which assure organic expansion and expression.

The tree-like columns seem like a necessary support mechanism until it is revealed that they were specifically chosen to be a metaphor for the local Qatari tree that, historically, witnessed education and storytelling beneath its branches.

Woods Bagot wanted to create something that would set a new global benchmark for the science park typology in the region. It wanted to build something that would become an institution in the country and a culturally appropriate symbol of Qatar.

It endeavoured to use inside-out design theory to create a building that is both aesthetically and functionally spectacular. To achieve all this, Woods Bagot took the original brief and its glass boxes and turned them into a learning tree. The columns are its branches and the veil is its protective canopy.

While they perform similar functions and seem appropriate for their respective contexts, make no mistake, QSTP is a long way from Oxford Science Park.

The teamDirector in Charge:Mark Mitcheson-Low (Regional Managing Director)

Design director & concept masterplanning (ME):Alf Seeling

Design director global & peer review (Aus.):Nik Karalis

Project director, concept/detailed design (Aus.):Peter Miglis

Project director (documentation):Marija Cakarun

Project leader (site contract administration):Peter Nielsen

Engineer:Connell Wagner

Landscape architect:Woods Bagot (Soleiman Hatoum - onsite execution)

Interior design:Woods Bagot

MEP Engineers:Hyder Consulting

Quality Surveyor:Davis Langdon & Seah International

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