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Sun 7 Mar 2010 12:00 AM

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Modern Mashrabiya

KEO's latest project in Doha is the cornerstone of the city's newest district.

Modern Mashrabiya
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Modern Mashrabiya
The site for this project is located in the southeastern corner of the Lusail Development in the Marina District.
Modern Mashrabiya
The glass entrance volumes are wrapped in random lace-like patterns of metal to mimic the quality of light found in traditional souqs.
Modern Mashrabiya
Because the brief called for a mixed-use typology, a key challenge the KEO team was figuring out how to integrate office, retail and residential space.

KEO's latest project in Doha is the cornerstone of the city's newest district.

Taking full advantage of a professional relationship that goes back decades and transcends geographic boundaries, Diyar Al Kuwait (DAK) commissioned KEO International in 2008 to design the pioneer project for the Lusail District in Doha.

The programme for the project is relatively straightforward. It is based on a mixed use development consisting of commercial, residential and retail spaces. It encompasses 247,044m² of allowable area - 159,989m² for commercial; 130,220m² for office space; and 29,769m² for retail.

The residential programme is comprised of 640 one-bedroom and two-bedroom flats as well as 27 four-bedroom duplex townhouses. The area allowable for residential space is approximately 87,055m². Two basement parking levels plus a partial ground for the mezzanine level provide the 4,070 parking spaces required for the development.

According to Dherar Al-Nisf, the project manager from Diyar Al Kuwait, KEO's design and build capabilities are unparalleled and their vision for this site was spot on. Speaking exclusively to Middle East Architect, Al-Nisf considers its very typology the most attractive element in the project because a mixed-use facility is how a single project becomes a functioning district.

"A stand-alone project was desirable for everyone involved, including the master developer Qatari Diar, DAK as the sub-developer and the whole city of Doha. Lusail aims to provide a whole new district to the city. This is our vision," explains Al-Nisf.

Providing a turn key solution that includes everything from architectural design to construction management, KEO is working to ensure that the stringent time frame of the project is met. "We're looking to begin construction somewhere between the third quarter of 2010 and the end of the year," says Al-Nisf.

KEO's Abu Dhabi-based design director, Raj Patel, shares his client's optimism. "[DAK] is hoping to be in the ground by December. It's aggressive but it's doable," says Patel of the US$ 800 million project.

The master developer on Lusail is currently implementing the infrastructure contracts on the entire development, so when more projects do come on line, they'll be able to make full use of the transportation, plumbing and electrical facilities. In fact, the site for DAK's mixed-use development is what inspired a portion of its design.

The project site

The site for this project is located in the southeastern corner of the Lusail Development in the Marina District. Lusail lies north of Doha City and roughly 20km north of the yet-to-be-completed Doha International Airport and within a few kilometres of the West Bay Development and The Pearl - both of which aim to become bustling urban centres in their own right.

The site is bounded by the creek at its southern edge, the Gulf to the east and the internal road network of the Lusail Development at its northern and western edge.

 "The tall towers are on the north side because that's where the main thoroughfare and the rest of the commercial developments will be located. That positioning allowed us to put residential on the southern and eastern points near the water and away from the hustle and bustle," explains Patel.

Although ideal for residential and commercial inhabitants, the site came with some significant challenges, the first of which was the sheer size of the project. "The biggest challenge on the site was how to accommodate the area we were allowed - almost 250,000m² - within the guidelines that they were requiring in terms of setbacks and building heights," says Patel.

"If you look at the residential," continues Patel, "we have strung out the buildings as far as we could because we couldn't go any higher than what they are now. We were limited to 50 metres of height. The residential had to be short and so the office buildings needed some height."Because the brief called for a mixed-use typology, another key challenge for the KEO team was figuring out how to integrate office, retail and residential space - each of which came with myriad height/aesthetic/storey requirements under the guidelines. Patel's solution to the problem was a modern take on the ancient concepts of courtyards, mashrabiya and elevated gardens. KEO's design solution.

Each of the three office buildings are situated to address the main street and provide excellent views of the social, urban and natural space. The commercial buildings step from 25 storeys at the northeastern portion of the site to 29 storeys at the northwestern corner of the site.

Elevated sky gardens are located in strategic locations of each tower to offer tenants a connection to nature and break up the mass of the building.

"We wanted to resort to vernacular principles. That's why the courtyard and mashrabiya are there. The elevated gardens have come out as a new typology," says Patel. "In the past, when you're building 1- and 2-storey buildings, it's easy to incorporate courtyards and mashrabiya. But as we go higher and higher, we have to introduce spaces that connect users back to nature. Those courtyards allow us to present a connection to a horizontal plane that is open to the sun, no matter how high we go."

The courtyard was conceived as a buffer zone. While the north side is aimed at attracting people to the commercial space, the south side provides privacy for the residential space.

The bevelled façade

Aesthetically speaking, the buildings have a shard-like quality. They include sharp angles and jagged, almost harsh, lines at every turn. This, says Patel, was done purposely. The facades developed for the project are inspired by a vernacular vocabulary, which deals with the transformation of patterns, protection from the sun's rays and privacy.

To achieve the desired affect, Patel used various sizes of solid panels and glass. He had to continuously strive to balance between using all the space while ensuring the final product didn't look like a multi-coloured box. This aesthetic aim - as well as a Lusail initiative that said no more than 50% of the façade could be glass - combined to create the unique bevelled façade of the project.

"We accepted that challenge and decided that instead of just doing ribbons of glass windows, we would study woven patterns such as Bedouin rugs and tapestries," explains Patel. "Tilting the panels was a function of studying those woven patterns. We wanted to avoid a very flat or static image. We wanted something that would look very interesting as the sun and shadows moved throughout the day."

Although they might seem randomly placed, the bevelled pieces of the façade are the byproduct of a mathematical formula that can address any glass/façade requirement. "We developed a very simple module that allowed us to put in our main lines and infill the pattern," says Patel. "So with the module, we could determine where we wanted glass and where we wanted solid. By doing this, we could go anywhere from 5% to 90% glass."

The final word

The resulting composition of the building masses, which are unified with gardens, have the opportunity to create a landmark development for this site. The glass entrance volumes are wrapped in random lace-like patterns of metal to mimic the quality of light found in traditional souqs.

The residential buildings play with an array of stone, metal and glass to provide maximum views of the water from the units within. The facades create a dynamic image for the project and respond to the environmental conditions of the site by respecting traditional architectural concepts but delivering them in a modern, contemporary way.

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