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Wed 19 May 2010 04:00 AM

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Qatari ambition

There is plenty of opportunity in Qatar - just make sure that you stand out from the crowd, says Selina Denman.

Qatari ambition

An abundant supply of natural resources, coupled with a bullish approach to development, is making Qatar an interesting proposition for designers.

A couple of high-profile ‘anchor' projects are currently emerging in the country, and speak volumes about Qatar's unique, more culturally-sensitive approach to development. Dohaland's Musheireb project, for example, will see a huge section of the capital city of Doha being rebuilt in an attempt to reduce urban sprawl. "Skyscrapers and isolated living compounds are not the communities we aspire to in Doha. We therefore decided to revive our past, rediscover our traditions and regenerate the communities we have lost in this world," said Issa Al Mohannadi, CEO, Dohaland. "We will do this by combining the spirit and aesthetic of yesterday with the environmentally-friendly and sustainable know-how of tomorrow."

Groundbreaking on the mixed-use development, which will contain 226 buildings and be home to some 27,600 residents, took place in January. The project will also have a dedicated tramway, with a combination of commercial and residential properties, and retail, cultural and entertainment areas.

Spread across 350,000 m², Musheireb will be completed in a total of five phases, with the first phase due for completion by 2012 and the entire project due to be ready by 2016.

Work on a new mixed-use development in Lusail, Qatar's newest city, is also set to commence this year, following KEO International Consultants' design contract win at the beginning of March. The waterfront project, valued at around $800 million, will offer 160,000m² of commercial space, 130,000m² of office space and 30,000m² for retail.

A residential area covers a further 87,000m² and comprises 640 apartments as well as 27 four-bedroom townhouses. KEO is also providing project management services to the development, which is yet to be named.

While Qatar presents undeniable opportunity for interior designers, it is likely that larger, more established firms with an international presence will benefit first, suggested Bivas P Mishra, managing partner - strategic planning, at the Dubai-based 3 Square Interior Design. "There will be more competition for fewer jobs at this moment.

"Also, as a market, I think we will find that the more ‘glamorous' jobs will be awarded to larger, more established firms, as compared to boutique firms, largely due to many companies playing it safe and going with established names who have an international or regional presence, as opposed to being more UAE-based," he predicted.

David Rees, managing director of Luxe Interior, agreed. "All Middle East markets are difficult to break into these days. The main hurdle is that clients are only interested in companies who have a proven track record and have been in the market for a few years. New companies are seen as a risk, and I guess given the number of new companies that didn't survive the downturn, clients are right to be cautious.

"All markets are very tough at the moment," he reiterated. "Clients are driving really hard bargains on fees and have very high expectations of service. Qatar is no different from anywhere else in this regard," he noted.

Luxe Design is currently working on its first job in Qatar, a Carluccio's restaurant. "Many years ago, our design director developed the original Carluccio's design concept in the UK.

"Given that heritage, when Landmark brought the brand to region, we were the natural choice to design the new outlets," said Rees. "The design has just started, and will be complete and signed off within six weeks. We are also in discussion with one of the main hotels in Qatar for some new restaurant concepts, although, at this stage we can't disclose details," he revealed.

The secret to breaking the Qatari market is making yourself distinguishable, Rees suggested. "Knocking on doors is soul destroying and will rarely lead to anything solid," he warned. "Find a point of difference, and market this as your USP. There is still enough activity in Qatar for newcomers."

Selina Denman is the editor of Commercial Interior Design.

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