British architectural practice John McAslan and Partners has completed two schemes within the Heritage Quarter of Msheireb Downtown Doha, which is being billed as the world’s first sustainable downtown regeneration project.
The new Jumaa Mosque and the transformation of a group of historic heritage houses are key elements in Msheireb Properties’ Dhs20.17 billion development, which covers 31 hectares in the centre of the city and also includes the provision of premier office space, retail and leisure facilities, townhouses, apartments and hotels – as well as civic services and cultural and entertainment venues.
This area has always been the anchor of religious and political power for the local population, and the design combines Modernism elements with an historical arrangement of volumes and spaces.
Classical Islamic precedent informs the double-square plan form design of the mosque, as well as local traditions that have used orientation, shading, natural ventilation and water to create environments for prayer.
The perfect cube building is constructed of crisp white stone, while metal Islamic patterned gates enclose the entrance pavilion and courtyard.
Within the prayer hall a perforated, patterned roof allows dappled natural light to illuminate the prayer hall, and a colonnade of stone wraps the courtyard on both sides with a pond creating a sense of calm and contemplation.
Regional limestone has been used as cladding, and Qatari stone acts as accent banding to the courtyard floor.
The mosque has been designed to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold standard, and utilises passive and active sustainable techniques, including solar hot water heaters and photovoltaics.
The stone minaret is circular in section and tapers towards the top, requiring each course of stones to be cut differently to achieve the overall form, due to its reducing radius.
Four historic houses, meanwhile, have been remodelled and extended to accommodate state-of-the-art museum environments that showcase key elements of Qatari culture.
The architectural responses are specific to the individual elements of Company House, Bin Jelmood House, Mohammed Bin Jassim House and Radwani House – but they also share a common thread that ensures a cohesive visitor experience.
The architects stated that creating museums within existing buildings “is always challenging, requiring a forensic understanding of original building fabrics” and the way these structures relate to their environment.
Key interventions, enabling them to operate as modern attractions in terms of circulation and environmental conditioning, included enclosing a number of previously external courtyards and providing additional accommodation.
Respect also had to be paid to the age of Google and the iPad, with interactive exhibition displays helping bring history to life, communicating the experience, artefacts and meanings of the past to a 21st-Century audience.
Clear distinctions have been made between historic original fabric and new build, creating a clarity to the architectural language of the project.
The overall object of the entire Msheireb project is to reverse the pattern of development in Doha, which up to now has been based on isolated land use and a reliance on the car for transportation and energy-hungry structures.
It is hoped that the Heritage Quarter will become a new social and civic hub in the city centre, with vehicles and traditional services being strategically placed underground in several basement levels to ensure a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere.
A dedicated tramway will also serve the project.