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Qatar Today Cover Story: Interview with Dr. Youssef Mohamed AlHorr

1. What, according to you, are the key architectural landmarks in the city?

Nowadays a key architectural landmark is not just the beautiful, famous and most visited structure but rather those buildings which have a direct impact on the natural environment, the economy and human health.

As a matter of fact, sustainable architectural landmarks provide environmental benefits (enhance and conserve flora/fauna, biodiversity and ecosystems, conserve and restore natural and non-renewable resources, improve air, land and water quality, increase energy efficiency while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, reduce waste production), economic benefits (reduce operating and maintenance costs, create new opportunities and markets for green products and services, improve occupant productivity, faster occupancy rate and lower turnover rate) and social benefits (enhance human comfort and health, reduce strain on local infrastructure, improve quality of life and preserve cultural identity).

These benefits can only be achieved through responsible architecture; the way buildings are designed, constructed and operated.

To directly answer your question, I personally look at Lusail City as the heart of sustainability development in Qatar. The city represents the seed for a paradigm shift in green architecture; or as we say, green architectural landmark.

BARWA City, led the way in being amongst the first, if not the first, cities whose master plan is designed and implemented in accordance with green concepts. In fact the project has just received Qatar Sustainability Assessment System (QSAS) certification.

2. Anything that you would change in the current development plans?

One of the most important challenges facing real estate and construction companies is the issue of sustainable development or ‘green building’.

Sustainable Development is one of the key principles stated in Qatar’s National Vision 2030, which calls for the private and public sectors to have active engagement in sustainable development initiatives alongside the Government.

To achieve the environmental aims of Qatar's National Vision 2030, it is highly recommended to capitalise on what has been already achieved internationally and build on it. In other words, now is the right time to move the application of sustainability and green building practices from optional to compulsory status while introducing a Qatari-made mechanism supported by regulations and incentives.

Lately, the two conglomerate real estate players – BARWA Real Estate and Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Company – announced the adoption of green building philosophy; selecting Qatar Sustainability Assessment System (QSAS) as the rating system.

Being mentioned several times in our interview, QSAS is a rating system developed by BARWA & Qatari Diar Research Institute (BQDRI), in collaboration with University of Pennsylvania and Georgia Tech School of Architecture. The system aims at creating a sustainable urban environment to reduce the environmental impacts while satisfying local community needs.

Through QSAS, BQDRI strives to facilitate opportunities to introduce state of the art sustainable concepts to help architects/ engineers, contractors and operators to design, construct and operate projects/ properties that reduce energy consumption, conserve water supplies and protect our environment for future generations.

3. How do you see Doha in another 15 years?

Allow me to rephrase the question; how do I see Doha in the coming 5 years?

Based on Qatar's National Vision 2030 and the commitment of the private and public sector and government bodies, Qatar's real estate scene is experiencing continuous developments reflecting the state's fast economic growth while keeping environmental matters a priority.

BQDRI, with the development of QSAS, came in response to HH Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Emir of Qatar, calling for the public and private sectors to introduce initiatives to help create a better environment: “One such pressing crisis is that of finding energy alternatives. Another similarly vital question is that of the climate change and its impact on the environment and life on this planet."

Qatar, hence, will become, if it is not the case now, the construction hot-spot of the Gulf with 800 buildings planned for Doha in the next few years. I hope Qatar undertakes a coordinated response to address the environmental impact of building construction and promoting the design of efficient green buildings via the BQDRI, so that in the coming years Qatar leads not only the Gulf but the whole world in building a sustainable society.

4. How will architecture change the way outsiders see Qatar?

The international market looks at Qatar as the region's economic capital; especially with the economic boom supported by its expanding production of natural gas and oil.

The wise economic decisions of His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, the Heir Apparent and the Qatari government to encourage local and international investment in Qatar will ensure the country’s remarkable economic growth remains strong in the coming years.

Whilst we expect to see strong performances from the country’s established financial, construction and energy sectors, government economic policy is focused increasingly on the development of Qatar while preserving its natural resources. In other words, developing Qatar's economy is equivalent to saving Qatar's environment.

While the whole world is committed to be part of the United Nations efforts to protect our planet, Qatar is committed to take a leading part in this wave.

What is important to realize is that more and more educated people are influenced by environmental issues. So it’s not only architectural appearance that will be considered but also the environmental impact of a building’s design, construction and day-to-day operation. BQDRI is assisting developers of existing buildings and new construction projects to ensure their project meets recognized sustainability standards so the world views Qatar as an international leader in both architectural creativity and sustainable development.

5. Do you think the infrastructure of the country matches the development that the country is making?

It is doubtful that any city on earth is developing at the pace of Doha. And the geographical transformation Doha is experiencing means it is inevitable that not all parts of the city will move forward at the same pace. We witness fantastic achievements on an almost daily basis and the important thing is for those in decision making positions to consider the wider implications of what they are doing, and to move forward with joined up thinking.

Allow me to grasp this opportunity to express my deep appreciation to active bodies such as the Urban Planning Development Authority, Kahramaa, Ashghal, QSTP, Qatar 2022 and others; for their efforts to further position Qatar amongst the few countries that combine economic growth alongside preserving the environment.

6. Do we have enough or what should be done to make the transport system more streamlined?

Ask yourself what are the major hubs within the city? Where do people interconnect? Let’s say Airport, West Bay, B and C Ring Roads, Al Waab Street and Salwa Road. Once we agree on the key urban touch points, it is much easier to design a world class transport infrastructure that connects into and out of these places.

Kindly allow me to add a sustainable flavor to my answer. Urban connectivity or “UC" consists of factors associated with the urban environment such as zoning, transportation networks and loadings. Loadings on the urban environment include traffic congestion, pollution, and waste/sewage infrastructure.

The environmental impacts of UC are the result of unsustainable practices that include Climate Change, Fossil Fuel Depletion, Water Depletion, Land Use & Contamination, Water & Air Pollution, Human Comfort & Health

Thinking green, there are factors that could mitigate the environmental impacts when it comes to UC. Minimizing the load on the transportation infrastructure, developing efficient above and below ground roads and walkways, controlling the amount of light emitting from and noise produced, encouraging the use of public transportation and developing in proximity to existing amenities, and preventing any risks or pollution to water sources. Considering the above in relation to the transport system, our responsibility is to be able to offer a solid system while complying with the essential elements of the urban environment.

7. What according to you will make a country architecturally self sufficient?

When we first thought about Research & Development in environmental studies, we first came across the fact that Qatar is the hot-spot of construction in the GCC allowing us to explore opportunities within the built-environment. Hence, QSAS was born as an integrated sustainability assessment for green buildings, such as LEED & BREEM. It includes (1) design guidelines, (2) high performance benchmarking tools, and (3) automated governance system prepared based on objective standards in line with the latest global specifications. Accordingly, it is the only integrated sustainability assessment system that is developed in the Middle East. It is regionally well-positioned to be in the main driver of green buildings concept.

Innovations like QSAS – now adopted by visionary companies BARWA and Qatari Diar for all their future projects – is putting Qatar at the forefront in the increasingly important sustainable development sector. As the world rightly becomes more and more concerned with the effect human development has on the environment, the region will look to QSAS as a world class sustainable development rating system that takes into account the specific needs of GCC countries.

8. What are the essential architectural elements of a successfully designed city?

Without exception it is the unique details and component parts that together form the architectural style of houses, buildings and structures that combine to define not only the landscape but the ‘soul’ of a successful city.

Whilst it is important for the status of Qatar to create steel and glass towers to symbolize its vibrant, modern Central Business District, elsewhere there is a need to merge local characteristics of Doha’s natural environment, culture, heritage, lifestyles to create an architectural style that is uniquely Qatari.

For me, the essential architectural elements of a successfully designed city are when we place sustainability development amongst our priorities. In other words, we should consider Urban Connectivity, site, energy, water, materials, indoor environment, cultural & economic value and management & operations in essential criteria in all future designs.

9. What do you think of the quality of construction of the small housing entities within Doha?

Let us be honest: the quality of construction is directly related to the quality of the workforce, the material used and the time given for construction.

Allow me to address this question from an environmental angle. The built environment contributes to air pollution, land use and contamination, fossil fuel depletion, water depletion, water pollution, materials depletion, impacts on human health, and climate change. The quality of construction for me is a synonym for responsible design, construction and building operations. The latter three are of too much importance to the quality of construction as they mitigate the negative effects of the built- environment allowing us to life is a better environment for life.

BARWA City, for instance, was lately honored the QSAS certification. The project didn’t score high, yet and with no doubt, BARWA City is now classified amongst the landmark sustainable projects in Qatar and across the region.

Being one of the largest projects under constructed in Qatar, BARWA City, built on more than two and a half million square meters, offers GREEN residential units for more than thirty five thousand people. The city, lately being QSAS certified, will utilize district cooling plants to provide air conditioning, central gas network, and central TV channels system. BARWA City offers apartments and other facilities including health clubs, commercial compounds, parks, playgrounds and multi usage buildings, banks, a two hundred fifty-bed hospital, schools, nurseries and a hotel. With its size and compliance with sustainable elements, BARWA City, is now positioned amongst the first few sustainable cities across Qatar and the region.

10. Do you think there is the need of a framework which governs the aesthetics of all buildings within Qatar should be in place?

Personally speaking, aesthetics is equivalent to being GREEN while preserving the national identity.

As mentioned previously, cultural & economic value consists of factors associated with cultural conservation and support of the local economy. QSAS, being differentiated from other imported practiced rating systems in the region, considered national identity as one of the main categories with a load of 13% from the total impact of the build environment in Qatar.

The environmental impacts of ignoring this category or even enforcing it through an imported system could cause Loss of cultural identity and economic stagnancy or decline. Impacts can be mitigated by encouraging designs to align with cultural identity and traditions, designing for a seamless integration into the existing cultural fabric and planning for the use of local materials and workforce.

This is where a complex sustainable development rating system such as QSAS can be of immense help. Based on thorough analysis of 140 international sustainable development systems and toolkits, QSAS responds to urgent issues such as preserving the architectural identity of Qatar and the region, as well as enhancing creative solutions to address other challenges like water scarcity and lack of non-hydrocarbon raw materials.

I will take this opportunity to express my grateful thanks to Eng. Ibrahim Mohamed Jaidah for his efforts in putting together a book titled: THE HISTORY OF QATARI ARCHITECTURE (FROM 1800 TO 1950).

11. Sketch what your dream version of Doha. What would it look like in an ideal world? Why?

Doha will evolve into the Gulf’s Green Capital. All green aspects will be seen throughout the city’s built environment, beginning with large scale development through high-rise sustainable buildings and ending with residential homes which consume less energy and integrate renewable resources throughout. Moreover, I can foresee a city where residents and visitors open their eyes and use resources wisely to save our environment so that future generations can enjoy what we are blessed with.