Like many of its neighbours in the Gulf, Qatar has seen the negative effects of the international economic downturn begin to fade over the past year. In the coming decade the local real estate market is expected to benefit from massive government infrastructure spending, a steadily expanding population and preparations for the 2022 World Cup.
With this in mind, local developers are justifiably optimistic about the future. At the same time, over the past few years it has become clear that the regional real estate market has changed drastically and permanently as a result of the downturn. Many of the large-scale prestigious projects that were launched all over the Gulf in the pre-crisis years have since been put on hold or cancelled altogether.
Demand for luxury buildings – both residential and offices – has fallen off. Instead, developers are moving into a handful of new niche areas, including middle-income and affordable housing, culture-related development, family-oriented projects and transport infrastructure, for example.
Building practices are also in the process of changing. Sustainable construction methods, in particular, have moved centre-stage in the region in recent years. “Green” buildings have become increasingly common in major urban centres around the world over the past decade.
Until recently, the Middle East real estate sector has lagged behind more developed markets – primarily the US, the EU and East Asia – in this area. Over the past few years, however, substantial investments in large-scale projects in a number of Gulf countries have boosted the region’s reputation for green building in a big way. Primarily as a result of government-led initiatives, Qatar has come to play a leading role in the burgeoning sustainable development segment.
The country took a major step forward in late 2010, when the government issued a mandate requiring that all new buildings going up in the country adhere to the Qatar Sustainability Assessment System (QSAS), a green building ratings scheme that has been in development in the country since 2009. Overseen by the Gulf Organisation for Research and Development (GORD), a non-profit organisation with government backing, QSAS is the first custom-designed standards regime for green construction in the Middle East.
GORD, which was known as the Barwa and Qatari Diar Research Institute until it was rebranded in early 2011, was established in 2009 with a mandate to develop a sustainability ratings system for the country. While GORD led development on the project, the organisation benefitted from the assistance of a wide variety of collaborators and partners, including the Ministry of Environment and the University of Pennsylvania’s TC Chan Centre, which carries out research, development projects and education initiatives on a wide variety of topics related to sustainability, technology and the built environment.
QSAS is the result of an in-depth study of 150 green building codes from around the world. The system is organised into eight categories, namely urban connectivity, site, energy, water, materials, indoor environment, cultural and economic value, and management and operations. Each category is further divided into a series of individual criteria, for each of which buildings are assigned a score of -1 to 3.
Since late 2010, developers have been required to meet GORD-issued standards, which vary depending on real estate segment. The organisation has issued QSAS standards for a wide variety of segments, including commercial buildings, schools, residential projects, mosques, hotels, light industry, construction, sports and core and shell builds, among others. In general, QSAS standards seek to minimise buildings’ ecological and environmental impact while addressing Qatar’s specific needs, both culturally and economically.
If all goes according to plan, by 2020 most of the buildings in Qatar will meet the standards outlined in QSAS. Many major projects are already being developed with the system in mind. Barwa and Qatari Diar, two of the country’s largest real estate developers (not to mention the co-founders of GORD), have adopted QSAS standards in all of their projects, including Lusail City, a massive development 15 km north of Doha.
Additionally, the government’s Public Works Authority (Ashghal) and General Electricity and Water Corporation (Kahramaa) have both pledged to develop all future projects with QSAS standards in mind. With the government and a handful of the largest developers in Qatar on board, QSAS is expected to have a major impact on Qatar’s overall environmental impact in the coming years.