Qatar seeks new solutions for construction challenges


Rapid economic growth, a multibillion-dollar construction portfolio and preparations for the 2022 FIFA World Cup have drawn industry professionals to Qatar to work on some of the most complex, high-value projects in the region. Project spending is expected to reach $182bn over the next five years, presenting a raft of design opportunities in tourism, infrastructure, sports and real estate, which will join projects currently under construction that include thousands of new hotel rooms, dozens of new shopping and entertainment centres, the Qatar National Museum and World Cup stadia.

These projects have provided opportunities for a number of international architects, master planners and design consultants, including the US-based AECOM, whose project portfolio includes Ras Bufontas Special Economic Zone, Qatar Petroleum’s headquarters and Al Wakrah Stadium; Spain’s RFA Fenwick Iribarren Architects, which is responsible for designing the Education City and Qatar Foundation stadia; and the UK’s Hyder Consulting, which is working on several urban planning initiatives, including highway design under Ashghal’s (the Public Works Authority) Expressway Programme. “Qatar wants everything big. There are many projects worth over $1bn. It is rare to work on projects of this scale, and it makes Doha a highly desirable destination for designers and architects,” Maher Chatila, country manager at Hyder Consulting, told OBG.

AUTHENTIC IDENTITY: On top of emphasising the importance of cultural preservation across all areas of development, Qatar National Vision 2030 includes an environmental pillar to guide future development. With this in mind, architects and urban planners are focusing on both the environmental (see green building analysis) and cultural impact of new projects. Burj Doha, for example, features a reflective glass façade surrounded by a screen, designed by famed architect Jean Nouvel along the lines of the Islamic mashrabiya.

Each of the four World Cup stadia designs unveiled in recent years incorporates a unique cultural theme or motif. Landscape architecture, too, is increasingly focusing on sustainability and cultural resonance. Developers and contractors have traditionally used artificial grass for landscaping in Qatar, but the rubber used in low-grade artificial grass contains lead and carcinogens.

In November 2014, landscape architect Hala Shiblaq called on designers and contractors to replace artificial turf with sand infill, as it reduces heat absorption and better preserves Qatar’s natural landscape.

BUILDING CHALLENGES: Although this mix of culture, history and modern functionality has made a dramatic impact on Doha’s landscape, translating design to reality brings challenges – particularly for those projects with the most eye-catching designs.

Currently under construction and scheduled to open in 2016, the Qatar National Museum is one of the most challenging builds in the Middle East. With a design based on the structure of a desert rose, the museum’s exterior comprises several interlocking glass-reinforced concrete panels. At the centre of the building is a large courtyard area providing what Nouvel, who also designed Burj Doha, has described as a modern day caravanserai, based on areas which traditionally served as resting places and commercial hubs across desert trade routes.

While the museum has some highly innovative design features, bringing Nouvel’s design to life is a challenge for Hyundai, which won the $434m construction contract in September 2011. The museum’s exterior discs are assembled in a hub-and-spoke arrangement. (https://almomento.net) Putting the pieces together requires a large number of workers, and the process is made more difficult by Qatar’s climate, which can see the structure’s steel components expand and contract by up to 15 mm daily; deviation in the exterior’s assembly is limited to just 2 mm, according to Qatar Construction News.

INNOVATION: As a result of complicated design and build requirements, stakeholders have increasingly embraced innovative technology as they work on Doha’s biggest projects. Most notable among the modern arsenal of design tools is business information modelling (BIM). BIM rose to prominence a decade ago, according to a report by Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar, offering developers and designers a competitive edge over traditional computer-aided design (CAD).

BIM uses a four-dimensional computer-generated model of a product or project, enabling data storage and usage in the platform’s fourth dimension. The model and all of its information are accessible throughout the project’s lifespan, making it an essential tool for all stakeholders. “CAD used to be the only platform you needed, but BIM is becoming a must-have. It is important for end-users as well as designers, as the finished project design and as-builts can be handed over through the contractor, loaded with detailed visual specifications for the client’s facility manager,” Chatila told OBG.

Using BIM, architects and engineers are able to accurately generate lists of materials and labour, and can also automate previously unpredictable factors, such as the effects of sunlight and weather on building exteriors. Reinforced concrete, for example, is often difficult to integrate across mechanical, electrical and plumbing services. However, BIM allows site supervisors to calculate the proper quantities of concrete more accurately and efficiently, without additional engineer training. In Qatar, where the cost of materials is expected to rise significantly in the lead-up to 2030 (see materials analysis), accurate estimates of materials requirements will be critical for the financial stability of contractors and developers alike. BIM also transcends language barriers, essential for a multilingual work environment, and helps all stakeholders to understand budget costs and bolster returns on investment. “Design-and-build contracts have created an environment where everyone must work together,” Mohamed Abdel Aziz, the CEO of CEG International, told OBG.

BIM IN ACTION: The cost benefits of adopting such technology are significant. Advancements in BIM software allowed the Qatar National Museum’s structural team to create wire-frame geometry as it designed 250,000 distinct steel elements, enabling Hyundai to accurately price the design, and will help keep the project on track to open in 2016. At the Mohanna Trade Centre, developer Najeeb Mohammed Al Nuaimi told local media that he saved $40m using BIM. Designers were able to add four additional floors to the tower by using BIM to reduce ceiling height by 20 cm.

Qatar’s $45bn Lusail City, meanwhile, is employing BIM for construction projects including four high-rise buildings, a 500-villa island development and three marinas, with the developers able to incorporate BIM in construction and planning, even though the city’s design phase had largely been finalised prior to the platform’s introduction. Using previous two-dimensional design plans, BIM is able to identify “clashes,” for example overlapping sewage and electrical systems, offering contractors updates on potential challenges and enabling greater flexibility during the build. In the near future, architects and engineers may be able to use mobile devices and on-site augmented reality to relay real-time updates on projects to head offices, making BIM the preferred choice for ambitious builds in Qatar, and helping to keep projects on time and on budget.