Duncan Parker, principal at Woods Bagot, shares his thoughts on the Middle East’s latest hotspot.
What is special about Qatar as a destination?
Right now the special aspect of visiting Qatar is the feeling of energy in the place. I am a business traveler, rather than a tourist, so I speak from that point of view. As a professional services company we are constantly meeting developers and government representatives there that have enthusiastic visions for the country. There is a sense of expectation in the air.
What are your favourite buildings in Qatar and why?
I will be biased and say that the (Woods Bagot designed) Qatar Science & Technology Park is my favourite building in Qatar. We enjoyed working with the Qatar Foundation to create the hub of the R&D community for the country. The Museum of Islamic Art, designed by I.M. Pei, is superb. I admire its respect of the Islamic geometrical dimensions, and particularly the interior exhibition spaces.
What are the best places to see in Qatar and why?
The Museum of Islamic Art, the wild desert areas and the original souks are the most interesting parts that I’ve seen so far.
What will Qatar be like in 10 -12 years?
Qatar is striving to increase its engagement with the global community. There seems to be a genuine effort to develop cultural and non-petrochemical industries in Qatar over time. The nation also appears to be committed to the encouragement of quality public discourse and popular media. A good example of this is Al Jazeera, which has become one of the most important broadcasters in the Arab world.
What do you think of the stadium designs for the World Cup?
The regeneration of the existing stadia and the ability to re-deploy portions of the structure to developing nations is the most impressive part of the masterplan. From my point of view the greatest challenge for designing so many facilities is ensuring that the stadia complement the cities’ overall masterplans and are integrated into the urban environment. I guess we would like to see less car park space and more inclusion of the upcoming metro system to cater for the events.
Is Qatar a good place to host the World Cup?
This is a contentious issue with many opinions on all sides. There are other cities that are bidding for similar world events that perhaps cannot afford them, so in this respect Qatar is a ‘good place’. The way I look at it is that Qatar can afford the development cost, and it will act as a catalyst for growth for the nation. The sports development is symbiotic with its residential, tourism, educational and industrial growth plans.
What are the biggest challenges for Qatar?
Any nation that drives its growth as aggressively as Qatar will strain its ability to keep all factors growing organically. The risk is of price bubbles in real estate and service costs that are not sustainable. Qatar still has strict immigration rules that may need review to drive the commercial success for the long term.
How does Qatar compare to the UAE?
Woods Bagot has been working in both nations since the 90s, and have seen similar evolutions . In fact, Doha combines the quest for a commercial CBD environment such as Dubai, but also the cultural developments of Abu Dhabi. In a way, we can see the beginnings of the construction and infrastructure boom happening in Doha that we have witnessed in the UAE. At the moment I would say that Dubai still has an advantage in terms of the ‘soft’ infrastructure that cities provide, such as schooling, accommodation and lifestyle, but Doha is improving quickly.