Best of the Burjs

Oliver Ephgrave visits Jean Nouvel’s Burj Qatar, recently deemed the best tower in the Middle East and Africa region by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat

The striking cylindrical form of Burj Qatar has been a familiar part of Doha’s West Bay skyline for quite some time, yet the functions and appearance of the interior have remained somewhat of a mystery.

Although construction started way back in 2005, at the time of our site visit in mid July, contractor Casco was yet to complete the final handover to operator Hamad bin Saoud (HBS). Given that the 828m Burj Khalifa took five years to construct, there’s no getting around the fact that Jean Nouvel’s 232m tower has taken its time to complete.

The Frenchman’s Doha-based architect partner and area manager Hafid Rakem explains that the tower encountered financial and structural challenges. “We had many problems with the contractor – mainly financial. It made a quote for the facade and then realised it was very complex, so there were disputes.

“Construction began in 2005 but it was very slow at the start. It didn’t really get going until 2008. In addition, the structure was a challenge; the diagrid structure is uncommon, as is the facade.”

When viewed from Doha’s Corniche, the tower may look uncomplicated and almost austere. However, the intricacies become apparent up close. The delicate lattice-like facade, inspired by the traditional Islamic mashrabiya sun screen, is a standout facet.

Rakem explains that the star-shaped pattern was taken from a column in a local mosque. He continues: “From afar you view the facade as a single item. Up close you get the detail, the layers and the thickness.
“Jean Nouvel used the mashrabiya to create a relation with the exterior and a play with shadows.

Unfortunately the Middle East has many ‘aquarium towers’ which are not transparent and have no interaction with outside. Here, the mashrabiya allows us to have clear glass, which is an exception in Qatar.”

Sunken below street level, the entrance to the building is quite unlike other towers. Rakem continues: “The approach for the entrance was a big point of discussion. If you look at other towers, they have a door and you enter; here it is gradual.

The concept is a crater – you go down below the street and this allows you to disconnect from the other towers. The trees are the same level as the pergola so there is an interaction between the manmade and the natural. This is Nouvel’s approach to landscaping.”

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