by MZ Architect, was the winner for regeneration and master-planning
AwardWorld Architecture Festival 2012 – Shortlisted
The masterplan of the Valley City–Qatar (VCQ) has emerged from an in-depth understanding and analysis of the existing urban morphology and social structure of Qatari cities.
Inspired by vernacular Qatari architecture, the VCQ is envisioned as a modern low-cost city designed to attract middle-income Qatari citizens as well as expatriates and their families. Located on a 3 million-sqm plot in the heart of the desert, between the historic cities of Doha and Al Khor, this new city’s main goal is to cater to the housing needs of the low and middle-income inhabitants of Qatar while achieving sustainable architecture with a low environmental impact.
Social and economical guidelines
The housing issues surfaced in Qatar mainly with the 2002 economical boom which lead to a huge influx of expatriate workforce.
Available accommodation solutions were limited to high-priced large individual houses and limited number of medium-size apartments located in family-oriented residential buildings. Smaller housing units were almost inexistent.
This shortage in affordable small-size rental accommodation created an important problem for both expatriates with limited income who aimed at saving fair amounts of money, and young middle-income Qatari nationals seeking to live in a modern lifestyle.
The specific needs of these categories of the population are addressed through the low-cost yet modern quality housing solutions proposed by the VCQ.
Vernacular architecture and Chaos Theory
Unlike the current trend of futuristic high-tech city projects, the VCQ retrieves its architectural guidelines from the traditional Qatari cities, trying to recapture the simplicity of their urban fabric.
Traditionally, most Qatari cities were located directly on the coastline as they were pearl-fishing and trading centers, before the industry of oil and gas took over the country’s economy in the 1940s. The situation of the urban settlements next to the sea, capturing the prevailing winds and sea breezes, ensured a cooler weather and allowed the citizens to live in harmony with nature.
The development of Qatari vernacular architecture started with mono-cellular housing structures that responded over time to the growth of families and their related interests and, as such, grew in a progressive but unstructured manner as the relationships grew and changed. The house, adjoined to other neighboring houses thus created an agglomeration, that when repeated, formed the City.
In appearance, the plan of these traditional cities looks irregular and chaotic, similarly to most Arab cities. Indeed, one can observe irregularity in their geometry and urban fabric, with absence of straight lines, tight development with narrow alleyways separating the residential units, chaotically interconnecting buildings and encroachments on public spaces.
However, this chaos becomes more structured once one enters the city in depth and reaches the basic units, the mono-cellular houses. A phenomenon recalling the Bifurcation Diagram in Chaos Theory.
Analysis shows that this chaotic urban morphology is the result of the Islamic laws of succession and their mechanisms of subdivision. Properties were subdivided according to a refined and elaborate system of shares prescribed by Islamic jurists. Most property was subject to successive subdivisions until minimum but functional parts were arrived at: the basic ‘workable’ nucleus unit, the one room space.
Successive iterations of subdivision over the course of decades gave a fractal character to the cities and thus became the main source of their complexity and chaos.
When taken over a long period of time span – time of development of a city, this initial simple function consequently produces at later stages a complex morphology as is know in Chaos Theory.
Accordingly, Chaos Theory provided the foundation and mathematical tool for the development of the VCQ master plan which obeys the same law of iterative method as the traditional Islamic city.
Sustainable and green architecture
Established with sustainable and green standards, the VCQ masterplan maximizes the use of the natural elements of wind, water and sun, and minimizes the financial building costs.
Set in the heart of the desert, the VCQ faces a strong desert wind. Hence the proposed urban grid is built perpendicular to the wind trajectory, allowing it to hit the city and initiate a circulating movement throughout the urban structure in a sequence of chaotic curves: the Heighway dragon curve.
The path generated by the wind turbulences leads to the development of a linear city with a green valley crossing it.
As the catalytic core of the city, the valley area incorporates all vital public spaces of the city, ranging from central piazzas with street greenery, leisure and culture areas, sports facilities, commercial zones, open-air markets, green parks as well as public transportation stations. Set within walking distance from all the residential neighborhoods and offering car-free shaded pedestrian areas, the valley introduces a socially integrated lifestyle throughout the hot and cold seasons.
The residential approach of the city creates independent neighborhoods on both sides of the main valley, served by a peripheral road connecting them to each other and to the main highway to Doha.
The city offers all the benefits of an energy saving city throughout its design and building material: narrow roads providing shading and lessening the effect of hot daytime sun; green roofs protecting buildings from direct sun; strategically oriented streets and public spaces; maximum usage of windows for fresh air. The design thus enhances the feeling of the well-being in the city and creates its microclimates.
The VCQ could further develop towards the desert from one side and towards the sea from the other side, creating a marina as well as a commercial harbor. A water transport service could also be envisioned from the VCQ harbor to the center of Doha and eventually to Doha airport. The VCQ harbor would then be linked to the proposed public transport lanes that serve the different neighborhoods within the city.
With plans for 20,000 low-cost residential units, the VCQ is designed to be within the means of the general public and is set to become the homeland of more than 60,000 middle-income Qatari and expatriate inhabitants.