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Is Downtown Doha the most sustainable city district in the world?

Is Downtown Doha the most sustainable city district in the world?

The Gulf is not currently known as a haven of sustainability with its cars, petrodollars and super skyscrapers. But this region is very keen to turn over a new green leaf. One such example is Downtown Doha.

This massive project in the centre of the Qatari capital will eventually produce one of the most eco-friendly city districts in the world. The 35 hectare development won the World Architecture Future Prize Award back in 2012 and is now moving towards final completion. It features such tropes as solar panels, shaded streets, and LEED gold level buildings (meaning they are energy efficient at the top level). There is also a supply of non-potable water for toilet flushing supplied by an innovative reverse osmosis plant.

Architects including Gensler, and Britain's Allies & Morrison and Eric Parry worked on the huge scheme, which includes residential, culture and shopping. At its heart, there's an innovative eco-friendly luxury boutique hotel, the MGallery Alwadi, developed by French hoteliers Accor, which borrows from the traditions of Qatari architecture to keep rooms and public spaces naturally cool.

Related | What makes Amsterdam’s first sustainable hotel so special?

Downtown Doha includes a station on Doha's boxfresh Metro which opened this May. Germany's Tricon and DB along with France's RATP and Keolis have been heavily involved in the new Metro. The new Downtown Doha (Msheireb) station is an interchange at the centre of network, ferrying people across the city – and eventually football fans for the World Cup in 2022. The will drastically reduce car use in the city, and moreover a tram lines circles the entire Downtown Doha district, transporting people between different parts of the site. Clark Williams of developers Msheireb explained to Euronews living the background to this ambitious project.

Tell us why Downtown Doha is one of the world's most sustainable districts?

“It is the smartest, most sustainable fully-build city district in the world. Every single building is LEED* gold or platinum certified. It is targeted as the largest concentration of LEED gold or platinum certifications in one project in the world. We know that this record is something that will probably not be broken since building to LEED certification adds 20-25% on the building and development costs. Therefore constructing every single building to LEED certification is not pursued by most developers since they have a single-minded interest in providing a profitable return to their shareholders and building sustainable buildings is an expense not easily returned through elevated consumer pricing.”

Is being green important to you?

“Yes. Streets are oriented to capture cool breezes from the Gulf and shade most pedestrian routes from the hot sun. Buildings are massed to shade one another and light coloured to reduce cooling requirements. Abundant solar energy captured through photovoltaic solar panels and solar hot water panels on rooftops will be used to generate electricity and heat water within buildings. Installing efficient irrigation systems and planting many native species adapted to survive in dry conditions reduces landscape irrigation requirements. A diversity of uses, integration with Doha’s new Metro and a safe and convenient public realm encourages both cycling and walking. Placing of cars and service delivery vehicles underground via several basement levels ensures a pedestrian friendly atmosphere.”

What innovations are architects pioneering here?

“The architectural language of the development was developed as a three year collaboration by some of the world’s leading architects, academics and urban planners. Msheireb Properties defined the core discoveries of this research effort in the ‘Seven Steps’ – a declaration for an entirely new architectural language that would take Qatar’s architectural development into the future. The Seven Steps integrate the spirit and aesthetics of Qatari architecture with the best that sustainable design and modern technology have to offer. Ultimately, it aims to restore the uniqueness of Qatar’s built environment and the strong social ties that once defined Qatari society. The ideas embodied in ‘Seven Steps’ emphasize social integration through urban design - focusing on extended families, kinship ties, social activity, local economy, collective identity, and an elevated awareness of the environment. An intensive three year research process went into all aspects of Qatari architecture, including materials, designs, layouts and decorations, as well as underlying concepts such as durability, functionality and aesthetics.”

Do you look at things like public transport?

“Connectivity is one of the key elements of sustainability. This connectivity is related into how people connect with their environment. This is a 'walking city', and we encourage walking through the development of the streets and their alignment with the sun to provide shade. We have a Tram that loops around the development in a 2.5 kilometre track. This sustainable, battery operated Tram provides our own public transport system for the development. We are also connected to Doha's largest Metro station - Msheireb Station.”

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Do you want to make Downtown Doha 'liveable' too?

“Smart and Sustainable cities would be nothing if they were not livable. That is why our development went through 3 years of design during the Masterplan stage. It was the emphasis on livability that was key to providing the foundation for building smart and sustainable.”

Is it the world's greenest district?

“Difficult to claim we are the greenest in the world since there is no evidence or research done in this area to prove a top list. For example, the most ‘green’ and sustainable building to development would probably be a flat, windowless warehouse. It is inexpensive to build according to sustainability parameters, the flat roof provides the best and largest area possible for providing solar energy, the windowless walls do not let in heat (summer) or cold (winter) for better climate energy consumption. But would providing this building to be part of a smart and sustainable city district be the most livable and viable? Therefore, we claim we are the smartest and most sustainable fully-build city district in the world because we combine the highest concentration of sustainable building in one city district that are all completely interconnected on our smart city infrastructure. We are not a masterplan. We are fully built.”

Obviously construction itself is bad for the environment - how do you mitigate this?

“Any activity that uses energy is worse for the environment than using no energy or leaving no carbon footprint. But if the output of the labour is a product that provides ongoing and future energy and water savings, then mitigation of the construction could be offset by future gains in sustainability.”

Words: Christopher Beanland