Streets of Doha on Southwark Street

The London Festival of Architecture is looking at a series of international comparators this year, places abroad where we can learn from. Doha is the focus of one such exploration by us at Allies and Morrison with the British Council. We have organised Streets of Doha, an exhibition that features the contributions of young designers from the UK and the Gulf who participated in the Unlimited Doha Design Prize residency in March of this year. 

Under the theme of ‘The Open City’, 22 design residents identified opportunities to improve accessibility and stimulate regeneration in two neighbourhoods in the inner city. Allies and Morrison was lead facilitator for the residency and our work at Msheireb Downtown Doha was used as a case study for them to learn from. This casting of the Venturian lens on a city like Doha could easily be an exercise in self-rumination for a bunch of London architects. Why? Because we are all doing so much work there. 

Start with Msheireb. This is a centre-city regeneration project widely seen as an exemplar for compact planning and culturally sustainable design. It’s an important statement in a car-centric, rapidly changing region that urgently needs to urbanise differently. It’s also a whole new part of the city that is being created largely by London practices. Its masterplan and architectural language was first set by us at Allies and Morrison, working with the London offices of landscape architects and urbanists EDAW (now part of Aecom) and Arup. We went on to design a number of buildings, and so have others such as John McAslan + Partners, Squire & Partners, Eric Parry Architects, Adjaye Associates, Mossessian Architecture, the London offices of Gensler and HOK. For all practices involved, these projects have been very rewarding. 

Grimshaw’s commissions in Doha led to setting up a whole new office there. Across the city, many of our practices are making a mark. Small studios like Mangera Yvars Architects or London-based designers such as Erik Behrens have been able to take centre stage in grand projets like Education City or Lusail. Then there’s the 2022 World Cup investment. Zaha’s stadium, anyone? Foster + Partners, Populous, and many of our best engineers are working on the World Cup as well. Other types of design consultants are also getting interesting work. From the bijou – say, Malcolm Reading running Qatar Museum’s design contests – to the decidedly burlesque – Aecom’s London landscape team taking on (what is likely) the single largest landscape commission in the world, the Qatar Public Realm.

The journey from the Clerkenwell studio to the lobby of the W West Bay is a familiar one for many of us. Like any place, Doha is not perfect. But as a city, it has been good to London designers. It’s has paid many bills (and salaries), providing opportunities for experimentation that we couldn’t otherwise do in our own city. It’s only fitting that we reflect on what’s going on there in our festival of architecture.
Streets of Doha is open to the public, weekdays 17 June to 15 July, 10am-5pm, at Allies and Morrison Studios, 85 Southwark Street, SE1 0HX.


Daniel ElseaComment