It is 5.15pm Thursday 7th Feb 2013 – the end of the week.
The Sun is going down and there is the very slightest chill in the air; but it is peaceful, and silent.
As I turn a corner from Sikkat al Sakhaa, I am struck by the sight of a handsome liwan (a traditional colonnade – a place to sit outside, in the shade).
It is poised; about to Fall.
The beams sag, the roof is frayed – impossibly fragile – and is gradually falling away. It is like an anatomical specimen; a diagram of layers of skin; danshal, basjeel, mangrour. But in this case the body is not dead; nearly but not quite. Indeed it could still be brought back to life, but there is very little time.
The inner layer of the liwan – what was once a wall – is now largely a pile of rubble on the ground; mounded up around the columns. But notwithstanding this dereliction, enough of the wall is still intact to give it support.
I look closer and hold my breath as I notice, on the left, that one single bone of this building has been truly eaten away to an impossible thinness. It is a point of support on which the entire structure depends. If I stand here and wait, it will collapse, I know it will. I stand back.
However dangerous it is, its last stand is noble, but its fall will be messy. The pristine white land cruiser, parked beside will be covered in dust if it comes down, and might be dented. The ‘No Dumping in this Area’ sign, which is already leaning as if it wants to lie down in the debris, will be flattened.
For some reason I think back to the year I was born, in London, 1965; what was this place like then ? Unusually, the liwan seems to have been built on the outside of a house; looking out to a small public space, or is it that where I am standing now was the interior of a private courtyard; the inner sanctum of a home ? Either way this liwan blurs the boundaries between indoors and outdoors, and between public and private, in a way which is well suited to the beautiful weather. So much has happened in the last forty eight years but these stones still stand.
Sudddenly a noise breaks the silence; the maghrib muezzin fills the air. The first to sound is far away on my right, the second behind me on my left. Gradually as the sounds rise, and merge they sing to each other from street to street, bouncing off the walls of buildings and so, defining the space of the neighbourhood.
The minaret ahead of me calls out last and loudest; I wonder if its vibrations will bring the liwan to its end but thankfully, no. This muezzin call is one I have never heard before. Going up at the end of each phrase, its curve seems to echo the shape of the crescent on top of the minaret; the shape of Doha Bay.
I stood waiting for a long time and night fell before the liwan did.
It stands there to this day, or so I believe.
DOHA_ON CENTRE is an installation at VCU’s Tasmeem Conference by Makower Architects, the newly formed urban design and architectural practice, based in London and Doha.
The installation concerns Doha’s tripartite city centre. It is an exploration of the essential character or ‘soul’ of the city, and grows out of Tim Makower’s close involvement in its development over the last seven years.
The content divides into four parts. Firstly, a short film and a large drawing examine Doha’s ‘blood system’ and the role played by the city’s ‘heart and lung’ – its centre. Starting with the first survey made of the city in 1952, the film records the process of tracing Doha’s lines and shapes – getting to know its anatomy – whilst looking at the contrasting, and potentially complementary, characteristics of its three central components: Old Doha, West Bay and the Corniche.
“The City is a Hybrid; the coming together of Mankind, Nature and Machines. It is a physical, and also a temporal hybrid; an amalgam of long-lasting and ephemeral components.”
Secondly, a series of exhibits, both natural and man-made, draw analogies between patterns of the City and patterns of Nature; celebrating the fact that both the process and the product of city-making is organic and to some extent unpredictable.
The third part of DOHA_ON CENTRE is a series of images about the physical, spatial and dynamic fabric of the city centre; both looking at the way at it is, and beginning to think what it might become.
These three small movies follow three paths through the three parts of Doha’s city centre: Old Doha, The Corniche and West Bay.
A few minutes in the lives of the people who I passed on my way are compressed into a few seconds of film. As the film loops, Time is slowed down, while in this fast-changing city, History is speeding up.
The films meet via the ‘great connector’ of the Doha Corniche.
They are asking to be stitched together.
What is the character of Old Doha; a living patchwork ?
With the positive pulse of Souk Waqif and Msheireb at its heart, is there an alternative approach for the surrounding neighbourhoods; to bring out their latent potential, and build on their natural character ?
Old Doha is a complex collage; of old and new, large and small. It is like a precious piece of fabric, which can be passed down through a family from generation to generation; stitched and re-stitched, repaired not replaced; increasing in value.
Old Doha is the seed-bed of Doha’s city fabric. Can its next era unlock a new, home-grown, vernacular and a new kind of harmony; a synthesis of Qatar’s architectural roots – Traditional and the Early Modern – with a timeless contemporary and uniquely Qatari approach to buildings, landscape, places and memory ?
THE DOHA CORNICHE
What is the essence of Doha’s Corniche today ? Can this be the basis of its future renewal ? Its Calm Crescent is a timeless motif for the City.
What simple moves can reinforce its Identity and raise its profile to the Iconic status it deserves ? Does it need to be reinvented ? Or just reinforced, renewed and enriched; as a lasting legacy for the Future ?
The Curve of the bay encircles the Centre.
Doha – dowaiha – embrace.
The Curve embraces the space of the sea.
Land and Sea (Earth and Water)
Wind and Sun (Air and Fire).
It is our pride and joy, our meeting place; our Majlis.
The City speaks to itself across the bay;
Old City, new City; slow and fast,
The Curve rises up and a Crescent is formed.
A Corona of light, day and night.
A burning Crown for Celebrations and
A Collector for our Memories.
How can West Bay become an integrated, and hospitable piece of Doha’s Centre ?
Can new layers of enclosure be added – a ‘retro-fit city’- to create shade, shopfronts and streets for people ? Can West Bay become an easy place to move around; to find one’s way, and cross the road in safety ?
How can West Bay Connect to the Corniche ? Can a strong link – a line – be found between the Bay and the northern beaches ? It is unfinished business; waiting to be continued.
Can a cohesive architectural language – Qatari Contemporary – bring harmony to this new piece of the city, as it moves into the next chapter of its life; a harmony from building to building and street to street, and a harmony with the wider Context; its cultural, historical and geographical roots ?
Finally, twenty one of Tim Makower’s sketchbooks record moments in the ongoing process of ‘looking, listening and learning’ which Tim has been continually engaged in here, since he first came to Doha in 2006.
Each page on display relates in some way to Old Doha, the Corniche or West Bay and reflects the ‘magnetic attraction’ of these parts of the city, for each other and for Tim.
The theme of the Tasmeem Conference is ‘Hybrid Making’. DOHA_ON CENTRE takes this topic to the urban scale, acknowledging the hybrid nature of the city and celebrating the ‘complex collage’ of its making.
“The Centre of Doha is both three and one. First Old Doha, the ancient tree, deep roots, springing new shoots, fragile but very much alive. The second is New Doha – West Bay – new growth; in need of cultivation, nutrients and depth; unfinished work in the garden of Doha. The third is the Corniche, the unifying motif, the creative space, the iconic gathering place at the Centre of the City: the Doha Corniche. This is the horizon; the meeting of Land and Sea. This is Now. Now is Past. Now is Future.”
Makower Architects was founded in 2012 by Tim Makower. It is a new practice, based in Doha and London, focusing on major projects in the fields of Urban Design and Architecture.
Tim Makower is the Architectural Language Advisor of Msheireb Properties and has been the architectural voice of Msheireb for over five years. His projects in Doha, whilst a partner at Allies and Morrison, included the Diwan Annex, the National Archive of Qatar, the National Eid Ground and Sidra Village at Education City.
DOHA_ON CENTRE is a discussion piece. It has been prepared as an independent study; to share thoughts, ask questions and promote discussion about the nature of Doha’s Centre and its potential for the Future.
“If a City has a Soul, then its Centre – or Centredness – will be part of that Soul.”