June 2016

Bier Al Husain, Doha

Old Doha is filled with a festive air – everyone is wandering aimlessly about, off work. The sky is filled with aeroplanes, large and small, heading to and from the Amiri flypast, over the Bay.

There is no need to ponder what to draw in this square – B2 – it is obvious. The dazzling contrast and harmony between number 6 Bier al Husain – a small masterpiece of early modern Qatari architecture in concrete – and its older, traditional neighbours in load-bearing masonry, is irresistible.

The bold horizontals of number 6; reaching out over its own wall, overhanging the street, are the architecture of common sense before style. Just as with the surrounding buildings of traditional construction, this is a natural response to available building materials, and to climate.

What I see in front of me is a perfect summary of Old Doha’s identity. It is an old city beginning to change; it is a living patchwork. The new is looking forward, while the old stands in permanence (I hope). Although one is cast in concrete, visibly enjoying the cantilever, and another is constructed in rubble-stone, respecting the need to carry loads simply down to the ground, yet ‘it is all made of the same stuff’. This is a carved city.

Each building conforms to certain important conventions – a common understanding, common language, binds the city together. Walls make edges to tightly defined streets and enclose courtyards. The ‘type’ – the archetype, the prototype – of the house is consistent.

Within the balance of new and old (both now are old) is the balance of horizontals and verticals, woven together. The traditional house (pre-concrete) is a horizontal form, but is made up of verticals. In the early modern house the horizontals have taken over the primary rhythm and the verticals provide a secondary beat.

If this is harmony – and I do believe it is – then it is a lose form of harmony, absorbing, and benefitting from the disparities and differences which enrich the ‘urban music’ of this place; so full of interest and character. I do hope it will not be lost.