Having navigated West Bay Doha for some months now, I have become more and more impressed by the towers I have been passing by when doing shopping at City Center, coming home from the Qatar University and returning from Doha City to our home in the Falcon Tower along the Corniche.
At first sight the West Bay towers look like a randomly placed bunch of individuals, begging for my attention. To realize that most towers in the skyline are built in the last 10-15 years, helps me to understand the nature of this development. The Doha towers are branding themselves in a brand new down town.
I will not write a report here on the historic development of Doha, many have done that before me, there are some excellent websites abundant of information and [photo]graphic reports on West Bay. West Bay is known as Al Dafna in Arabic, meaning something like reclaimed land. You might want to check www.catnaps.org by John Lockerbie, a planning consultant who worked in Doha to experience the rapid growth of the metropolis of Doha, to acquire very detailed information on the development of Doha. Instead, I wish to understand the nature of their being seen from the perspective of the towers themselves. What do these towers communicate by their existence, and more specifically by their marketing ?
Perfume bottles and real estate
Visiting the Radwani House in the new 760.000 m2 Msheireb development in the older part of Doha, one detail caught my attention: series of sanitary bottles on a recessed part of the wall of the bathroom in the house of a well-to-do Qatari family, built in the 1920’s, unknowingly foreshadowing the explosive growth to come. These shampoo and perfume bottles are distinguishing themselves from their competitors. In much the same fashion the West Bay towers distinguish themselves from their immediate neighbors, some of them very successfully.
Base, shaft, capital
Such bottles necessarily have similar characteristics as the real estate towers: base, shaft and capital, and a distinguishable shape. The difference is of course that the characteristics of the West Bay towers are operational on the urban scale, not the domestic scale. The shampoo and perfume bottles operate on the scale of the shelves in the supermarket, while the towers operate on the scale of the down town city. The bottles simply seem to have pumped up their volume to become a real estate shaped container. The base of the bottle / tower keeps them from toppling / respectively connects them to the urban context. The shaft holds the substance, whether we are looking at the liquid shampoo or at the leaseable surfaces, while the upper part is the interface with the city navigator, the crown functions as the attracting point for the eye of the beholder. The cap on the bottle is the attraction point where the hands go, and similarly the crown on the tower forms the attraction point where the eyes of the beholder are drawn to.
Simple, often curved lines define the shape of the branded containers, whether a household product or a real estate investment vehicle. Both the bottles and the towers are shaped containers of strange substance. What substance do they really contain? It feels as if the uniqueness of the shape brings about a positive effect on the nature of the substance. Substance seems to improve when the branding of the product [bottle, tower] has been successful. In the end a successful branding of individual towers feeds back on the down town area as a whole. Despite an estimated percentage of 70% initial vacancy, I believe that in the long run West Bay Doha will become a vibrant down town to work and to live in, with substance.
I was – together with Ilona Lénárd – visiting the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy for discussing future art projects in preparation of the the FIFA championship. We were welcomed on the 33th floor in one of the most prominent towers, namely the 40 storey high Al Bidda Tower. The many offices related tot the FIFA 2022 form the solid yet temporary substance for the Al Bidda Tower. Not one of the highest but certainly one of the most striking ones. The sharp edged and fragmented plectrum shaped floor plan of the Al Bidda Tower rises up in a rotating movement. The semi-structural facade is triangulated as to follow the slightly doubly curved torqued shape.
The triangulated facade is of my particular interest since I have designed and built the Liwa Tower in Abu Dhabi using a parametric diagrid system for the load bearing structural facade of the smoothly shaped tower. From the inside of the Al Bidda Tower I could unriddle was how it has been built by the Dutch company BAM / Higgs & Hill. The first thing I noticed were the oversized slanting concrete columns, at least one meter in diameter, and that on the 33th floor! The structural engineers [or was it the architect?] have chosen to have a main structure in concrete, a secondary structure using braced steel beams, and another heavy layer for the glass facade. In comparison, in my design for the Liwa Tower in Abu Dhabi  I managed to synchronize the dimensions of a much more fine-grained diagrid structure with the large triangular steel sandwich facade panels, therewith saving at least half of the costs of the facade structure + skin.
Between the brand and the substance there is the skin. The skin is the interface between city and user, a membrane between open outdoor and enclosed indoor environment. The quality of the materials that are used for the skin in combination with the level of design thinking tells the story of how a real estate brand send its message to its immediate environment, at the one hand towards the city, at the other hand towards the user.
The Al Bidda Tower is just one example out of 150 other towers in West Bay in Doha, which all can be analysed in a similar way with respect to their own branding, substance and interfacing membrane. The message is in the bottle.