Qatar 2022: A showcase of architectural gems

By Javier Picazo Feliu

Doha, Nov 18 (EFE).- Qatar’s football stadiums, designed by some of the world’s most renowned architects, have become a symbol of Qatar’s monumental development project ahead of the FIFA World Cup and a source of controversy due to the extreme conditions thousands of migrant workers endured to build them.

Norman Foster, Zaha Hadid and Fenwick Iribarren are just some of the stars behind the eight stadiums for Qatar 2022, where accessibility, sustainability and the legacy of stadiums has been the top priority.

“The first thing we did was build the stadiums. We work with very high-level and specific construction standards, which are as efficient as possible and which work for the region (…) The construction of the stadiums was very efficient, up to 30% more efficient than traditional builds,” the CEO of the Qatar 2022 World Cup, Nasser Al-Khater, told Efe

The stadiums have been designed to be sustainable and use solar panels, and state-of-the-art waste management systems and will continue to be used after the World Cup, given six of the eight stadiums have been built with a modular system, meaning they can be disassembled or modified after the tournament.

It will be the first FIFA World Cup to have the ISO 20121 sustainability certification — which sets the requirements for an event to be labeled as sustainable — and the first carbon-neutral tournament.

Home to the opening game, the final and several group stage matches, Foster’s Lusail Stadium, just 20 kilometers north of the capital Doha, was awarded the Pritzker prize — one of the sector’s most prestigious accolades.

Luke Fox, a senior member of Norman Foster’s team. EFE / Alberto Estevez

LUSAIL, THE CROWN JEWEL

With a capacity for 80,000 spectators, the stadium’s shape is reminiscent of traditional Islamic hand-made bowls and the facade’s intricate motifs are a nod to the region’s fanar lanterns.

“We really wanted to create an instantly recognizable emblem for the final, to really help Qatar celebrate this incredible achievement they have done. So we created a simple formed vessel. One geometry that wraps around the whole stadium,” says Luke Fox, a senior member of Norman Foster’s team in an interview in Doha.

The exterior of the stadium gradually lights up, taking on a warm hue that starts at sunset, while the inside is a festival of light and sound.

“We lifted the main bowl off of the ground so that when people enter the stadium they come into almost to the middle of the stadium (…) There is a sense of theater, you create this tight space and then you come out and you’re in this amazing, you know, 80,000 seat arena, which is flooded with light. We really wanted to create that contrast of inside and out,” the architect adds.

The stadium was built with sustainable materials, recycled water irrigates the surrounding green areas and the use of solar panels feeds the structure’s energy needs and air conditioning within the field.

“We had to work on a passive cooling system with a computer floor dynamic modeling to make sure we could get the temperatures down to the right level at the pitch for the players and then also for all the fans. That was a huge challenge. The cooling is brought in through the lower tiers under the seats, and then it uses the effect of the cool air which will sink to create a cold zone for the players and for the people in the seating,” Fox continues.

High on the list of priorities was ensuring that post-World Cup the building would not become another ‘white elephant’, as has happened after other events where spaces have been left in a state of abandonment due to their high maintenance costs and lack of foresight.

Lusail will have a second life once the grand finale takes place. The plan is to turn it into a community hub with schools, a shopping center, sports facilities and health centers. The facade and roof will remain but the seating will be donated to countries that need them.

These same standards have been applied to other stadiums with equally innovative designs such as Al Janoub, with a capacity for 40,000 spectators, designed by Zaha Hadid, Al Thumama by Ibrahim Jaidah which can use up to 40% less water than a conventional one, AS+P Albert Speer’s Al Bayt with its Bedouin tent shape or Studio Fenwick Iribarren’s Stadium 974, the world’s first removable stadium built entirely out of transport containers and modular steel.

The stadiums of the Qatar 2022 World Cup have been the cornerstone of a pharaonic project that has included the best architects in the world to reflect the avant-garde design and aspects of the country’s culture or tradition. EFE/Alberto Estevez

CRADLE OF DESIGN

Qatar has not only spared any expense for its stadiums, but its capital has become a hub that brings together some of the best architects in the world, pitching the nation as a modern and technologically advanced city with buildings that rival works of art.

In this way, Pritzker winners Rem Koolhaas, I.M. Pei and Jean Nouvel designed the National Library, the Museum of Islamic Art and the National Museum, respectively, while the Museum of Modern Art was assigned to Frenchman Jean-François Bodin.

In the medium term, Qatar has already announced that fellow Pritzker winners Jacques Herzog, Alejandro Aravena and Koolhaas will be in charge of the Lusail Museum, the Art Mill Museum and the Auto Museum, respectively.

“Qatar has great ambitions and it is acting on the world stage. And it has gone through a huge evolution over the last 20, 30 years. So trying to capture that spirit has been a really key part of our job,” says Fox. “We utilize our world-wide experience and the applications of all those technologies we try to bring those to bear on the project.”

A modern and avant-garde design that bears the signature of the most prominent architects.

Mark Fenwick, co-founder of the Fenwick Iribarren Architects studio and designer of three World Cup stadiums, adds that Qatar has placed education, culture and sports as its three pillars for development and across all sectors is sourcing top architects to design buildings for these activities. 

Education City stadium. EFE/ Alberto Estevez

CONTROVERSIAL CONSTRUCTION

The stadiums not only stand out for their design, but also for the enormous controversy their construction has sparked due to the conditions workers have endured and following allegations of human rights abuses, non-remuneration of work and extreme labor conditions resulting in thousands of deaths, according to several rights groups. 

An investigation by The Guardian newspaper estimates that 6,500 World Cup workers have died since 2010, while Human Rights Watch (HRW) holds FIFA responsible for awarding the World Cup to Qatar without due diligence in terms of human rights and without establishing conditions on the protection of the nearly 30,000 migrant workers that have been employed during the building of the tournament’s infrastructure.

The figures are in stark contrast to the three official deaths the Qatari government has estimated in relation to the construction of the stadiums and a further 37 that were deemed to be indirectly related to the project.

Qatar has fended off critics by stating that measures such as the approval of a minimum wage or the abolition of the kafala sponsorship system — that ties migrant workers to their employer and requires them to have their company’s permission to leave the country — have been rolled out in record time. 

Representatives of the International Labor Organization and the International Trade Union Confederation have recently defended tangible progress in the country, although they have also criticized deficiencies in the implementation of new labor laws. EFE

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