Published in 2A Magazine Issue #24
The climate and geographical nature of Qatar both have played a role in shaping of the country’s architecture. Owning to its geographical positioning Qatar was for many decades a cross road for major trading convoys which crossed from Indian subcontinent towards Near East and from Persia to Northern Africa. This resulted for many architectural influences to be brought to the state from the other regions such as India, Iran, Basra, Najd, and Oman; along with materials which have improved the way structures were built, especially wood from Zanzibar which was used for reinforcing the ceilings.
Due to the deterioration of materials over time, there are very few surviving architectural structures which we classify as old and which date back to the 19 century. Most of the information collected on the old structures; which no longer exist; comes from the narratives, hand drawings and paintings which were left behind and have been handed down from one generation to the next.
Considering the lack of information, the history of Qatari architecture is only few centuries old and in my opinion History of Traditional Qatari Architecture can be classified in three distinctive eras: Pre Oil Period, Beginning of the Oil Period, and Post Oil Period.
Pre Oil Period
The Pre Oil period era strongly reflects Islamic architectural influences. The traditional Qatari architecture in this period adopted philosophies of the traditional Islamic architecture which embodies principles of social organization and physical environment. In this period, which is evident up until the beginning of the 1950s’, master mason was the main architect and builder. The materials used for construction were composed of whatever could be found in the surrounding (bamboo strips, mangrow leaves, compacted sand, cut coral b l ocks or l i me s t one) and I consider this to be the most sophisticated form of sustainable architecture.
The most important design consideration is privacy and territoriality. Spaces are segregated on the basis that male visitors are separated from the family, young men from young women, servants from others, and passer-by from residents.
Physical Environment Dimension
In the past the traditional physical environment was not based on the aesthetics of buildings and streets. The city of the past was built within a scope of very simple principles that are required to understand the gradual transformation of the urban pattern from the old Islamic cities where aim was to protect environment and to maintain the privacy of the people and their accessibility to public spaces.
City Developments The major cities of Qatar developed on the coast for two reasons: fishing and trading. Qatari cities have been shaped not only by urban and architectural planning, but also by the social dimension. Urban development of Doha, Al Wakrah, Al Khor, and Umm Salal Muhammad was affected by the most typical characteristics of the traditional Islamic city: unity of architecture represented by the sequence of spaces in the mosque, souq, palace and private home. The growth of the collective form of housing arises from the extension and the subdivision of inherited properties, which creates an intensification of land-use.
The city of Doha used to be known as Al Beda’a, an important town on the east side of the Qatar peninsula. The ruling family built their palaces and mosques in the center of the city for reasons of symbolism, protection against climate, and military purposes. The layout accords with the Islamic urban tradition in which the ruler’s palace lay at the center of administrative, political, and economic life. This formed the physical and functional core of Doha, from which city organically grew in different directions. Maps of Doha (created in 1937, 1947, 1952 and 1959) reveal the city’s expansion northwards and southwards. (Figures 1-4)
Qatari architecture from this period is often categorized as: religious (mosques), civil (palaces, houses, and souqs), and military (forts, towers and walls).
Some great still standing examples of such architecture are: Al Ayouni Mosque (1935), Old Palace which has been turned into Qatar National Museum (1912), Sh. Hamad bin Abdullah House (1930), and Zubara Fort. (Figures 5-8)
Beginning of the Oil Period
Sudden burst in the economy with the discovery of oil resulted in large scale migration from old houses into the new “modern villas”. This changed social aspect of the urban development significantly as the organic growth was almost impossible to establish, since people resided in the cube-like houses surrounded by walls. On the other hand this period shows array of new architectural influences and decorative features.
As mentioned before throughout history the master mason was the architect. This way of designing and building structures remained unchanged at the beginning of the oil period. The master mason was still the designer even though the building materials have changed, especially with the introduction and
availability of the cement.
The time period of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s marked the architectural revival period with the arrival of new architects from Lebanon, Egypt, and the Indian subcontinent. They introduced new decorative features, which primary role was of aesthetic nature rather than functional one as it was done in the past. This new look was welcomed by the Clients and the architects were even encouraged to add more ornamental and colorful details that had a reference to what is liked and what was very often lacked in this part of the world. This type of architecture was reflected in palaces, villas, and high-end apartment buildings. The new style was thriving and it was the birth of what I call the “Arabian Deco Era”.
That particular era in architecture was never documented, and those buildings have never been recognized as part of the architectural history. As a result those buildings have not been listed and are still being demolished wherever they come in a way of new development.
It is important to document that era and list these buildings as a significant period of our “Old modern period”. It would also be interesting to study the Region to see a similar architecture in that particular period and classify it as “Arabian Deco”. (Figures 9-13)