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Qatar Science & Technology Park, Doha by Woods Bagot

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All images, plans and information courtesy of Woods Bagot. Copyright by desMena.

Woods Bagot‘s new science park in Qatar looks to stimulate creativity and incubate knowledge among some of the country’s best and brightest scientific minds.

See also the archiects website for a  video of the new development.

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From day one, the brief called for Oxford Science Park.

It called for a network of typical 2-storey glass boxes that overlooked a series of car parks. In fact, the client cited the UK’s Stockley Park, Cambridge and Oxford Science Park as models from which the first concept designs of Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP) should be moulded.

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Soon after the concept design stage, however, it was clear to the team at Woods Bagot that something didn’t fit. It knew Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser al Missned-wife of the Emir of Qatar and chairwoman of the Qatar Foundation for Education-wanted something that would establish Qatar as an international hub for scientific exploration and create a sense of community between the academic faculty and independent research groups. It also knew that given the climate of Qatar and the benchmark status intended for this particular project, Oxford Science Park in the Middle East simply wouldn’t do.

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“We researched those sites and found them to be very typical…. They had duck ponds, with ducks in them; loads of surrounding greenery and a series of roads for driving your car from one place to another,” explains Mark Mitcheson-Low, concept designer and project leader for QSTP. “There was nothing really groundbreaking…. We looked at them and then looked at our site and realised how poorly that type of project would suit this region.”

Bringing people together

The first design decision undertaken by Woods Bagot was to consider the external climate and realise the need for subterranean parking and thus, shorter walking distances between buildings. The importance of this realisation was ultimately twofold: creating shorter distances between buildings meant doing away with a need for cars and-in keeping with long-held traditions in Islamic architecture-allowed for greater connectivity between the users of QSTP.

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Mitcheson-Low explains the impossibility of fostering a sense of connection in the traditional science park typology. “How do you create [a connection] if you’ve got a series of buildings?” he asks. “You can’t. The idea was to get rid of the cars and put them under the building. That created a more pedestrian-friendly campus-type structure.”

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As designs for QSTP evolved, Alf Seeling, director of design and masterplanning (Middle East), began to recognise the inevitability of mimicking a typology that has been used in the region for centuries. “We tried to get rid of the cars and, in doing so, we looked at the way Islamic cities had been built up over time and we found a kind of ordered chaos in the way those cities grew and expanded.”

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The desire to retain a strong connectivity between the buildings and users led to the decision to connect what would traditionally be a series of teaching and research facilities under one undulating roof. This led to the creation of what came to be known as the Incubator Centre.

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The literal nucleus of QSTP, the Incubator Centre is located at the centre of the site on an elevated podium, just beneath a rippling veil-like roof structure. It is set against flat perforated screen façades and punctuated by three atria, which reinforce the Islamic architectural notion of using ‘hard’ exclusionary façades to protect ‘soft’ introverted living spaces.

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“The whole idea of the Incubator Centre is to have people from all sectors meeting and interacting in the common spaces,” explains Mitcheson-Low. “Then, if ideas become commercially viable, there is plenty of space to branch out and develop those ideas. It’s called the ‘Incubator’ because it was always planned to stimulate creativity and incubate knowledge.”

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Replicating the pattern

The Incubator Centre is flanked by clusters of ITTC laboratory buildings that are clad in patterned steel screens to create eye-catching geometric shapes while protecting and facilitating high-level research. Sheikha Mozah’s brief called for flexible spaces that could develop, expand and interchange as the needs of the user did likewise.

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In trying to provide the most flexible open-plan workspace, Woods Bagot and the client chose to incorporate both interstitial floors and peristitial walls, which allow for servicing both upper and lower floors and position mechanical services to external locations around the perimeter of the building. The solution was a benchmark in Qatari architecture and ultimately made load-bearing columns within the workspace unnecessary. By providing a 27m column-free floor plate and flexibility for maintenance and refitting along the outside perimeter, the buildings remain both fully adaptable and fully secure.

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“The exterior façade offers solar shading for inhabitants, but also hides from view servicing equipment like gas cylinders, exhaust ducts, high pressure air hoses and everything else the laboratories or maintenance staff might need,” explains Seeling.

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The laboratories feature double volume space, with high load capacity available in large areas. Core clusters of tenancies are provided with a central communal atrium, which admits natural light and functions as an informal meeting space.

“This works in harmony with the architecture. The external walls offer a sense of privacy and humility, while the inside is rich and colourful,” says Seeling. “The ITTC buildings operate the same way: they’re hard and subdued externally, but then offer meeting spaces throughout the interior atria.”

The activity hubs within the ITTC buildings form the heart of the creative communities; they offer places where tenants can interact, ideas can be exchanged and knowledge can be shared. From an architectural perspective, the clustered buildings look and function a bit like an Islamic pattern that can be repeated and modified.

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Though both belong to the same family of buildings, their varied functions certainly justify them being classified as different species. Where the Incubator incorporates interior/exterior space for offices, amenities, retail and interaction, the clustered buildings have the potential to be an office one day and a full-scale wet/dry laboratory the next.

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“It had to be a facility that offered more than any other facility in the world. It had to be groundbreaking on what it offered for any researcher or organisation,” explains Mitcheson-Low.

Signature roof

Much more than a shiny Gehry-esque aesthetic statement, QSTP’s gently undulating roof provides shading to the outdoor areas, announces a 34m atrium and allows the buildings to be physically and symbolically connected. It features two layers of perforated, patterned stainless steel which creates a sense of movement from below and starkly contrasts the horizontal landscape from afar.

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Despite its unique ‘swelling’, the veil roof is both aesthetic and functional. From day one, Sheikha Mozah made a ruling on the buildings, a ruling which-according to Mitcheson-Low-wasn’t met by a number of the competing architects and ultimately led to Woods Bagot winning the project.

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Apparently, she didn’t want to see any equipment on the roofs of the buildings. If seen from the air, Sheikha Mozah wanted it to look like someone had drawn a masterplan in the middle of the desert. As a protective skin, the veil roof encases the buildings themselves and, at the same time, hides plant and maintenance equipment. It also acts as a shell that reduces heat gain and overall energy consumption of the building.

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“It’s sort of like the covered souqs that are made comfortable by throwing a shading device over them,” explains Seeling. “It reduces the heat load on the roof and windows, but it also extends beyond the building envelope and then spreads out into the other buildings clusters.”

A final word

QSTP is about layers of meaning. On one hand, the roof was built to mimic the undulation of the sand dunes and the flowing of a woman’s veil. On the other hand, it was designed to envelope the surrounding space and reduce overall heat gain.

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The ITTC laboratories are clad in hard steel curtains to offer privacy and protection to the high-level research inside them, yet they were built to state-of-the-art specifications and include components that assure organic expansion.

Similarly, the external tree-like columns seem like a necessary support mechanism until it is revealed that they were specifically chosen to be a metaphor for the local Qatari tree that, historically, witnessed storytelling and schooling beneath its branches.

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Woods Bagot wanted to create something that would set the benchmark for the science park typology in the region. It wanted to build something that would become an institution in the country and a culturally appropriate symbol of Qatar. It endeavoured to use inside-out design theory to create a building that is both aesthetically and functionally spectacular.

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To achieve all this, Woods Bagot took the original brief and its glass boxes and turned them into and learning tree. The columns are its branches and the veil is its protective canopy. While they perform similar functions and seem appropriate for their respective contexts, make no mistake, QSTP is a long way from Oxford Science Park.

THE TEAM

Concept designer & project leader: Mark Mitcheson-Low
Design director & masterplanning (Middle East): Alf Seeling
Design director (Melbourne): Peter Miglis
Project director (documentation): Maria Cakarun
Project leader (site contract administration): Peter Nielsen

Engineer: Connell Wagner
Landscape architect: Woods Bagot (Soleiman Katoum onsite execution)
Interior design: Woods Bagot
MEP Engineers: Hyder Consulting
Quality Surveyor: Davis Langdon & Seah International

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