a few weeks ago i spent a whistlestop 36 hours in a city that i’m now eager to return to and explore in more depth. qatar might be stealing headlines just now over the infamous world cup debacle but don’t let fifa’s shambolic handling of the event put you off visiting a country which is not only the world’s richest per capita but also abundant in modern architecture, culture and islamic arts.
i had been invited to doha by ali bin ali group for the unveiling of their new katara plaza shopping mall complex, which opens its doors in 2016. the group is one of the largest retail and distribution companies in qatar and has a long-standing reputation for building successful partnerships with the world’s leading brands across a diverse range of business activities. during my trip i was hosted at the luxurious w doha in the west bay; a self-styled modern sanctuary that offers up a vibrant blend of fabulous design, cutting-edge technology and spectacular spaces, whilst peering out over the blue arabian gulf. given the whistlestop nature of my trip it was a complete delight to actually be able to take time reclining in the splendor of my room, relishing a morning lie-in in the signature ‘w’ bed (sooo comfy!) and indulging in a syrupy pancake breakfast and lazy bath filled to the brim with fluffy bubbles.
then it was off out to hit the town and explore some of the vibrant cultural locations in the city…
the post-modern skyline of west bay is best viewed from the courtyard of the museum of islamic art, and boy is it simply breathtaking!
representing islamic art from three continents over 1,400 years, the museum is helping to transform the state of qatar into one of the cultural capitals of the middle east. designed by veteran chinese-american architect i. m. pei (best known for his design of the glass pyramid at the musée du louvre in paris), the museum stands out as an architectural gem in the doha skyline. rising out of the turquoise waters of the persian gulf, the cubistic pyramid evokes a range of traditional islamic architectural forms, with two lighting vents at the summit evoking eyes glimpsed above a veil.
i’d have loved to have had more time to explore the myriad of halls (which have hosted a damien hirst retrospective, cutting edge choreography from sidi larbi cherkaoui and an arts & disabilities festival in recent times) but alas, the tour marched on.
our next port of call was a visit to souq waqif, a cultural bazaar that literally translates as the “standing market” and is overflowing with traditional handicrafts, spices, bric-a-brac and souvenirs.
after a pit stop for lunch it was on to katara, a newly created “cultural village” beside the sea (home to the doha film institute and the qatar philharmonic orchestra) and born out of a long held vision to position the state of qatar as a cultural beacon of theatre, literature, music and visual arts in the middle east. it is here that ali bin ali’s new shopping plaza will open late next year.
built on an area of over 38,000 square metres in the cultural village of katara, the plaza project is poised to become a unique commercial space blending a classical architectural experience with traditional heritage, and offering a relaxed shopping atmosphere alongside recreational cultural and entertainment experiences. the plaza will pioneer an innovative state-of-the-art system of ground cooling technology, much needed to contend with average summer highs that regularly surpass 38 °c, and can often approach 47 °c – phew!
with beautiful green surroundings and wide open spaces, katara plaza aims to become one of qatar’s main open-air, walkable shopping malls, and has already succeeded in attracting galeries layfayette to become the flagship department store of the venture. designed by renowned architect bruno moinard, the store will occupy three levels, and has been designed to take customers on an impressive journey through contemporary style and an architectural representation of modernity. another distinguished tenant already secured within the plaza is french natural mineral water brand evian, who will offer an exclusive spa concept based on evian’s core values of purity, health, and youthfulness, providing a refined spa experience to refresh and relax the body and mind.
there is also the unique addition of a “children’s mall”; a pioneering example of innovation and architectural design in the form of two giant gifts wrapped in red and gold. the boldness reflects qatar’s inclination towards developing landmarks of modern architecture, and seeks to surprise visitors with wondrous joy and delight. the drawings of it above look pretty spectacular, right?
i for one can’t wait to head back to doha next year to experience it all!
katara plaza, doha, qatar. opens in 2016.