David Chipperfield: Doha’s Msheireb is ‘Optimistic’ Model for Urban Regeneration

Part of Behind the Blueprints series of interviews with architects and urban influencers.

DOHA — Doha’s forthcoming Msheireb neighbourhood is an “optimistic” example of how cities can learn from their past, proclaimed prominent British architect David Chipperfield.

David Chipperfield is a fan of Doha’s Msheireb neighbourhood. / Image via Doha Architecture Forum.

“The reason we love cities is for their complexity, for the collision of different values and different things, that organic quality,” Chipperfield said at a Doha Architecture Forum talk at the Museum of Islamic Art in mid-June. “How do we learn from the historic and organic city?” Msheireb, he said, “is a real step in planning areas of the city here, it’s a very optimistic development direction.”

Chipperfield also focussed on urban organic development as director of the 13th Venice Architecture Biennale in 2012, with the theme “Common Ground”. (Interview with Dezeen below.)

“We confuse public space for retail space, which (public space) isn’t all to do with eating or shopping,” he told the packed auditorium. “I’m not saying we shouldn’t have retail space or luxury housing, but how do we make sure the city is rich in diversity in ways that are real, not monolithic?”

Al Shaqab Hotel

Artist’s rendering of Chipperfield’s Al Shaqab Hotel in Doha. / Image via Astad.

Chipperfield’s career has been largely outside of his native England. He’s in Doha to work with Qatar Foundation on the Al Shaqab Hotel, previously collaborating on a museum-like space in the ancient ruins of Naqa/Naga’a, Sudan.

Chipperfield studied architecture at Kingston University’s Art School, and trained under Modern architects Norman Foster and Richard Rogers, who changed the “gentlemanly” and isolated profession, he said. But with work hard to find at home, Chipperfield wound up overseas designing shops in Japan.

“Given our contemporary condition that we are inevitably globalised, what’s important is that it forces you to think what you could do in that place, the possibilities and context of what that place could be,” Chipperfield said on working abroad. “I wasn’t an established architect with a certain style, I had to work out what was appropriate and what might be a clue or a way in from the physical or social context that might start that process.

Neues Museum

The Neues Museum in Berlin had been a bombed-out ruin before Chipperfield’s restoration. / Image via Arch Daily, Flickr’s stijn.

“It’s always been in someone else’s city, and you have to be a bit sensitive that you’re playing with someone else’s place.” He added: “As an outsider, you can identify qualities that others can’t see, and concentrate that experience.”

Perhaps his best known work is the restoration of the bombed-out Neues Museum in Berlin, housing ancient artifacts, and won the Mies van der Rohe 2011 Award.

Chipperfield’s also acclaimed for Turner Contemporary, his first public building in England. Located in Margate, it pairs historical work of landscape artist JMW Turner with contemporary artists.

Turner Contemporary

Turner Contemporary in Margate, UK, optimises the northern light. / Image via de zeen.

“[Turner] said: ‘These are the most beautiful skies in all of Europe,'” Chipperfield beamed. “The light comes off the water, and the galleries get their light from the north. The idea is to make these rooms like small studios, as if the artist had just gone out to lunch.”

Chipperfield also designed BBC Scotland HQ, with a walkway on top of studios, and in my home of Philadelphia, he did the Penn Museum Masterplan.

“We have to find ways to find a bridge between the viewer, experiencer and architecture, and that can’t just be a sort of amazement,” Chipperfield said. “It’s a difficult one, especially at a large scale, in a place like Doha where we can be tempted into being a bit too literal. The use of recogniseable forms like silhouette and shapes, the visceral quality of materials, are ways by which we might befriend occupants.” -30-

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Can Rem Koolhaas’ Qatar National Library Succeed in Promoting Literacy with Books?

QNL's Rare Arab Books Collection

Visitors descend into Qatar National Library’s Rare Arab Books collection like an explorer entering a Pharaoh’s tomb. / Photo: QNL.

Libraries must encourage interaction with books to promote literacy, even in the face of a rapidly digitising world, Pritzker-Prize winning architect Rem Koolhaas said at VCUQatar’s Tasmeem Doha art and design conference in Doha on 17 March.

“We have to make the encounter with the book inevitable and part of the experience itself,” Koolhaas said in his presentation “Hybrid-Making, Creativity and Luck.” The Dutch national’s OMA firm is designing Qatar Foundation’s Qatar National Library, set to open in Education City in 2014.

In the Qatar National Library’s brilliant design, the building’s corners are folded like books, creating entrances that lead to indoor terraces, enabling views of every book and department.

“It’s like archaeology,” Koolhaas said, “where you can walk over a city of books.” Visitors can then descend into the basement like an explorer entering a Pharaoh’s tomb, discovering the library’s gems of the Rare Arab Books collection.

All of this sounds fantastic — but will the current generation take to books like they have to mobile devices? “For a culture that’s working hard on literacy, it’s a good point of departure,” Koolhaas said.

Qatar’s National Library will include 60 online databases and 300 public computers, multimedia stations, a performance space and a cafe. The library is also a founding partner of UNESCO’s World Digital library to digitise 500,000 Qatar-related records.

Rem Koolhaas

Rem Koolhaas, of OMA. / Photo: OMA.

In Doha, Koolhaas is also designing HIA Airport City and the glowing cube of the Qatar Foundation Headquarters. OMA’s research studio AMO has fascinating Gulf studies in the Al Manakh online publication.

Koolhaas has experience designing libraries of the future, with the Seattle Public Library (2004). Its incredible design includes a welcoming space and computer terminals — but also stacks and a spiralling core of books.

Seattle Public Library has received rave reviews in the Times and New Yorker, though Project for Public Spaces says it “turns its back on the city.”

QNL's corners fold up like a book.

QNL’s corners fold up like a book, opening up entrances that lead to terraces. / Photo: QNL.

At the conference, one person asked Koolhaas if these kinds of buildings create challenges for people with special needs, but he disagreed.

“I once did a house for a person in a wheelchair, and he said, ‘I want the full complexity of the world. I’m a prisoner, and I want stimulation,'” Koolhaas explained. “I think [yours] is the wrong assumption, the opposite is twice as likely.” -30-