FUSION OF HERITAGE AND MODERNITY

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In an exclusive interview with Qatar Today, Ibrahim Jaidah, GCEO and Chief Architect of AEB, provides an in-depth analysis of the design elements of the Al Thumama Stadium.

In December 2015, noted construction and design firm Arab Engineering Bureau (AEB) added another feather to its cap by winning the competition to design Al Thumama Stadium. The stadium will host matches up to the quarter-final stage of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, to be hosted by Qatar in a little over five years from now. One of the most talked about characteristics of the Al Thumama Stadium structure is its shape, which has been inspired by the traditional Arab gahfiya head gear.

“Like all the stadiums in Qatar, we had to emulate the cultural identity in a direct or indirect manner.”

Ibrahim Jaidah, GCEO and Chief Architect of AEB

Reflecting on the international design competition which settled the issue in his company’s favour, Ibrahim Jaidah, GCEO and Chief Architect of AEB, says: “We were fortunate enough to be called to compete with some of the big stadium designers from around the world. Like all the stadiums in Qatar, we had to emulate the cultural identity in a direct or indirect manner.”

“We wanted to reflect something, but in a more literal way. I opted for the gahfiya inspired design since it leans towards fusion rather than abstraction. I felt that the gahfiya was a good choice because it covers and protects.”

Jaidah further says that he did intensive research, and went to the various souqs in Qatar where he bought different types of gahfiyas until he came up with what he thought was the proper pattern for the um nira gahfiya, used extensively in Qatar.

“Apart from complying with the design requirements, we appointed and worked closely with international specialists in some aspects of the project delivery. For example, the turf specialists were necessary as we had to monitor how much sun is required to make the grass grow naturally. One sees more openings in certain parts of the stadium roof to make sure that the grass gets proper exposure from the sun throughout the day and year. We used technicians from Germany for the structure, from the UK for landscaping and from Spain for sports architecture. So, we put together a massive team for constructing a state-of-the-art stadium for Qatar.”

Jaidah adds that as part of the legacy planning for the 2022 World Cup, of the 40,000 seats in the Al Thumama Stadium, 20,000 from the upper section of the stadium will be dismantled and sent to other countries at the conclusion of the event.

“One of the challenges is to make sure that the stadium does not become a white elephant at the conclusion of the quadrennial event.”

Continuing on the legacy aspect concerning Al Thumama Stadium, Jaidah says that the design has accommodated the inclusion of boutique hotels and health spas and the hosting of football clubs. “One of the challenges is to make sure that the stadium does not become a white elephant at the conclusion of the quadrennial event.”

“We have also made provisions for some other sporting facilities. We had planned for all this when we were making the master plan. The legacy is extremely important to us, because at the end of the day it’s about what you are going to leave the city with, in terms of not only the stadium, but also the roads, the metro and the entire infrastructure. We see ourselves as part of the legacy because now a local firm has been involved with the managing and designing of a state-of-the-art FIFA compliant stadium. In fact, we want to take this knowledge beyond Qatar.”

Jaidah also makes the point that the Supreme Council for Delivery & Legacy (SC), which appointed AEB to carry out the design work of the Al Thumama Stadium, has studied the legacy issues very carefully.

“There have been bad examples in the past. In South Africa, it turned out to be easier to demolish the stadiums rather than maintain them. Brazil was also struggling because they overspent. Here the case is a little different because lessons have been learnt from past events, so that’s why all these new ideas – boutique hotels and an Aspetar medical sports facility – have been included in the scheme of things.”

According to Jaidah, adhering to sustainability requirements also proved to be quite a challenge but it was well worth it. “All stadiums have to have GSAS 4-Star rating and that’s quite a challenge, but it has been achieved from our side. We have to consider all sustainability aspects – recycled materials, low voltage lights, use of natural light as much as possible, solar appliances, etc. – in the stadiums. That’s very wise because both the running costs as well as the environment will be taken care of.”

Jaidah further talks about his experience of working with the stadium’s project manager, Soud Abdul Aziz Al Ansari, and says that it was a wise move to have a person in charge who understands local culture and has the know-how to get things done in Qatar.

“Soud was involved with us throughout the design phase. And now he is managing operations at the site on behalf of the client. He is a very ambitious and intelligent young man. Currently, we have 30 plus members of our team reporting to him and his project managers at the site. He has a hands-on approach and monitors the process, deadline and quality with our support. He has done quite an impressive job.”

Jaidah had said in a recent interview that “during the design and conception phase, a lot of childhood memories came alive – remembering walking around the Al Jasra area wearing the traditional thawb and gahfiya”. The feeling of nostalgia felt by him might also be common to many others. So, was that also one of his objectives – bringing back fond memories for all Qataris?

“When it was announced, the reaction of the public was amazing, and people could connect with us directly on social media,” says Jaidah. “Even though the other stadiums had some reference to the culture, e.g., Al Wakra’s concept of the waves, it was not a direct representation. Everybody, from a child to an old man, can relate to this.”

He adds: “I was really overwhelmed by the social media as well as the local media. People would make friendly jokes about the gahfiyas. One of my friends came to me, gave me a gahfiya and said that it was a gift from his daughter. The impact was amazing. It was the talk of the town and the region.

Having been associated with many of Qatar’s landmark projects – Sharq Village and Spa, Barzan Tower, etc., has Jaidah incorporated any common elements from his previous assignments into the Al Thumama Stadium, and where does he rank the stadium experience in his portfolio?

“It’s different compared to any of my previous projects. However, what we have got here is years of experience of putting things together. We are one of the oldest firms in Qatar. We actually celebrated our 50th anniversary last year, and we can seek the know-how we need and put it together in any type of project. Getting consultants together and managing the design process is what we have developed over the years. We also have a wealth of knowledge about our culture, architecture and identity.”

So, when asked if the experience of working on a World Cup stadium will help AEB to net other high-profile projects related to international sporting events, Jaidah signs off by saying: “If there is a competition anywhere in the world where I have an opportunity, I will grab it.”