A vision for developing Doha’s own hanging gardens, like the fabled gardens of Babylon, using green architecture, or ‘biotecture,’ was the topic of discussion and debate at a Qatar Green Building Council (QGBC) seminar.
In a keynote presentation, renowned international architect and urban planner Edouard Francois outlined his vision for sustainable building that integrates nature and architecture, and its potential for Qatar; wherein urban spaces are enriched by copious vertical green planting and urban landscaping.
“The challenge for Qatar is rediscovering the outdoors. There is great potential in Doha to develop into a more liveable city, with greater use of quality outdoor spaces through extensive planting to help ameliorate the extremes of Doha’s climate. This vision for Doha encourages an architecture that is aesthetically lush and tactile, with use of not only plants but also natural materials like wood and stone, and a rich diversity of plants and animals,” said Francois, who is hosted by QGBC for a series of engagements in Qatar.
“Green architecture is not only about techniques, it’s about the right attitude, and the right values, to address the pressing challenges in sustainability that face society today. Doha is really moving and shaking, and I am impressed with the types of projects underway here. The approach that organisations like QGBC are taking to addressing sustainability is systematic, which is key,” added Francois.
A line-up of local experts from various backgrounds and professions, including architecture, structural engineering, air quality management, environment and sustainable development and green education joined Francois to examine the technical aspects of his vision for biotecture in Doha.
Biotecture is an urban concept that acknowledges that cities are not only made of buildings and infrastructure, but also contain, very often, a rich and diverse urban ecology. Through techniques such as 'green roofs' and 'green walls' or vertical planting, whereby built structures are covered with vegetation, biotecture is used to encourage and increase the extent of biodiversity in a city.
Mark Ainger, a structural engineer with WSP Middle East, examined the elements of structural design and building construction required to bring Francois’s vision to life, including maintenance and pruning, external frames to support vertical planting, and considerations for airflow around the building.
Eng. Iñigo Satrústegui, CEO of Aire Limpio Qatar, spoke of the likely improvement that biotecture could bring to Doha’s outdoor and indoor air quality, while Eng. Cynthia Skelhorn examined the potential thermal benefits, and thus energy reduction, of vertical planting on buildings.
“The main point of methods such as vertical planting is to reduce air and surface temperatures, which also impacts building energy requirements,” said Skelhorn, who is a doctoral researcher at Manchester University. “In Qatar, where temperatures are high for such a large portion of the year, any amount of shading of paved surfaces or reduction in paved surfaces through the use of vegetation will make surroundings more comfortable and more aesthetically pleasing.”
Two members of QGBC’s Water Interest Group, Eng. Emmanuelle Brisemur of Degremont SA and Adam Smith of Polypipe Gulf, discussed the future water supply and technical irrigation systems that would be required for extensive green planting on buildings.They emphasised a need for water-sensitive urban design, which focuses on storage, treatment and reuse of water from a variety of sources, including stormwater, groundwater runoff, recycled water and water recovered from air conditioning condensate.
‘Hanging Gardens’ Vision
Dr Anna Gretchting of Qatar University offered a landscape architect’s perspective on the potential of biotecture for Doha, whilst her colleague Dr Nobuyuki Yamaguchi discussed the ecological choices that are implied by the ‘hanging gardens’ vision from a scientific and philosophical standpoint.
“Which is more environmentally friendly? A beautifully maintained neighbourhood in the suburbs or a run-down apartment block in the city?” posed Dr Yamaguchi.
The city’s older areas, he noted, are often much more environmentally sound, although the well-manicured neighbourhoods are in higher demand.“Regardless of what science suggests as best practice, the future direction of Doha’s city plan will be decided based on human values and preferences,” concluded Dr Yamaguchi.
The seminar closed with a debate on whether the hanging gardens of Doha could materialise from fantasy into reality.
QGBC Director Eng. Meshal Al Shamari said, “This seminar reflects a key element of QGBC’s mandate – to bring together diverse areas of expertise from among our members and local and international experts to explore ideas for future sustainable initiatives in Qatar.”