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Qatar addresses Sustainability in World Cup Stadiums

Updated: Mar 24, 2022

Complex requirements for a never before tournament have driven innovation in Qatar to knew sustainable levels. We talked with Shashi Narayanan about his input and design journey.

Please could you share with us how you become involved in sustainable design as a young architect and how you have watched the demand evolve?

After my architecture degree I had the chance to go and gain some work experience in India. My first 6 months were spent working with a commercial practice in the port city of Cochin, located in the state of Kerala, where my family originate from. I was kept busy working on a secondary school, and some residential housing developments. Around this time, I was introduced to a group of architects called the Eco-Sensitive Design Consultants (ESDC) who were closely associated with the British Architect Laurie Baker. With over 50 years of experience working with indigenous communities and charitable groups, Baker’s architecture was embedded in the use of natural materials, that were locally sourced and used low energy methods and which easily be constructed by local craftsman. The very embodiment of sustainable and green building before these terms were commonly used. I had the privilege of working with this group in an earthquake-stricken region, in Latur in the large Indian state of Maharashtra, where an earthquake, measuring 6 on the Richter scale, had devastated vast swathes of land and destroyed communities. Our brief was to propose retrofit strategies to ensure that existing housing could be inhabited, and where this was not possible, to propose new housing types and enclosures using indigenous building methods and materials.

This early introduction into green building, greatly informed my approach to architecture throughout my career. I was constantly questioning the design choices being made and the building approaches taken. Eventually in 2007, I was offered the role as a Sustainable Design Leader at the London office of Hellmuth Obata & Kassabaum (HOK), an American practice which had over 26 offices all around the world. I was tasked with ensuring that sustainability was embedded into all projects and ensuring that LEED and BREEAM green building certifications were adopted wherever possible. Since this time, I have seen the steady growth in adoption of these green building’s programmes, with clients and design teams understanding the importance of addressing the sustainability challenges that developing a building entail.

You have worked in Asia and the Middle East extensively, what do you think it is about emerging markets which makes them so ripe for/interested in sustainable development?

I’m of the view that all development should be sustainable, whilst it is currently being witnessed that the rest of the world appears to have caught up with this reality.

Traditionally, the indigenous architecture of the Middle East could respond to the extremes of heat found in these arid environments, an understanding of passive design, the direction of the wind, controlled access of day light through carefully placed openings and the usage of massive, heat absorbing roofs and walls. All the solutions to these climatic challenges have been addressed in this part of the world for a very long time. However, since the advent of air-conditioning the building designer has mostly forgotten about these fundamentals and imposed a homogenous building typology that is found and replicated all over the world. I suppose it’s about not repeating the developmental mistakes that have been made in the western world. The Middle East has a wealth of opportunity and resources to build differently and more sustainably, using the latest technology, but also rigorously applying passive design principles that have been historically used in this part of the world for millennia.

As an area that is scarce in water resources, it goes without saying that ensuring that this precious resource is protected, collected and preserved is a high priority. Desalinating sea water is an expensive and energy intensive option, so ensuring that this water is re-used and conserved as often as possible is an important strategy for every development.

Together with new developments, the opportunity to conserve and redevelop existing buildings is also a massive opportunity. Reducing the embodied carbon impact from new building must be considered as part of the strategy, ensuring that global warming is kept within the 1.5oC temperature rise as required by the 2015 Paris agreement.

Qatar has done various noteworthy sustainable projects and I know you first started working in the country on the Doha Metro endeavour. Could you talk to us a bit about the genesis of the Doha Metro and what makes it unique?

Doha’s new metro network was already planned before Qatar gained the right to host the World Cup. Envisioned as part of the Qatar National Vision 2030 development goals, The Gold Line is one of 4 lines, in a network containing 38 stations and containing 86 km of track. For its construction, the network required 21 Tunnel Boring Machines (TBMs) which is a Guinness world record for the simultaneous operation of the maximum number of TBMs in one city. As well as its engineering excellence, the metro projects are also certified under the first green building certification for railway buildings in the world, both for the design and construction of the finished buildings and for the environmental impact during the construction stage.

My role, as the Gold Line sustainability manager was to ensure that the delivery contractor, the ALYSJ Joint Venture, achieved a high sustainability rating under the contracted GSAS certification standard. For many of the delivery partners, which consisted of Greek, Turkish, Indian and Qatari contractors, it was the first time they were involved in a green certified construction, so there was a steep learning curve to ensure that all the engineering and design disciplines understood how they could contribute to a high-performance green building. The client, Qatar Rail, had set a clear obligation in their contract to achieve a green building certification at a definite level of 4 stars. This requirement, akin to all the other delivery requirements, such as the building of railway tracks or station buildings, was a non-negotiable part of the project. Together with my sustainability team, we engaged with all the technical and construction delivery teams to ensure that the requirements of the sustainability standard were embedded at every stage of the process, ensuring that external audits from third party auditors were successful through all the design and construction phases. It was an immensely rewarding project, which at its peak had just over 10,000 workers on site and will be one of the major methods of ensuring mobility in and around Doha during the FIFA World Cup at the end of 2022.

Now you are working for WSP as part of the team which supports Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SCDL) in delivering the World Cup 2022 stadiums. How have you found this innovative project?

The incredible Stadium 974, formerly known as Ras Abu Aboud Stadium, is the world’s first demountable stadium, built from shipping containers and steel structural elements that can be disassembled. The stadium design seeks to addresses one of the key challenges of any large-scale sporting event, namely, how can the asset be utilised after the tournament has finished? At a time when there is no longer a need for that capacity of seating. The answer that is demonstrated in this brand-new stadium, which epitomises circular economy practices, is to ensure that the structure can be easily de-constructed and reconfigured as a whole new stadium or as a series of smaller enclosures. Using the principle of a kit-of-parts, most of the elements of the stadium can be re-used, a bit like a large-scale Lego building!! The walls, roof, seating, structure and even the concrete foundation pads are designed in such a way that they can be detached and transported to another location to be reconfigured into a new facility.

This potential for reusability, has been an integral and driving force for the choice of all the materials for the stadium and showcases how a major venue can be kept in use through successive deployments in different locations. The SCDL have made a commitment to start deconstructing the stadium, very soon after the last Quarter final match is played there, ensuring that the stadium is ready to be relocated at the earliest possible opportunity.

There was controversy about having the world cup in a country where temperatures can be very high. How do you think the challenges have inspired technological advancement for this World Cup and the legacy it will leave behind?

Challenging design teams to come up with solutions, where previously there were none, has been the hallmark of the sustainable approach to the world cup. All the design, mechanical, servicing and comfort standards for stadium design that currently exist were conceived for north American and western European contexts. There were no standards for building in hot arid environments. This meant, that Qatar stadium design teams had no usable comfort standards to base their designs on, which lead them to devise their own. Extensive innovative design approaches have been employed to ensure that cooling is delivered in an energy efficient and optimal way. Complex modelling, using computational fluid dynamics (CFD) has investigated the predicted air flow patterns and temperature in and around the stadium seated areas and field of play. This has enabled the mechanical engineers to fine tune and optimise the energy usage of the stadiums, proposing a road map of innovative approaches that can be adopted in other challenging climates. It is well published that the 2022 world cup will take place at a time of the year when the temperatures are comfortable, so the cooling technologies that has been developed will not be required during the tournament. These are destined for use during the legacy stages, ensuring that the facilities can be used in all climates throughout the year.

As well as the innovative approaches to the creation of the tournament buildings, there have also been amazing improvements in construction site health and safety practices in the tournament building sites. With it being illegal for workers to work outside through the hottest hours of the day between 10am and 3:30pm with shifts being adjusted to avoid heat stress. Protective cooling equipment such as photo voltaic powered cooled construction helmets and gel cooled clothing have also been utilised to ensure more bearable external working conditions. It is hoped that the delivery of these facilities of national importance will help to influence the management of all projects large and small and improve the health and safety culture throughout the construction sector.

Are there any easy to implement sustainable aspects of development would you encourage developers in frontier and emerging markets to make?

As we are living in a time of climate emergency, we don’t really have the option of not acting. In many ways it’s comparable to asking if an architect should provide a roof on the building they are designing for their client, it’s taken for granted that this will be provided without having to actually ask! Carbon reduction has moved from a nice to have, to being a fundamental part of how we approach the construction of the built environment. It needs to be understood by every stakeholder and practitioner that delivering net zero energy buildings is embedded into the cost of doing business, quite frankly if our developer and other institutional and commercial clients don’t do this, their built environment assets will be worth less. As built environment professionals, it is our collective responsibility to work with our clients to ensure that their designs are future ready and robust enough to cope with the climate and energy challenges that lay ahead.

As a bare minimum in all markets, emerging, frontier, or otherwise, a fabric first approach to building design should always be adopted, which involves maximising the performance of the components and materials that make up the building fabric itself, before considering the use of mechanical or electrical building service systems for the heating or cooling of the building.

What advice would you give to young architects starting out their careers?

Get as much diverse experience as you can across multiple sectors. Use work as an opportunity to travel the world and discover new places. Stay curious and find out why and how great spaces and buildings work. Close down your computer and fill your sketch book with ideas and draw by hand as much as possible. But most of all have fun and make sure you make it memorable!!

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