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February 2016

The Qatar Integrated Railway Project will highlight the region’s vernacular architecture, acting as a bridge between the country’s past and future.


Forming a link between the past and the future, the Qatar Integrated Railway Project (QIRP) is a design that integrates traditional Qatari architecture with an innovative look and feel.

The project was the vision of Dutch-based architecture firm, UNStudio, and Qatar Rail who selected the firm to work with them on the Railway Project. Qatar Rail is overseeing the construction of Qatar’s multi-billion dollar state-of-the-art integrated rail network.

The project, a collaboration between UNStudio and the Qatar Rail Architecture Department, comprises of Doha Metro, Lusail Tram and the long-distance train. The Metro, the key component of the QIRP – with phase 1 planned to include around 37 stations, to be completed by 2018, and phase 2, around 60 stations – will serve as the backbone of the public transport system in the Greater Doha Area (GDA). The full network (mostly underground) is planned to comprise four lines connecting the GDA as well as Al Khor, and Al Wakrah-Mesaieed communities located north and south of Doha respectively.

The end goal is to create a service that encourages the use of public transportation as a valid alternative to private transportation for Doha’s population, which now sits at over 700,000.


According to UNStudio, the design forms a bridge between the past and the future of Qatar, drawing inspiration from the vast regional architectural lexicon, whilst simultaneously representing an effective vision of modernisation and preservation.

One of the main aims of the design is to incorporate and integrate all functional and technical aspects of the stations and network into a coherent architectural expression, combining elements to eventually transform the Qatar Rail Metro Network into something of a world icon.

“The celebration of arriving and departing has always been found in the design of stations. For the QIRP we devised an adaptive parametric system which creates open, light and welcoming interiors for each of the individual stations. Traditional Qatari architectural features are reinterpreted to incorporate new, transformative qualities which capture daylight and direct this into the interiors, creating uplifting and luminous atmospheres,” explains Ben van Berkel, Principal Architect and Founder at UNStudio.

According to the company, the project will build upon existing elements found in the architecture of the GCC region. “In the architectural branding vision, vaulted spaces represent a new referential bridge between Qatar’s historic architecture and culture and its future as a beacon of innovation and prosperity,” says the company.

Derived from historic Islamic architecture the vaulted spaces design was uniquely selected by the Emir HH Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. It highlights the region’s vernacular architecture, acting as a bridge between the country’s past and future. One of the key elements of the design is that it gives the exterior shape of the station, by using modern bright materials to stimulate the interior of an oyster-like shape.

“Expressions of traditional architecture, the lightness of the dhow sail, and the tensile profiles of nomadic tents; the ‘vaulted spaces’ design proposes a contemporary approach to the interpretation and morphological implementation of these elements. Through a system of interconnected triangular base forms, the massing of the geometry adapts and transforms to incorporate programmatic functions and to connect interior spaces with exterior urban infrastructure,” says the company.

The interior of the station will be illuminated with a rich mother of pearl colour to create a radiant effect of movement and fluidity, whilst the exterior will reference the monolithic strength of old Qatari architecture.

“The use of this uniquely Qatari ornamentation and material palette assists in dividing the large interior spaces and guiding pedestrians towards the transient spaces. The integrated light lines amplify the experience, function as natural wayfinding elements and contribute to a unique ambience for the Metro Network,” says the company.

Using Caravanserai, a notion in which inns were used with enclosed courts that served as gathering and resting places on ancient trade routes, UNStudio has employed this technique creating a design that generates social interaction and propagates place creation over space creation.


A key concept within the design is one of creating varying scales of identity: network identity, line identity and station identity. According to UNStudio, creating different identities ensure that each station has its own features. “By integrating curated content throughout the stations, the Metro Network will serve as a cultural vehicle for Doha,” says the company.

Network identity will reflect the overall Qatar Rail brand by using recurring design elements that will shape the architecture of the stations consistently throughout the network and will offer brand recognition with Doha’s urban fabric, says the company.

Line identity will be achieved through the creation of different atmospheres, within the stations for each metro line (historic line, coastal line, city line and educational line) through distinct wall and floor treatments, as well as through material applications that orient and guide travellers through their journey.

“Finally, individual station identity will be achieved by displaying features positioned at strategic points in different areas of each station,” adds the UNStudio.

The project’s design has so far garnered a fair bit of attraction following the Best Arabian Architectural Design for Public Service and the Best International Architectural Design for Public Service awards at an international property awards show held in London late last year.


According to the company, the scale of the Metro intervention in Doha requires careful planning in order to comply with a strict time schedule and achieve minimum disruption in the urban environment.

For UNStudio flexibility has become integral in the design and planning objective at all levels of intervention. “Using a large catalogue of architectural ‘branding’ elements, the design proposal represents a flexible new architectural system which can adapt itself to challenges set within the Metro Network,” explains the company in response to adapting to changes in the designs.

“Through the production of a design manual and with the use of adaptive parametric design, it has been possible for us, in collaboration with Qatar Rail, to create a design with many variants, yet one which maintains a coherent identity throughout all of the stations. In this way, we can combine local contextual differences within an overall identity and parametrically adapt physical factors such as wayfinding, daylight penetration, passenger flows, constructive elements etc. in a complex but extremely disciplined system,” says Van Berkel.

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