The Gulf Architecture Project
The Research wing at Qatar National Library in collaboration with the Liverpool University’s School of Architecture aims to establish a digital repository of the traditional architecture of the Gulf region; a one-click-solution to all enquiries regarding the architecture of the region.
Last month, saw a series of public talks, a conference and an exhibition that examined the architectural heritage of Qatar and the Gulf at the Qatar National Library.
The events are part of QNL’s Gulf Architecture Project (GAP), which was launched in January 2019 in collaboration with Qatar’s architecture community and the world’s leading research centre for the study of traditional Gulf architecture at Liverpool University’s School of Architecture.
The collaborative undertaking aims to establish a digital repository of historical photographs, films, and audio recordings, drawings, maps and 3D digital content on the traditional architecture of Qatar and the Gulf region, with accompanying research.
A series of weekly lectures throughout the month, The Gulf Architecture Conference and Exhibition, took a closer look at the different dimensions of the region’s architectural heritage. The public talks kick-started with a talk by Ibrahim Jaidah, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Architect, Arab Engineering Bureau, who has also authored many books on the traditional Qatari style of architecture.
Dr. James Onley, Director of Historical Research and Partnerships at the Library, said: “The Gulf Architecture Exhibition and Conference promotes a broader understanding of architecture as an important aspect of our region’s identity and heritage. Traditional architecture is one of the most important aspects of a nation’s heritage and material culture. Qatar’s historic buildings offered more than protection from the elements or invaders—they were the physical manifestation of Qatar’s cultural identity.”
SCALE talked to Dr. Haitham Al-Abri Senior Researcher, Historical Research & Partnership at Qatar National Library to know more about the Gulf Architecture Project. Dr. Haitham is enthusiastic about this new project that is ongoing as “this will be the single largest research available on the entire region and there will be scope for collaborations, within Qatar, while Liverpool will help us with collaborations and stories from outside of Qatar. Even if we are talking about the oral history of buildings that no longer exist, these stories will find its way into the research that we are focusing on.”
SCALE: How did Gulf Architecture Project or GAP begin and what initiated it?
GAP Started when Dr. James Onley, visited a symposium hosted by the University of Liverpool and he was amazed by the amount of research done by the ArCHIAM, Centre for the Study of Architecture and Cultural Heritage of India, Arabia, and the Maghreb, on the Omani architecture. ArCHIAM is an interdisciplinary forum currently based at the University of Liverpool that cuts across traditional disciplinary boundaries and provides an exciting opportunity for the study of both historical and contemporary phenomena with the aim to develop theoretical positions but also practice-based research.
ArCHIAM has created an online archive for this research on its website and they have the experience and knowledge of doing such research-based studies in the Gulf. The idea then came to Dr. Onley of using their expertise in the collection of data and research of the entire Gulf Peninsula. To bring all the materials; articles that have been published, any data regarding architecture and buildings, photographs, data, anything that can help researchers understand the architecture of the Gulf, not just the historical ones, but also the ongoing works too and publish it all together under one portal and make it like a one-stop-shop of all the architecture-related material on the Gulf. Imagine, if you enter the Qatar National Library website and with one click, get all the related material on the architecture of the place, download it if need be and use it for any research or study. Rather than an earlier process of moving from one office to another to collect data of buildings, all the research is now is available to you at a click, for free.
The discussion was ongoing since then with Liverpool University and the project was launched early this year. The researchers at the University of Liverpool have been collecting data since then and have managed to identify very interesting collections, as their scope was to collect all data from around the world, from any country through history that had an association with Qatar. From architectural practices that started in the early 90s, who have come to the country, to see the realisation of a project to the recent ongoing ones are all grouped into this research.
SCALE: Which is the time frame of the research? What period will it target?
It varies from one Gulf country to the other as life and architectural development started much earlier in some countries when compared to the other. The research will maintain records of any details of architecture in the country from that period till to date. They would be identifying the collection, obtaining the copyrights, then digitizing the records for the QNL.
SCALE: Why has the University of Liverpool been selected for this research work and not any other college?
The University of Liverpool has done such extensive work before and they have the capacity to do it. An expert will be leading this project and this person needs to have connections with architects who have a relationship through their work in the country and these connections will make it easier to source and compile all the data available. The person identified was Prof Soumyen Bandyopadhyay from the University of Liverpool. He has undertaken a training intern programme also for students in Universities who could help in the project. The first submission from the University of Liverpool has been received but it will take time to go public on this.
SCALE: Why is this termed as the Gulf Architecture Project when the data is collected mostly with regard to Qatar?
We have known through history that it is quite impossible to look at each of the GCC countries in isolation as the trade networks have been shared, the migration patterns are loosely similar, and all these factors have affected how each of these countries has been shaped.
SCALE: How different is the architecture of one GCC country from the other?
Every country in the Gulf has its own significance in relation to how its architecture has been shaped and developed in that country. Every country has its own relation to its geography, land migrations, the trade networks and the livelihood of every nation. In Qatar, pearling was the livelihood, while in Oman, it was different, the oasis settlement that they depended on affected the architectural fabric of the country. In Oman, the traditional Omani settlements, or Haras, is the architectural fabric that comes to my mind and how these have helped or rather paved way for many such Omani structures in the modern context. The social cohesiveness of the settlers was evident in the traditional Haras and this is evident in many of the buildings. Clusters, interlocking are all architectural features that come up in many Omani buildings.
In Qatar, the coastal livelihood had an impact on the architecture; sea trades helped bring in new materials and ideas that infiltrated into the architecture. The layers from all these factors add up on top of each other and identify the Qatari architectural landscape.