Over the last decade, the architecture in the Middle East if carefully observed somehow seems to make do without any character. The cities are getting choked in a jungle of concrete, steel and glass.
Architecture here is needlessly influenced by concepts predominantly from the West. One of the more difficult problems for expatriates/visitors in understanding the cities of the Middle East are their lack of a public realm.
Globalisation has given form to buildings that resemble objects, have match-box designs with unfortunate functional separations. Designs are built burdened by unnecessary stylistic demands.
There seems to be this inherent copy-paste mindset among designers. This advocates methods of tweaking ideas from one cultural context and illogically pasting them onto another.
Being the tallest, biggest and longest does not lend personality to the architecture of a place. In recent years, the idea of building ‘green' has been imported.
I see these as temporary trends set up to support the marketing of related fields of construction activity. Sophisticated and expensive intelligent service systems are still marketed, sold and applied.
The ‘green' term is certainly abused and misunderstood by most of the engineering empire. Architects now depend much on intelligent service systems to make up for their neglect in the basic building design.
If well designed, a building's skin should be able to breathe when needed, to shade when required and be responsive to the conditions inside and outside. One would not require so-called ‘green' or ‘intelligent' engineering methods to supplement or overcome a sluggish design process.
It is unfortunate that rating systems such as Leed (Leadership in Energy and Environment Design) have converted architecture into an accounting exercise. This has completely digressed from what could have been a healthy exercise in coming out with truly good — forget outstanding — architecture. We are missing an opportunity to develop such architecture by allowing these accounting or statistical procedures to dominate our logical thinking and creativity.
Targeting maximum Leed points — especially in the GCC — requires a deeper understanding of the effect. I also urge clients/developers to be open-minded on their Leed vision.
Inappropriate implementation of add-on techniques has more often than not led to cumbersome processes.
Fascination with glass
In this part of the world where innovative methods of keeping the heat out and preventing its transfer are required, architects make do with glass. I concur with the vision of Leed and its benefits to the environment.
Common sense is the key. Traditional Islamic architecture includes many innovative, functional and ecological design principles, but none of them have been perpetuated by the new-generation architects.
The future of architecture desperately lies in logical design, controlled urban growth and in the acceptance of one's own cultural roots. Let's go back to these roots then.
The writer is an architect based in Doha.