More than 40,000 migrant workers in Qatar could be living in locally designed, “socially sustainable” housing units by 2017 under an initiative that backers say would significantly improve the living conditions of many low-income expats.
Over the past few years, researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar have been developing a “family”-style layout of prefabricated modular housing units, assembled in community apartment blocks.
Inside the residence, each worker would have his own space for personal possessions in a semi-private air conditioned bedroom, which is connected to a common living room shared with 11 other residents.
Speaking to Doha News, Roman Turczyn, the director of the Center for Research, Design & Entrepreneurship at VCUQ, said the housing concept “revolves around giving them a sense of home … a sense of belonging, a sense of dignity.”
He added that it could also help alter global perceptions of the country:
“It shows the world that Qatar is doing something positive for improving the conditions of migrant workers.”
What is it?
Each bedroom is 3 meters wide by six-to-seven meters long, and houses three people. Four bedrooms connect to a living room, which is also attached to a bathroom and a balcony suited for hanging clothes. One living room wall is made up of sliding doors that can be opened when the weather is nice. Four of these insulated “living units” share a courtyard.
Due to concerns over fire safety and sanitation, there are no kitchens in individual units. Instead, standalone food preparation and dining buildings are included in layout sketches of a sample camp.
“Everyone has their own space inside a community,” said Turczyn, whose students and colleagues started to work on initial concepts and ideas for their project, titled, A Portable Architecture for Qatar: Improving Migrant Worker’s Conditions by Design, in 2007.
The cost of erecting a unit varies considerably and depends on factors such as distance to existing infrastructure; availability of site services; and soil conditions, said Johan Terblans, general manager of Core Projects and Supplies, which sells to the building industry. Core is responsible for marketing VCUQ’s housing systems.
However, Terblans said a finished unit, with electrical, plumbing and sanitary systems in place, would cost roughly QR1,800 a square meter. While he didn’t know the cost of constructing lower-quality labor camps, he said purpose-built low-cost housing with a concrete foundation costs approximately QR2,800 a square meter.
The units have an expected lifespan of 15 to 20 years, Turczyn said.
The marketing of these units to construction contractors, government officials and land investors comes as the country braces for the arrival of an estimated 1.5 million migrant workers needed to construct facilities for the 2022 World Cup tournament.
Earlier this year, Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee published a handbook of guidelines for labor camps. These recommendations draw on a 2005 law that bans bunk beds and limits the number of workers sharing a bedroom to four. Additionally, the guidelines included standards for kitchens, dining rooms and cooking areas, as well as electrical, water, sewer and ventilation systems.
These standards are evidently not being immediately adopted universally. A photo taken by members of BWI, an international trade union, at a labor camp in Qatar last month shows a room with bunkbeds housing at least eight workers.
However, there is a push to change that. Earlier this year, Qatar Foundation published mandatory standards for its contractors and sub-contractors aimed at protecting the welfare of migrant workers.
Included in the charter is a section on building design and planning standards, which could mean big business for VCUQ and its partners as QF’s requirements are adopted by other organizations.
A recent tender put out by Msheireb Properties requires contractors to comply with the QF standards, according to Terblans.
Terblans said he expects Qatar Rail Co. and the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee – which has released its own workers’ charter – to begin forcing bidders to comply with the requirements.
Speaking to Doha News, Terblans said his business plan assumes an influx of some 800,000 to 1 million new residents will move to Qatar by 2017. He forecasts his firm will capture 5 to 15 percent of the market for new accommodations, which at the bottom end of the scale would be homes for 40,000 residents.
“Even if you talk about having a small percentage, it is going to be huge,” Terblans said.
VCUQ has said that they already have some dozen firms ready to build the the homes according to their standards and schedule.
Terblans said he hopes to start filling orders in the first quarter of 2014. Meanwhile, Turczyn and the VCUQ team continue to refine their housing model, working to add on-site wastewater treatment options, among other features.
Hmm, they look very similar to the ‘temporary’ emergency housing used in Kobe after the Hanshin earthquake. If they are built to anything like the same standard they will still be in use 20 years hence, as in Kobe.
Wow, when these are seen to ‘significantly improve the living conditions’ of workers, it makes me sick and sad to think of their current conditions – if one bathroom for 12 men is an improvement, what do they currently live with? SHAME on any Company/Contractor who cannot provide a basic clean bed in air conditioned facilities, water, bathrooms and showers and a decent meal for these men who work endless hours in these harsh weather conditions. I do hope that they are all pressurized to meet the minimum standards required.
Just in time for the UN human rights inspection team!
I wonder if there will be a safe place in these for keeping the passports, because such concerns have forced some employers to keep these safe for the workers (at great inconvenience to the employers).
Shipping containers are every labourer’s dream home. Preferably designed by students.
Get real. By labourer/unskilled worker standards in most countries, and certainly in almost all Asian and African countries these units are pretty decent and a huge improvement on what is already provided. Let’s give a little credit where due.
These are not substantially different than what soldiers/contractors have been living in in Iraq/Afghanistan for a decade. They are spoken of fairly highly. I believe them to be a huge move up for most labourers in Qatar.
Reminds me of some students living conditions in cardiff
Heh, I’ve never seen it in the flesh, but I’ve heard the stories. You poor, poor man! I hope that you have recovered from that trauma by now.
so, 3 meters by 7 meters= 21 sq Meters,minus 3 bed of 1.8 sq meter= 5,4
so, it is square 5.2 sq meters per person.
A step in the right direction, so some very tentative applause for that, but why the hell wasn’t this done years ago? The place has been awash in money (and migrant labourers) for years now….should it really need global shaming to initiate this?
Lived in similar myself in Solomon Islands and PNG when working for the Australian Government. Its a real step in the right direction that’s for sure. Well done, excellent initiative.
Firstly, it is good news that decent accommodation is at last being considered, specifically designed to be located where required, and purpose built, As a modular construction however, I think it is a shame that the scale of it still requires workers to share – Semi privacy actually means no privacy. I fail to see why personal washing facilities of at least a washbasin couldn’t be incorporated. Given the nature of many of these workers jobs, adequate shower provision should be more important- 1 -12 is pretty low. Offering workers communal kitchens is fine ( no real detail given) but will it include proper, individually secure, hygienic refrigerated storage? One of the issues around workers health is their poor diet, so perhaps consideration of catered provision would be a step in the right direction.
An interesting project for students, but perhaps the outcome could be more location specific, user specific, community orientated and offering an exemplar solution rather than a rework of containerized solutions seen elsewhere. I hate to be negative, but really don’t see this solution as an answer, just an initial response.
I cant believe that the same area that is suggested for relaxing is adjacent to a shared toilet (wet module) and is also used by neighbours to dry their laundry. Surely this is not the best that can be done. This isn’t a critism at the company providing the solution, rather at the cleint who isn’t asking or demanding for more.
This is, as stated, an old design used for mancamp/crew housing in shipyards, etc. They are not bad as a temporary billet. Most offshore crew rotate in and out at 21/21 or 28/28 day rotations. As a full time living space I would think it would be tight. The sinks in these are very small as well. They might be big enough to wash a couple pair of socks.
Most commenters here have never worked offshore, in the desert, etc. doing construction/drilling/production operations. This type of accommodation and size is pretty much standard in any ‘camp’ life around the world. Hot bedding is also an accepted practice, especially in drilling operations.
Main thing I would ask about would be the washing facilities for clothes, and the standard of meals. Plus the units on top need to have good insulation on the roof or they will get too hot in the summer.
Hard to compare the two, as this would be their permanent living arrangement, remember these guys will be here for 1 to 2 years before they have the chance for a trip home..Maybe better than what they have now…but you are on spot, no mention of clothes washing facilities….Depending on the size of the camp, they should offer a canteen for breakfast and dinner, free of charge to the workers…
Heat. Big windows let in too much heat.
But shouldn’t bedrooms have an emergency-egress window nonetheless?
Clarification…the small windows you see in the photo are only in the sleeping modules. Each person’s sleeping space has it’s own small window and yes, heat gain was a factor. Each sleeping module however opens onto a substantial living area with one complete side of the living area made of glass sliding doors overlooking a shaded courtyard, so there is plenty of light. There is no need for the windows to serve as exits as there are two exits from every ‘family’ unit.
As we go forward, our goal is to keep refining the design to make it better.
Roman, are you saying from each of the sleeping quarters there are two exits? What is the proposed layout of the designs you are working. What type of storage space will the individuals have? What washing facility will be offered for the worker clothes? Why dont you try to follow the QF recommendation of 4 sqm per person in the bedroom? Since you are looking at 3.2 sqm in the bedroom, was it decided better to offer less to accomodate more, then offer more to accmodate less?
Thank you for your response, I understood that the pictured small windows were part of the sleeping units. The problem with the exits being in the living area is if the living area were to catch fire it could trap those in the bedroom. Perhaps a non-window emergency exit could solve the problem without causing overheating.