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Photos courtesy of Sam Agnew and Ateliers Jean Nouvel

One of Qatar’s most iconic buildings has been shortlisted for a prestigious international architecture award.

Doha Tower, also known as Burj Qatar, is among 19 buildings that have been chosen as finalists for the Aga Khan Award for Architecture.

The honor is awarded every three years for “projects that set new standards of excellence in architecture, planning practices, historic preservation and landscape architecture,” organizers said in a statement.

Qatar’s tower is up against an eclectic range of projects, including a power station in the Azeri city of Baku, a pedestrian bridge in Tehran, a nature conservation center in Jordan, a floating school in Nigeria and the King Fahad National Library in Riyadh.

The $125 million building, designed by French architect Jean Nouvel Ateliers, was among 348 entries initially nominated for the prize.

The finalists are now being examined by a nine-member master jury of international architects, structural engineers and conservation specialists, to compete for US$1 million in prize money.

‘Still special’

The 49-story tower, which sits in a prominent position on Doha’s Corniche, took seven years to build for Sheikh Saud bin Mohammed bin Ali Al Thani, and was completed in 2012.

It has won numerous architecture and design awards in the past, including Best Tall Building in the World by the Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) in 2012.

It was also named GCC Building of the Year by Middle East Economic Digest (MEED) in 2013.

Doha Tower/Burj Qatar

AKAA/Cemal Emden

Doha Tower/Burj Qatar

The burj is a glass and concrete cylinder wrapped in a protective steel mashrabiyya. The concentration of coverage of the metal lace-like grid varies on the tower, depending on the orientation of the building.

While it initially stood on its own in Dafna/West Bay, the tower now has plenty of company as neighboring buildings have come up.

“It still shines through as something special,” Nouvel said a few weeks ago in a short video clip, talking about the tower.

The award were established by the Aga Khan nearly 40 years ago, to identify and encourage building concepts that successfully address the needs and aspirations of communities in which Muslims have a significant presence.

Since the first awards in 1977, 110 projects have received the award and more than 9,000 building projects have been documented.

Thoughts?

West Bay bus

Ankita Menon

West Bay bus

Passengers will soon have to pay to ride Qatar’s shuttle bus through Dafna/West Bay, after the service’s contract was renewed for another year by the government.

Starting April 1, riders will be charged an unspecified “fair price” for the commuter and tourist service, the Ministry of Transportation and Communication said in a statement.

The two-year-old shuttle rides are rarely used by people in the area, despite a parking crunch, due to time constraints, many have said.

To tackle this issue, the two routes that currently wind through the office towers in Qatar’s central business district will be consolidated into one.

Buses will run more frequently, picking up passengers every 12 minutes, down from every 20 minutes, for a total of 76 daily trips. The service starts at 6am and ends at 9pm, three hours earlier than when it first launched in 2014.

“As per this converged single route, we hope to serve the passengers better by more accessibility and frequency and also reduce their travel time,” the ministry quoted its director of technical affairs as saying.

New West Bay Bus route

Ministry of Transportation and Communication

New West Bay Bus route

(Click here to see a PDF map of the New West Bay bus route.)

The new route starts at Khalifa Tennis and Squash complex and swings through the Qatar Post Office before zigzagging through the streets between the Corniche and Majlis Al Taawon St.

The route also services the new Doha Exhibition and Conference Center, City Center Mall, the Four Seasons, Hilton and Intercontinental the City.

Parking woes

The number of office workers in Dafna vastly outstrips the amount of available parking in the area, resulting in many commuters illegally leaving their vehicles on sidewalks and other prohibited areas each day.

Additionally, the volume of vehicles entering and exiting the area during rush hour frequently causes traffic jams.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Zafra Bint Afker

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

In a bid to ease congestion, the government began operating the West Bay Shuttle Bus slightly more than two years ago with two overlapping routes running every 15 minutes.

Both started and ended at the southwest edge of Dafna, where free parking is more plentiful.

However, the service was slow to catch on among residents, with few passengers using the free service a month into its operations.

Last month, the Gulf Times reported that many of the buses were still running nearly empty.

The newspaper spoke to several would-be passengers who said they would rather pay for parking or a taxi than spend the extra 15 to 20 minutes required to take the bus.

Others, however, have complimented the shuttle:

Have you used the West Bay Shuttle Bus? What was your experience? Thoughts?

Tornado Tower

Sebastian Wilke/Flickr

Tornado Tower

Plans for an Australian Embassy in Doha will reportedly face additional political scrutiny following complaints over its projected A$20 million (more than QR52 million) price tag.

The public inquiry will examine the costs associated with the mission, which is set to be housed on a floor of Tornado Tower in West Bay/Dafna’s business district.

The 895 sq m office will be used by four diplomatic officials and 11 locally-employed staff, the Australian Daily Telegraph reported.

The initial fit-out plans were estimated to cost A$8.91 million (QR23 million), with a 10-year lease on the landmark tower earmarked at A$13 million (QR34 million).

This would equate to a weekly rent of A$18,000 (QR47,000), which is twice as expensive as the Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices in Sydney, the newspaper added.

The budget was already rejected once by a public works’ committee.

At a Senate estimates meeting last month, the fit-out costs were revised to come in around A$7 million, The New Daily reported Kevin Nixon, executive director of the country’s Overseas Property Office, as saying.

At the hearing, Senator Alex Gallacher described it as “the most expensive fit-out in the history of the public works committee,” the paper added.

Security

The choice of Tornado Tower as a location for the embassy was driven by security arrangements, as well as what was seen to be prohibitive costs in constructing a new building.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Lachlan Fearnley/Wikicommons

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

A spokesman for foreign minister Julie Bishop said the decision had been made when Tony Abbott was prime minister.

“The Abbott government viewed there were strong grounds for an Australian Embassy in Doha,’’ the spokeswoman added.

The Australian government announced in May last year that it would open its first diplomatic office in Qatar.

The proposed Qatar office comes out of a QR285.44 million (A$98.3 million) federal budget dedicated to open new overseas missions in Qatar, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Mongolia and Thailand.

There are approximately 5,000 Australia nationals living in Qatar who currently receive consular service from the Australian embassy in Abu Dhabi, where ambassador Arthur Spyrou also represents his country in Qatar.

Spyrou declined to comment to Doha News on the public inquiry.

Boosting trade

The presence of an embassy often reflects two states’ trade relations, as can be viewed as a way to further improve ties.

“Two-way trade between Australia and Qatar was worth $1.75 billion in 2014-15, with Australian exports growing by over 20 percent. Over 80 Australian companies are present in Qatar and the football world cup presents a huge opportunity for Australian businesses,” Bishop’s spokesman added in a statement, The Daily Telegraph said.

The country’s keenness to boost ties with the region was on display last year when Andrew Robb, Australia’s trade and investment minister, visited Qatar and several other Gulf states.

“This will be my third visit to the Gulf in 12 months, which indicates the priority Australia places on further deepening trade and investment links with this dynamic region,” Robb stated at the time.

Meanwhile, the first Qatar Airways flight from Doha to Sydney will take off tonight, marking the third Australian destination for the local carrier.

The Boeing 777-300 will leave Doha at 8:10pm Qatar time and arrive in Sydney after a nearly 15-hour flight at 6:05pm local time the following day. The return trip leaves Australia at 10:20pm and lands in Qatar at 5:05am the next day, the airline said last September when it announced the new route.

Thoughts?