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posted on 06.08.10

While most of the high-profile architectural innovation in the Gulf is derided for its wasteful luxury (Versace-funded air conditioned beaches, indoor mountains), the region’s desire for novelty and willingness to experiment could prove an incubator for progressive design. Moreover, the Gulf cities are more open to imagination and fantasy than more conventional urban areas. Although so far most of the showpiece buildings in Qatar and the Emirates are little more than hulking trophies, the quest for spectacle engenders an interest in buildings that do something, as opposed to sitting there declaring the city’s extravagance. Buildings like the rotating skyscraper do a lot more to change our idea of what a building can be than whatever deconstructionist pile of blocks Frank Gehry is computer-modeling right now.

This interest in dynamic architecture could potentially make the Gulf a pioneer in green design. Ideas that are normally confined to Eugene Tsui’s drawing board have a chance there, and ecological design is certainly not opposed to spectacle; I think the two could have a powerful symbiotic relationship.

This building in Doha, Qatar illustrates my point: its design is based on a cactus, both functionally and aesthetically, making it an architectural onomatopoeia as well as a Robert-Venturi-and-Denise-Scott-Brownian “duck”.

The biomimetic building, which will house the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Agriculture, resembles a cactus in function as well as form; it will be covered in shutters that open at night to let in cooler air, like the pores of a cactus. This eliminates the need for a wasteful air-conditioning system by matching the building to its surroundings. 

It is very easy to mock the Gulf, but their willingness to experiment with the way buildings work, in addition to how they look, could revolutionize green architecture.


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Robert Venturi


Design Arts
Environmental Architecture




Gulf Coast