UNStudio completes the first 37 stations of Doha's new driverless metro

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A metro station that is comfortable, convenient, and filled with beautiful vault-like spaces. That’s UNStudio‘s vision for the new Doha metro network.

Designed for Qatar Railways, the first phase of the project has been completed with 37 stations and three metro lines (red, green and gold). Providing the spatial aesthetic for one of the most advanced and fastest driverless metro systems in the world, UNStudio’s design pays homage to Qatar’s regional architecture while firmly stepping into the country’s future.

For this project UNStudio was responsible for developing an ‘architectural branding manual’: an extensive set of design guidelines, architectural details and material outlines to assure the spatial quality and identity of the network. This comprehensive design manual served as a set of guidelines that were used by the appointed D&B contractors to deliver the different station types for the first phase.

One of the key goals of the design is to encourage locals to use public transport. to achieve this, the new stations strive to enhance the urban experience at the pedestrian scale and build new habits for the Doha community. The creation of these public spaces also intends to establish a strong station identity for the network. At busy junctions, the eye-catching buildings serve as a permanent reminder of the alternative to cars while also providing safe passage across busy roads.

Ben van Berkel of UNStudio says: ‘we are going to move differently in the future. mobility is changing fast, from the introduction of autonomous vehicles to urban cable cars and the hyperloop. The mobility hubs of the future have to respond to and cater to these changes. In order to encourage the use of more sustainable forms of transport, these stations not only have to ensure smooth passenger flows, but they need to truly appeal to the public; to the places they want to visit and return to.’

To create a design that is relevant to the context, UNStudio references the notion of ‘caravanserais’ – which were inns with enclosed courts that served as gathering and resting places on ancient trade routes – and following in the lineage of historic train palaces, the design generates social interaction and propagates place creation over space creation. Furthermore, in the architectural branding vision, the ‘vault’ represents a new referential bridge between the region’s historic architecture and culture and its future as a beacon of innovation and prosperity. Drawing inspiration from the arch, expressions of traditional architecture, the lightness of the dhow sail, and the tensile profiles of nomadic tents, the ‘vaulted spaces’ design proposes a contemporary approach to the interpretation and structural implementation of these references.

The materials employed create a duality between a pure, modest exterior versus a rich, illuminated mother of pearl effect interior. The exteriors reference the monolithic strength of old Qatari architecture, while the interior spaces create a radiant effect of movement and fluidity. The use of this uniquely Qatari ornamentation and material palette assists in dividing the large interior spaces and guiding pedestrians towards the transient spaces. The integrated light lines amplify the experience, function as natural wayfinding elements and contribute to a unique ambience for the metro network.

Ben van Berkel comments: ‘the celebration of arriving and departing has always been found in the design of stations. For the Doha metro network we devised an adaptive parametric system which creates open, light and welcoming interiors for each of the individual stations. Traditional Qatari architectural features are reinterpreted to incorporate new, transformative qualities which capture daylight and direct this into the interiors, creating uplifting and luminous atmospheres.’

With flexibility as a design and planning objective, a comprehensive architectural branding manual was produced to enable the efficient design and construction of the different station types. Using a large catalogue of architectural ‘branding’ elements, the design represents a flexible new architectural system which adapts itself to the scalar challenges of the metro network. ‘Through the production of a design manual and with the use of adaptive parametric design, it has been possible to create a design with many variants, yet one which maintains a coherent identity throughout all of the stations. In this way, we can combine local contextual differences within an overall identity and parametrically adapt physical factors such as wayfinding, daylight penetration, passenger flows, constructive elements etc. in a complex but extremely disciplined system,’ says Ben van Berkel.

Through a system of interconnected triangular base forms, the massing of the geometry adapts and transforms to incorporate programmatic functions and to connect interior spaces with exterior urban infrastructure. The design further incorporates and integrates all functional and technical aspects of the stations and network into a coherent architectural expression with a view to making the qatar rail metro network a world reference in the service provided by public transportation to the users and to the environment.

Project info:

Project name: Qatar integrated railway, Doha, Qatar, 2012 – 2019 (phase 1)

Client: Qatar Railways company

Location: Doha, Qatar

Program: ‘Qatar integrated railway project’ (QIRP), presently under development by the Qatar railways company (RAIL), comprises a complete railway system, consisting of four metro lines with approximately 30 stations in phase 1 and another 40 stations in phase 2.

Status: first phase completed

Architect: UNStudio

UNStudio credits: Ben van Berkel, with Arjan Dingsté, Nuno Almeida, Marianthi Tatari and René Rijkers, Jaap-Willem Kleijwegt, Tom Minderhoud, Maurizio Papa, Juergen Heinzel, Rob Henderson, Ariane Stracke, and Wael Batal, Thomas van Bekhoven, Ergin Birinci, William de Boer, Sean Buttigieg, Rodrigo Cañizares, Eric Caspers, Konstantinos Chrysos, Marc Hoppermann, Sebastian Janusz, Nemanja Kordić, Dennis Krassenburg, Samuel Liew, Guomin Lin, Chiara Marchionni, Alberto Martinez, Gerben Modderman, Martin Neumann, Patrik Noome, Kristoph Nowak, Bruno Peris, Marcos Polydorou, Clare Porter, Attilio Ranieri, Stefano Rocchetti, Thys Schreij, Georgios Siokas, Luke Tan, Yi-ju Tseng, Menno Trautwein, Gerasimos Vamvakidis, Laertis Vassiliou, Sander Versluis, Philip Wilck, Jooyoun Yoon, Martin Zangerl, Shuang Zhang, Meng Zhao, Jennifer Zitner, Seyavash Zohoori.


Structure, MEP: RHDHY

Lighting engineering: AG licht

Wayfinding: Mijksenaar

Passenger flow analysis: MIC – mobility in chain

Façade engineering: Inhabit

Acoustic engineering: Arup

Fire and life safety: AECOM

Technical landscape advice: AECOM

All station photos: © Hufton+crow

All diagrams: © Qatar Railways Company, designed by UNStudio

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