City of Light
2012’s Hannover Messe, is the world’s biggest industrial fair held in Hanover, Germany – focused on ‘green intelligence’ and it was here that engineer Essa Mohammed Ali Kaldari, Qatari CEO of Lusail Real Estate Development Company, revealed how Lusail would incorporate “all that is green, sustainable and smart in real estate.”
PROS AND CONS
Apart from the Marina District – spread over 1.8 million square metres and which will be home to an estimated population of 30,000 residents and 50,000 workers – Lusail City in its entirety is a 37 square kilometre area north of Doha that is ultimately set to be developed into a 19 district-strong hub, with space for up to 250,000 inhabitants when finished.
First announced in December 2005 and now scheduled for completion by 2019 at the earliest, the municipality of Al Kheisa’s futuristic hub, based just north of West Bay Lagoon, will eventually include man-made islands, four high-rises, an entertainment district, 36 schools, a state-of-the-art hospital, an office park for energy companies, two golf courses and five stadia. Infrastructure totalling US$7.4 billion (QR30 billion) will finish by late 2015.
Lusail’s planners envisage a global destination, a blend of the natural and artificial environments – and a high tech centre that is both attractive and yet may provide a satisfying return for investors. Indeed, as Doha now attracts more than two million visitors annually, there are signs that overseas investors are taking Qatar, and more specifically Lusail City, more seriously. Lusail’s first tenants should be moving in by the end of 2013, according to a recent statement by Kaldari.
Mahmoud Ahmed, chief executive officer (CEO) of Q House Invest in Uppsala, Sweden, in turn reports massive interest from northern Europe in the first development to go on sale, a six-floor, US$77 million (QR280 million) multi-use complex. “Scandinavians spend up to six months of the year in darkness, so Lusail holds great appeal as a winter getaway,” he says. “Qatar’s tax free environment is highly attractive to the most highly-taxed people in Europe. I believe investors will eventually value Lusail in the way they look at London or Paris.”
Nevertheless, non-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nationals can only lease property in Qatar for 99 years, which has cast uncertainty over long-term projects, including Lusail. Top consultants have also questioned the proposed payment plans. For example, Craig Plumb, head of research at British global real estate services firm Jones Lang LaSalle, has insisted there is “very little demand” for the funding model behind Barwa’s 3.7 million square metre Lusail Golf Residential Development. The scheme, which will feature an 18-hole Greg Norman-designed course, is set to be financed by down payments. Plumb believes most investors are instead “looking for completed or nearly completed properties.”
Nevertheless, Doha currently offers one solitary members-only course and thus a repeat of a Dubai-style mishap seems unlikely – Jumeirah Golf Estates’ incomplete four-course plans and Dubailand’s suspended Tiger Woods centre outstripped any possible demand.
While the Qatari government commits itself to energy efficiency, it is often accused of token gestures in this area. In the Lusail development, however, it excels. The Qatar Vision for 2030 and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), the United States Green Building standard, set the bar for the master developer here. Lusail is the first new site to adopt the homegrown Qatar Sustainability Assessment System (QSAS). According to Kaldari, the ambition is for the town to be a self-contained, holistic city characterised by “extraordinary ideas for efficiency and safety.” GDF SUEZ Qatar’s managing director Florence Verzelen has praised Lusail but warned that “strong political will” and “awareness campaigns” will be needed to cut Qatar’s high power consumption, which is mostly down to cheap rates. She suggests the group itself may contribute “with energy efficiency solutions for building, even for transportation.”
The 86,000-seater Lusail Iconic Stadium, designed by Foster and Partners for the World Cup 2022, will showcase many of Kaldari’s bright new ideas. It will be cooled using solar power. Panels will be installed on canopies over the service areas to provide energy for the stadium when it is in use, and to power the neighbourhood when empty. The cooling technology will ensure a more comfortable experience for footballers and spectators; with daily highs of around 41 centigrade in July, it is badly needed. A polysilicon factory in Ras Laffan, QSTec is set for completion by 2013 and likely to produce 8000 metric tons per year for conversion into solar modules – will be a major supplier for both Lusail and the stadium. QSTec confirms that “energy payback time of a solar module is under one year,” but that it will continue to generate power for another 25 to 30 years. It will use the latest Siemens technology to produce the modules.
QSAS emphasises cleanliness during construction, too; it has placed strict limits on airborne pollutants like ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide, and discharge such as mercury, arsenic and fluoride. Lusail aims to be highly water efficient; Parsons is overseeing the installation of 39.5 kilometres (km) of pipes for potable water and fire fighting, 34.1 km of storm water drainage and 36.8 km of irrigation channels. Since summer, the Lusail management has been piloting 160 ‘Groasis’ trees from Dutch company AquaPro Holland, which require 90 percent less water, with a view to rolling the technology out across the development if successful.
INTELLIGENT AND INTIMATE
Developers also want to ensure that the urban environment of Lusail is not too built up or overbearing, and that residents feel connected to nature. A good example here is KEO International Consultants’ design for Diyar Al Kuwait’s 70,000 square metre mixed-use waterfront development project. On this site, elevated sky gardens are installed in each tower. Lusail will seek to minimise the visual impact of the car in built-up areas – for example, there will be public underground car parks at the Marina district (2200 places), Seef Lusail (1000 places), Qetaifan Islands (1030 places), and at the Lusail Commercial Boulevard (2750 places).
Other car parks will be landscaped and connected by 10 or more pedestrian tunnels stretching across the districts. Despite its connection to the Khor highway, Lusail’s 28 kilometres of waterfront development should make the water taxi a popular mode of transport within the city itself. There will also be an underground metro link to the new Doha rail network. Even some of the motorways, built by Samsung C&T Engineering & Construction company, a unit of Samsung Group, will be underground.
Lusail aspires to ‘Smart City’ status. The plan is to use an operation control centre to manage a strategic information technology network covering all citywide services. For example, the traffic-light system can be manipulated to ease traffic at peak times. The centre will oversee video surveillance systems around the clock, enabling quick emergency response. Digital road signs can be altered on the spur of the moment; street lighting, electronic metering, utilities and fire detection can be managed centrally. In addition, a pneumatic disposal system will use vacuum power to suck waste or litter under the street and channel it to a recycling centre several kilometres away.
The town is expected to become a transport hub. Firstly, it will be a maritime centre with more than 1500 berths, constructed by Mourjan Marinas IGY. Although 21km of new roads are planned, including 5.3 kilometres for the dual four-lane Lusail Expressway, Lusail’s management is preparing for the long term. This means we can expect a cable car system, an extensive network of illuminated pedestrian and cycle paths, and the Lusail Light Rail Transit System (LRT). The latter entered a new phase in February thanks to Qatari Diar Vinci Construction (QDVC) signing a US$535.4 million (QR1.95 billion) contract for seven underground stations, a viaduct, and preparation work for a depot.
But will Lusail come to be seen as a prototype for our future way of life – or is it destined to follow Dubai’s Palm and World Islands projects as a white elephant of the Gulf? Masdar City, a similar development in the United Arab Emirates, has been put back from 2016 to 2025. Fortunately, this time around cash is no obstacle; new figures from Qatar’s Ministry of Economy and Finance reveal that income grew by 42 percent to QR220 billion in 2012. Furthermore, at just QR9.6 billion, interest payments still make up only six percent of expenditure.
Salaries and wages are up by 28 percent, but this is distorted by pay increases for nationals in September 2011. FIFA has pledged to raise expatriate worker rights issues, including exit visas, passport confiscation and exorbitant recruitment fees. These well-known controversies do not seem like getting in the way though. Qatari Diar admits that it was falling behind until the success of the World Cup bid in December 2010 – mainly due to the global recession’s impact on the property market and state spending being allocated elsewhere – but it has caught up in the last 18 months. Lusail is now firmly on schedule.
With no lack of finance or imagination, what Qatar is most likely to face is a human resource issues – probably not in wage or labour disputes, but in hiring challenges for the massive Lusail project. Bernard Ward, country manager at Reed Global in Doha, warns that “perception is reality for people.” Candidates may assume that political unrest in some parts of the Middle East have affected every region. Ward, who has his eye on engineers with high-tech experience from Germany, Eire and Australia, says his team is “having to work very hard” to change that popular impression. Likewise, GCC-centred recruitment consultant Aaron Bennett expects a “huge shortfall” of specialised managers.
James Coburn, manager at Talent2 in Qatar says the economic slowdown in the European Union has boosted his recruitment pool. Instead, it is the length of the projects, many lasting more than five years, which can deter some candidates. The shortage of school places is another issue. Coburn admits that many in the industry consider Qatar’s 2020 infrastructure plans “unrealistic,” Australia remains a difficult recruitment market because of the strength of their own mining industry. However, Coburn’s summary is that the task at hand is “difficult but not impossible.”
Back in 2007, Qatari posters on online international construction forum Skyscrapercity dismissed Lusail as “uninspired overkill.” For example, Aviduser was concerned that “It’s too big…there is no way Doha can attract enough people here to take up all the flats being built now, let alone after the Pearl has been built.” He complained about “blocks and blocks of uninspiring low rises…with no pools. I thought it looked a bit like the cheaper suburbs of Amsterdam.” Lusail was also described as a “town outside a town” rather than a destination.
Since then more impressive architecture has been planned for the waterfront, including the five-star Lusail Marina Tower, whose striking ‘cross sword’ design with arched towers is inspired by the insignia of Qatar.
Indeed, if everything goes to plan, Lusail should become an attraction in its own right, with the US$500 million (QR180 million) Entertainment City assigned theme parks, a water park, cineplex, theatre, bowling alley, speciality shopping and fine dining restaurants.
The CEO of Abu Dhabi Investment House, Rashad Janahi, has described it as a “fusion of traditional Arabic hospitality and contemporary leisure lifestyles.” Designers will take inspiration from the region’s notorious traders and seafarers, 9th century Arabic castles, forts, winding stonewalls, courtyards and lost kingdoms. And in the final analysis, for all Lusail’s high technology, it could well be that Qatar’s long-distant past is the key to its success in the 2020s and beyond.