The smart side of Msheireb Downtown
Talk about Qatar’s green developments, and the project of Msheireb Downtown Doha (MDD) will immediately come into the discussion. However, behind its more popular features of regeneration and sustainability are lesser-known smart city solutions. With its special MDD Service Catalogue, the project continues to review its IT infrastructure incorporating smart city solutions. Just as Lusail City is dubbed as Qatar’s future city, MDD could be called the future town of Doha. The Edge’s deputy editor Farwa Zahra explores the ‘smart’ side of MDD in an exclusive interview with Engineer Abdulla Hassan Al Mehshadi, chief executive officer of Msheireb Properties.
But what is a smart city? The European Commission defines it as “a place where the traditional networks and services are made more efficient with the use of digital and telecommunication technologies, for the benefit of its inhabitants and businesses”. According to Deloitte’s report Technology, Media & Telecommunications Predictions 2015, Middle East, in the next five years, the global smart cities technology market is expected to reach somewhere between USD400 billion (QAR1.45 trillion) to more than USD1.5 trillion (QAR5.46 trillion) by 2020. Reporting six smart city projects launched in the past decade in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the Deloitte study further forecasts that the number of smart cities in the GCC will double within the next two to three years.
Among these smart cities is Qatar’s Lusail City, also dubbed as the country’s future city. With this project from Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Company attracting much of the limelight in the realm of smart cities, what remains less discussed are Qatar’s other projects incorporating advanced solutions. One such project is Msheireb Downtown Doha (MDD), located in the heart of Qatar’s capital. Known more for its features of regeneration and sustainability, this QAR20 billion project is also home to smart city solutions.
Engineer Abdulla Hassan Al Mehshadi, chief executive officer of Msheireb Properties, explains where smart city solutions fit into the concept of sustainable regeneration. “Sustainability is central to the Msheireb project, in terms of both the conservation of natural resources and the quality of its design…The entire project features sustainable design that consumes fewer resources, generates less waste, costs less to operate, and achieves a reduced carbon footprint. This is completely in line with the smart city concept,” he says.
With more than 177 million man-hours completed, MDD is now halfway through with more than 52 percent work-in-place assessment. According to Al Mehshadi, construction of Phase 1A, containing governmental buildings, is complete. Similarly, heritage museums, which are in close proximity, are nearing completion, and currently undergoing commissioning and testing. Phases of 1B, 1C, 2 and 3 of MDD comprise mixed-use facilities, containing around two thirds of the development area which includes residential units, retail spaces, commercial offices, hotels, mosques, and cultural and school buildings. While the majority of structural works are completed through Phase 1, 2 and 3, enabling works at Phase 4 are in progress to accommodate a Doha Metro station within the development. Commenting on the expected opening of MDD, Al Mehshadi says, “The project is on track and includes a combination of turn-key and future tenant fit-out areas dependent upon the building usage. The commercial retail and offices are being completed for follow-on tenant fit-out installations, and primarily located in Phases 1B to Phase 3.”
ICT solutions in MDD
In a development like MDD aimed to regenerate old Arab architecture, will advanced technological solutions stand in contrast with Msheireb’s branding peg? Al Mehshadi explains that IT support will provide an edge to the concept of MDD. “Information and communication technology (ICT) will provide the competitive edge required to create a modern state community in the context of Arab culture and traditions,” he says.
At the heart of MDD’s IT infrastructure is MDD Service Catalogue, which includes a broad range of services for citizens, tenants and businesses operating in the downtown development. Services featured in this catalogue, according to Al Mehshadi, include citizen contact, multi-play and communications infrastructure, ICT services specific to business, community portal/smart estates, community portal/lifestyle, city services, and access to external services.
The Citizen Contact component will include MDD’s general information portal, social media integration, MDD’s news and events, its shops and restaurants’ directory, Msheireb Community Portal/Smart Estates will focus on the sustainability feature of a smart development.
Other services accessible through this system will include laundry, nursery and maid facilities, car park reservation and payment, MDD services payment, and facilities maintenance requests.
Finally a part of MDD Service Catalogue will connect MDD with other areas of Doha by providing access to external services in the fields of health, education, immigration, utilities services, and others.
Smart and sustainable regeneration
In the next few years, GCC would be among the leading regions developing smart cities, according to the Deloitte 2015 report. While a number of such projects have already been launched in the Gulf, what sets MDD apart is the feature of regeneration. The ambitious project simultaneously strives to achieve sustainability, cultural regeneration and smart ICT infrastructure. “MDD is one of the very few downtown regeneration projects in the region that is in the very centre of the city. The reason there are not many in the region is not because they are not needed, but because they require a specialised skillset, considerable financial investment and, more importantly, political willpower and focus which we are very lucky to have in Qatar,” says Al Mehshadi, who believes MDD has a number of aspects which make it truly smart.
Speaking about some smart features of MDD, which also make it sustainable, Al Mehshadi mentions the use of renewable energy. Almost all the buildings in MDD will have solar photovoltaic electricity panels to offset gas turbine electricity and solar water heating for 75 percent of hot water demand, annually. Once complete, MDD will feature 5200 solar rooftop panels totalling 8400 square metres.
On the sustainability front, MDD will also have one of the largest collections of LEED certified green buildings. The project aims to maximise the use of micro climactic effects by utilising wind and sun patterns, maximise water and energy efficiency, and reduce carbon emissions across the site.
Ultimately, the idea behind these design features is to use natural resources smartly, whether it is after the completion of the project or in the course of its development. To ensure end-to-end sustainability, more than 75 percent of all construction waste produced at MDD is being recycled instead of being sent to a landfill. Similarly, “new construction materials for MDD coming from the region, and materials with recycled content are being tracked during construction and represent a minimum of 20 percent of all materials used on the project,” says Al Mehshadi.
Blending sustainable elements with traditional architecture was a result of years of research, according to Al Mehshadi, who says, “We undertook three years of research with leading academics, architects and master planners to develop a masterplan and architecture for a built environment that suits our climate and identity that is forward looking, yet draws on the very rich Qatari architectural heritage and DNA.”
An example of the conditioning in MDD’s built environment came in the form of technologies that encouraged pedestrianisation – something that fits well with the old Arab identity of MDD. Unlike the case in ancient Arabia, modern lifestyle and harsh climatic conditions in the GCC have limited the culture of pedestrianisation to a great extent. Reviving this cultural legacy, Msheireb Properties aims to increase foot traffic across MDD by regulating the outdoor temperature. The streets are deliberately planned to be narrow to allow stronger wind flow and excessive shading for pedestrians. Similarly, light colours are used in the public realm and building facades to reflect the sun and reduce urban heat retention. “Visitors to this project will appreciate that in the public realm, streets are cooler, breezes flow through the development, the surroundings are quiet, the scale is humane and pedestrians and bike riders are given priority,” says Al Mehshadi.
No infrastructure development is free of its set of challenges. For a large-scale project such as MDD, the issues are even more complicated. In the quest to build a smart and sustainable regeneration project, the task for MDD is ostensibly more daunting. “A project of this scale, regenerating over 31 hectares of an inner-city urban environment, necessitated a multi-phase approach, which introduced potential system integration issues as the design and construction progressed at different timelines,” says Al Mehshadi, explaining that one of the challenges linked to smart technologies within MDD had to do with constant changes in the IT world.
Considering that the initial masterplan was completed seven years ago, he explains that “smart city initiatives have required constant reviews to ensure that new technologies are accommodated during the lifespan of the project.” Through this process of constant appraisals, Al Mehshadi says, “Numerous project technologies have been developed both internally and in conjunction with our local authority partners to ensure the highest standards are met.”
With ongoing challenges being regularly addressed, he explains the rationale behind using smart solutions in MDD. “The technological solutions that will be provided to MDD will ensure that Msheireb is recognised for its innovative leadership in the use of these technologies to deliver a great place to live and work, while pioneering the development of a smart community and city,” says Al Mehshadi.