As the capital of Qatar, Doha isn’t lacking in gorgeous architecture, and its global reputation for extreme building continues to grow.
In 2022, the city will receive the World Cup Stadium, an open arena designed by Ibrahim M Jaidah that seats 40,000 and is shaped to resemble the traditional Arabic cap, or gahfiya. Chilean firm Elemental also won a bid recently to add the Art Mill cultural centre to the city’s waterfront along the Persian Gulf. But before those projects transform the desert city of 1.3 million, there is Oxygen Park, a project led by architectural lead Erik Behrens and landscape lead James Haig-Streeter.
Built as a multi-purpose public recreational space, Oxygen Park adds a giant splash of green to the desert city. Global design firm AECOM constructed the 13-hectare park located in Education City, a district developed by the Qatar Foundation that houses branch campuses for several international universities. Studded with plants, it is meant to replenish the area’s oxygen supply and act like a green lung. “We used a mix of native and near native/desert adaptive plants which grow well in the local desert environment,” said Behrens in an email. “It is about replenishing the air – as [it is] about local habitat creation.”
AECOM’s primary focus for Oxygen Park was to promote a healthy lifestyle. “Our client, The Qatar Foundation, and their Chairperson Her Highness Sheika Moza wanted us to create an Oxygen Park in a desert environment as an outdoor activity space for health and well being,” says Behrens. “She also asked us to design a park which is authentic and distinct to the region. So we started our design process with a week long desert safari exploring the peninsula to learn about the different desert typologies and morphologies.”
A 1.6-kilometre running track winds its way around cooled, partially enclosed tunnels and covered walkways – essential to escape the heat – and the grounds contain sports pitches, equestrian facilities, a play garden and walking tracks. The firm also envisioned the space as an antidote to traditional gyms, and to that end, they’ve succeeded – no one would confuse Oxygen Park’s manicured parklands, waterfalls and landscaping for a traditional fitness centre.
The park is heavily inspired by the region’s natural forms and its gentle undulations have the look of wind-swept dunes. “There is life in the desert and also various dormant seeds which germinate after the seasonal rainfall and turn the desert into a green oasis. The wind forms beautiful dune scapes with fluid valleys, ridges and plateaus,” says Behrens. “We learned from the Qatari native landscape and echoed it in our design.”
But it’s the man-made structures that are the most stunning: runners can jog under pristine waterfalls, and air balloon-shaped lights (below) hover over the grounds that have four folly spheres. These spheres, says Behrens, work as air-conditioned pavilions that can be used for relaxation, gathering and classroom spaces. Each has a sound system and video projection screen that, during normal operations, play soundscapes made up of nature’s sounds. It’s enough to motivate anyone want to go for a jog.
Here’s a site plan that illustrates the elements of Oxygen Park.