'Morphogenesis - Doha Icons' celebrates Doha's contemporary architecture

As Doha is prepared afresh to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, photographer Pygmalion Karatzas reveals its modern architectural landscape, captured with a monochrome format.

by Jincy IypePublished on : Dec 08, 2022

The Qatari city of Doha has undergone an intended urban and infrastructural facelift, in preparation for hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup. "Doha, the capital of Qatar, keeps positioning and re-inventing itself on the map of international architecture and urbanism with different expressions of its unique qualities in terms of economy, environment, culture, and global outlook. In many respects, it is pictured as an important emerging global capital in the Gulf region with intensive urban development processes,” as quoted by Prof. Ashraf Salama, in Narrating Doha’s contemporary architecture: the then, the now – the drama, the theater, and the performance, Middle East 2, Issue 8, 4.7.2012.

Architectural and fine arts photographer Pygmalion Karatzas collates and reveals Doha’s contemporary architectural icons through his series, 'Morphogenesis - Doha Icons', considering through the medium of architectural photography, the region’s-built identity and values of its urban character. Displaying compositional dexterity, this photo-reportage covers some of Doha’s cityscapes and architecture via an integral photographic approach with panoramic images, featuring buildings (both completed and under construction), built details and architectural motifs, as well as fine art impressions.

Tornado Tower in Doha, Qatar | Doha Icons by Pygmalion Karatzas | STIRworld
Tornado Tower in Doha, Qatar Image: Pygmalion Karatzas
The library skylight at Georgetown University in Doha, Qatar | Doha Icons by Pygmalion Karatzas | STIRworld
The library skylight at Georgetown University in Doha, Qatar Image: Pygmalion Karatzas
The Corniche and West Bay in Doha, Qatar  | Doha Icons by Pygmalion Karatzas | STIRworld
The Corniche and West Bay in Doha, Qatar Image: Pygmalion Karatzas

Modern, futuristic, traditional, and almost sultry, the black-and-white photographs capturing the built essence of the city reveal the architectural equivalent of the city’s diamond-studded business, educational, religious, and cultural affairs, as witnessed in this photo essay.

According to the self-taught photographer, Doha, the capital of Qatar, is home to more than 90 per cent of the country’s 1.7 million people, with over 80 per cent professional expatriates. Historically, it was a fishing and pearl diving town and up to the mid-1960s, most buildings part of the built realm comprised individual, traditional houses. The city’s modernisation happened during the 1970s, but during the 80s and early 90s, the process slowed down dramatically. In recent years, however, Qatar has become one of the fastest-growing economies in the world and as such, the city is acquiring geostrategic importance. On top of that, Doha is also home to the FIFA World Cup this year, increasing its gravitas and stance as an urban development.  

Upper corridor detail of the Qatar National Convention Center in Doha, Qatar | Doha Icons by Pygmalion Karatzas | STIRworld
Upper corridor detail of the Qatar National Convention Center in Doha, Qatar Image: Pygmalion Karatzas
Burj Qatar Tower, night lights in Doha, Qatar | Doha Icons by Pygmalion Karatzas | STIRworld
Burj Qatar Tower, night lights in Doha, Qatar Image: Pygmalion Karatzas
West Bay and Doha Exhibition and Convention Center (under construction) in Doha, Qatar | Doha Icons by Pygmalion Karatzas | STIRworld
West Bay and Doha Exhibition and Convention Center (under construction) in Doha, Qatar Image: Pygmalion Karatzas

‘Morphogenesis - Doha Icons’ began as a journey into the contemporary architecture of Europe, and the collection extended to the Middle East, starting with Doha. Karatzas’s intention was to fuse the boundaries between representational and expressive architectural photography. Techniques like long exposure with neutral density filters as well as the black and white treatment of the subjects were used towards that effect, also viewing a modern state through a nostalgic lens. “An integral photographic vision aims to combine a respectful representation of exterior realities with a meaningful expression of our interiority by pointing towards the material sublime,” he says.  

So, what makes the contemporary architectural landscape of Doha stand apart from other modern cities of the world? Karatzas says that the booming construction activity of the city as well as the country during this last decade employed a vision for development with a decreased dependence on natural resources, and an increased reliance on knowledge economies such as international universities and businesses of geo-strategic importance in the Gulf region, and generally advanced producer services in high tech, IT, medicine, and sports.

Exterior detail of the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar | Doha Icons by Pygmalion Karatzas | STIRworld
Exterior detail of the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar Image: Pygmalion Karatzas
Interior ceiling of the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar | Doha Icons by Pygmalion Karatzas | STIRworld
Interior ceiling of the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar Image: Pygmalion Karatzas
Texas A&M Engineering College, Education City in Doha, Qatar | Doha Icons by Pygmalion Karatzas | STIRworld
Texas A&M Engineering College, Education City in Doha, Qatar Image: Pygmalion Karatzas

Doha inhabits approximately 18 km in the north-south axis along the seaside, and 18 km in the east-west axis —the corniche and most of its coastline are man-made. By collaborating with renowned architecture firms from around the world such as I.M. Pei, Arata Isozaki, OMA, Antoine Predock, Woods Bagot, Cesar Pelli, Allies and Morrison, Jean Nouvel, UNStudio, Foster + Partners, Zaha Hadid Architects —to name a few— a relatively small city started to become a “Mecca” of contemporary architecture. The reinterpretation of a culture’s history, identity and essence by outsiders is always a fascinating and fruitful process worth studying, which is also one of the features defining this photography series”, Karatzas explains.

A sense of exploration, patience and time, are important elements in architectural photography. – Pygmalion Karatzas
Katara Village in Doha, Qatar | Doha Icons by Pygmalion Karatzas | STIRworld
Katara Village in Doha, Qatar Image: Pygmalion Karatzas
Ceremonial Court, Education City in Doha, Qatar | Doha Icons by Pygmalion Karatzas | STIRworld
Ceremonial Court, Education City in Doha, Qatar Image: Pygmalion Karatzas
The atrium of the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar | Doha Icons by Pygmalion Karatzas | STIRworld
The atrium of the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar Image: Pygmalion Karatzas

The buildings, interiors, and details captured by Karatzas, are the ones that stand out and contribute the most to the city’s emerging modern character and contemporary architecture and include The Souq Waqif, a historic centre and traditional marketplace. Adjacent, the Museum of Islamic Art by architect I.M. Pei can be found on the south side of the corniche and the National Museum of Qatar by architect Jean Nouvel.

West Bay is the business and diplomatic district on the north side of the corniche, featuring a concentration of most of the city’s skyscrapers dominating its skyline, housing many international companies’ headquarters, governmental ministries, high-rise hotels, apartment buildings, and shopping centres.   

The Al Bidda Tower in Doha, Qatar | Doha Icons by Pygmalion Karatzas | STIRworld
The Al Bidda Tower in Doha, Qatar Image: Pygmalion Karatzas
West Bay in Doha, Qatar | Doha Icons by Pygmalion Karatzas | STIRworld
West Bay in Doha, Qatar Image: Pygmalion Karatzas
Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar | Doha Icons by Pygmalion Karatzas | STIRworld
Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar Image: Pygmalion Karatzas

The Pearl is the new seaside, high-rise residential development planned by architecture firm Callison on an artificial island expected to house 45,000 people. In close proximity lies the Katara Cultural and Heritage village which houses various cultural institutions and recreational structures. The area also includes high-end hotels, shopping centers, the West Bay Lagoon, Doha’s golf club, Qatar University’s campus and a number of high-profile embassies. 

The Education City is Qatar Foundation’s 2,500-acre campus master planned by Japanese architect and urban designer Arata Isozaki. Located in the northwest of the city, it hosts faculties from world-renowned universities to home-grown research centers such as the Qatar National Convention Centre by Isozaki, the Science and Technology Park by Woods Bagot, the Sidra Medical and Research Centre by Cesar Pelli, the Qatar Foundation headquarters, and the Qatar National Library by OMA.

Zig Zag Towers in Doha, Qatar | Doha Icons by Pygmalion Karatzas | STIRworld
Zig Zag Towers in Doha, Qatar Image: Pygmalion Karatzas
The cantilevered pool of the Torch Hotel in Doha, Qatar | Doha Icons by Pygmalion Karatzas | STIRworld
The cantilevered pool of the Torch Hotel in Doha, Qatar Image: Pygmalion Karatzas
Museum of Islamic Art Park in Doha, Qatar | Doha Icons by Pygmalion Karatzas | STIRworld
Museum of Islamic Art Park in Doha, Qatar Image: Pygmalion Karatzas

The Aspire Zone is a 250-hectare sporting complex located in Al Waab district on the west part of the city. It houses sports stadia and venues hosting sports, sports medicine, research and education, training and rehabilitation facilities. Some buildings here include the Khalifa International Stadium, Hamad Aquatic Center, and the Aspire Dome & Academy.   

The Msheireb Downtown is a mixed-use regeneration project at the heart of the city planned by Allies and Morrison and developed by the Qatar Foundation. Hailed as the world’s first sustainable downtown regeneration project, it’s 31-hectare site housing premier offices, spaces for retail and leisure, apartments, hotels, museums, civic services, and cultural as well as entertainment venues. 

The Torch Hotel in Doha, Qatar | Doha Icons by Pygmalion Karatzas | STIRworld
The Torch Hotel in Doha, Qatar Image: Pygmalion Karatzas
The Helix courtyard of the Hamad Bin Khalifa University & Student Center in Doha, Qatar | Doha Icons by Pygmalion Karatzas | STIRworld
The Helix courtyard of the Hamad Bin Khalifa University & Student Center in Doha, Qatar Image: Pygmalion Karatzas
Sidra Medical Center in Doha, Qatar | Doha Icons by Pygmalion Karatzas | STIRworld
Sidra Medical Center in Doha, Qatar Image: Pygmalion Karatzas

“I am more interested in the stories some images reveal and possess, in a sense, their ‘second life’. Visual storytelling can take unexpected trajectories reminding us of Italo Calvino’s contemplation: “a tale is born from an image, and the image extends and creates a network of meanings that are always equivocal”, Karatzas says, summarising his vision and intent for ‘Morphogenesis - Doha Icons’.

Al Hitmi Office building in Doha, Qatar | Doha Icons by Pygmalion Karatzas | STIRworld
Al Hitmi Office building in Doha, Qatar Image: Pygmalion Karatzas
The lounge foyer of the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar | Doha Icons by Pygmalion Karatzas | STIRworld
The lounge foyer of the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar Image: Pygmalion Karatzas

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