The introduction of air conditioning in Qatar has radically changed the everyday life both inside and outside the home both physically and socially. As part of a larger project investigating thermal comfort in Qatar, we seek to understand the ways changes in everyday Qatari life are connected to the articulation of a modernized and global national identity. Air conditioning is one of the material comforts that accompanies a diversifying economy as well as an influx of wealth and expatriates migrating to Qatar. We posit that in Qatar, similar to elsewhere in the Gulf, this economic and social trajectory has resulted in an increase in Western urban forms that do not take into account traditional design. Whereas the traditional design of Arab towns and neighborhoods reflects climatic and socio-religious practices, modernization has taken away many of these features, particularly in the design and articulation of new buildings in Qatar.

In what sense has it become difficult to orient oneself in Qatar with a place identity? This paper will discuss the various factors at place in the place identity challenges facing Qatar as a modern urban Arab city. We will discuss some of the salient features of passive cooling, such as wind towers and mashrabiya or screening, and how their inclusion in building identity is a nod to form without utilizing cooling functions. As case studies, we will discuss the ideas and impetus in such energy-intensive concepts that gave rise to the West Bay business district of skyscrapers and the ‘objects in a landscape’ approach to designing buildings in Education City.


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