A group of four historic houses in the Qatar capital have been transformed by the practice into contemporary museum spaces to display the country’s history and culture
Words by Emily Martin
Images by Hufton + Crow
Client: Msheireb Properties
Architect: John McAslan + Partners
Size: 4,605 sq m
Duration: Six years
John McAslan + Partners has transformed four historic houses to a series of museum spaces that showcase key elements of Qatari history and culture. Known as the Heritage House Museums they form part of a flagship redevelopment, by Msheireb Properties, in the Heritage Quarter of Doha, an area traditionally known as an anchor for cultural, religious and political power, serving the city’s local population, with John McAslan + Partners tasked with marrying cutting-edge design and technology to its ancient past.
‘Our aim was to fuse traditional Qatari heritage with a contemporary architectural language and sustainable modern technology, with an emphasis on proportion, simplicity, space, light, layering, and efficient internal management of the local climate,’ explains Fanos Panayides, director at John McAslan + Partners. ‘We paid particular attention to a faithful restoration of the roof structures, using the original design of mangrove beams, split bamboo, reed matting and plaster to create highly decorative ceilings.’
Interior view of Radwani House
The four historic houses – Company House, Jelmood House, Mohammed Bin Jassim House and Radwani House – have been remodelled and transformed for contemporary museum use. The creation of museum spaces within these existing buildings was always going to be a challenge, says the practice, requiring a ‘forensic understanding’ of the original building fabric, while respecting the heritage value of each structure.
Interior view of Mohammed Bin Jassim House
The architectural responses are specific to each building, yet share a DNA to present the four spaces as a cohesive, overarching visitor experience. While bringing history vividly to life, using interactive exhibition displays to communicate the experience, artefacts and meanings of the past to a 21st-century audience, Doha’s heritage communicates a distinct chapter of Qatari history and culture.
Exhibition space in Jelmood House
Drawing parallels between John McAslan + Partners’ design and the existing structures of Heritage House Museums is a sensitive and harmonious scheme that offers a clear distinction between historic original fabric and new build, all part of the practice’s approach to new and old in the museum experience.
A view of Jelmood House below ground
Key interventions to the existing domestic structures allow them to operate as modern museums in terms of circulation and environmental conditioning. These involved enclosing a number of previously external courtyards, providing legible circulation routes.
Interior view of Jelmood House
‘The covered courtyard of Company House, for instance, features a pierced ceiling with a distinctive geometric design that creates a tranquil patterning of dappled light,’ says Panayides. ‘The resulting interplay of light and shade works well – a perfect context within which to view the objects on display.’
View of the courtyard at Mohammed Bin Jassim House
The project provides a meaningful context for the dynamic growth of the modern city. While the scheme sensitively restores and enhances the Heritage Quarter’s distinct sense of place, and retains its historic character, the creation of a vibrant hub is also realised. The result is a sequence of buildings, reviving local heritage and culture through a unified architectural idiom. The Heritage House Museums are rooted in the past while looking to the future.
Ralph Appelbaum Associates