The Architectural Innovator
Albaker Architects is not your usual architecture design practice. It is a company constantly thinking outside the box in the aim of delivering truly inspiring twists to urban landmarks, both in Qatar and internationally
Writer: Jonathan Dyble | Project Manager: Ryan Gray
I fell in love with architecture in my early teens when my father took me to visit a local architect. I remember he had a big library and I picked up a book by Frank Lloyd Wright, the famous American architect. Everything I knew about the subject before that was related to conventional buildings and blueprints. I had no idea buildings could be so beautiful.”
For Yausif Albaker, the turn of a few pages quickly led to a lightbulb moment in his professional career. From here on out he was switched on and wide eyed to the world of architectural design, eventually enrolling in the prestigious Southern California Institute of Architecture.
“Studying here was very intense but it prepares you for many things in the field of architecture,” Albaker muses, “and after I left, I worked on construction sites and as a client representative then as a project manager, always in the field of architecture but not necessarily in design.”
When Qatar’s 2022 World Cup bid came around, however, that changed as Albaker got the chance to work on the bidding committee as an in-house architect. Needless to say, it was an opportunity that he duly grasped.
During this period he worked with leading global architectural design firms including Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas and Norman Foster, eventually branching out on his own to work with OMA and UNStudio on six projects in Qatar following the success of the bid.
“We’re still trying to get these built!” Albaker laughs. “And here I am, managing my own design firm that’s now nine years in the making.”
The name of the firm? Albaker Architects – a Qatari entrepreneurial success story turned international practice providing a full range of design solutions ranging from masterplanning to architecture to interior design services.
Indeed, getting to this point hasn’t been without its challenges.
Varying estimates suggest that somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of all new businesses fail. So how has Albaker Architects managed to defy those highly unfavourable odds and stand out from the crowd in what is, by the Founder and Principal’s own admission, becoming an increasingly saturated market?
“To be different in architecture is becoming increasingly difficult – similar but different in the details and specific to the problems they are tackling,” he explains. “For us we strive to represent Qatar’s local developing expertise and ability in the design and engineering field, which is on par with those of international leaders in the design and engineering community.
“I wanted to create a Qatari-based, design-focussed building consultancy, and at the beginning I was interested in topics mainly related to Qatari problems. Now, however, I feel that this office is able to design a project anywhere in the world and discuss and resolve any topic or issue.”
“To be different in architecture is becoming increasingly difficult – similar but different in the details and specific to the problems they are tackling”
The company’s mission is to not only meet the needs of society, but to exceed those needs by inventing techniques and exploring methods which create new possibilities. It is an enterprise obsessed with the relationships between cities, buildings and their users, something which has led it to naturally innovate all the time.
To understand the business’s esteemed capabilities, we need look no further than its sizeable and growing project portfolio, the Qatar Foundation Visitors Centre standing as the first of numerous examples.
With Qatar Foundation setting the international standard for non-profit organisations, the centre had to narrate a story, something which Albaker Architects has achieved through the creation of a time loop superimposing the past, present and future.
“We were working with a unique site because, unlike other projects, this was located in a park,” the Founder and Principal explains. “To make things more interesting, the site boundary was a circle, and within that circle there were some structures with historical significance that we were asked to preserve and integrate somehow within the design.
“We integrated everything the Foundation stands for by preserving this history while looking to the future to foster social and cultural development for Qatar. We looked at drawings and painting techniques to find ways to create an object whereby the background and the foreground are one and the same. In other words, the new becomes the old, the old becomes the new, it is all intertwined.”
This dedication to thinking outside the box and going above and beyond to meet the bespoke needs of each client is also reflected in the company’s work on a major retail centre in Al Rayyan, Doha.
Here, it focussed on local trends in retail – both the challenges and the opportunities that the industry was facing – and resultantly delivered a scheme representing a unique and sustainable approach to the dependency of motor vehicles in Qatar.
“The form of the building follows a strict narrative that we choreographed for different retail and community programmes,” Albaker comments, then pointing to a third project in the form of DohAlive.
The first development that the company was ever commissioned, it was a major 80,000-square-metre undertaking and one that is still considered to be the epitome of everything that Albaker Architects stands for in design methodology, construction standards and quality control.
A mixed-use development that delivers both a lifestyle hotel and boutique retail experience, it has helped to address the functional and organisational concerns of the usage of public space in the city of Doha. The hotel comprises six basements, a ground floor, two mezzanines and eight additional levels across 63,000 square metres, while the retail building is formed of three basement floors, a ground floor and four upper floors that total 17,000 square metres.
From the 237-room, five-star hotel to speciality restaurants, a lap pool, health club and spa, business centre, conferencing facilities, shisha bar and rooftop bar, it is an urban landmark that embodies the region’s modernity.
Albaker explains: “I started the office when we began working on DohAlive but by the time it got built, we had recruited structural, mechanical, electrical engineers, interior designers and BIM modellers and engineers. We’re proud of it because we designed and engineered everything in this project, from the biggest details to the ceramic tiles and door handles.”
The potential for prosperity
What’s truly exciting for Albaker Architects is the fact that these three projects form just a fraction of its overall portfolio.
The 150,000-square-metre New Gulf Cinema in Doha and Business Hotel in Ras Bu Abboud are further examples of its diverse capabilities. Further, the practice has begun to expand its horizons having delivered the major Marsa Alam greenfield resorts in Egypt – projects that included a major focus on sustainable systems for power generation, sewage treatment and food cultivation systems.
However, the outbreak of COVID-19 may cause a degree of concern, and even delay any ongoing growth plans to a certain extent. Yet, aside from the coronavirus, the climate in which the company will be able to further both its local and international agendas is relatively buoyant, Albaker pointing to the role of the firm’s suppliers and partners in supporting those ambitions.
“Sometimes we’re faced with very specific issues, for example relating to acoustics or audio-visual, which our consultancy partners are particularly helpful in overcoming,” he says. “Likewise, in terms of construction material supplies, it is very important for us to have relationships with the manufacturers.
“A live example is when we wanted to have bespoke porcelain tiles for the DohAlive lobby, which wouldn’t have been possible if we didn’t have such relationships with different suppliers.”
Indeed, Albaker Architects remains firmly open for business.
2020 is not only expected to see the conclusion of many of Albaker’s ongoing developments that are currently 80 percent complete, but three new projects are also set to get underway. And for this reason, the Founder and Principal is able to end our conversation and look to the future with a degree of confidence.
“As an architect and someone who’s working with developers, I always have to be optimistic, so I do feel positive about what’s happening regionally in the construction industry,” he affirms.
“I can specifically talk about Qatar, where there are a number of policies, procedures and decisions that the government has taken to ensure prosperity for the country as a whole. I think globally this will be recognised and people will soon begin to see how it is prosperous and safe to invest in Qatar.”