The new Qatar National Convention Centre (QNCC) isn’t your typical meeting venue. That much is apparent from a glance. And it has not been built by your typical developer either, as meetme discovered when meeting with Qatar Foundation’s Vice President – Capital Projects, Engineer Saad Al Muhannadi.
Developed by the Qatar Foundation, a government body responsible for supporting the country’s transformation from being reliant on carbon based revenue – specifically gas and oil – to a knowledge based economy, QNCC is a statement of intent that reflects Qatar’s ambition to become a seat of knowledge and hub for the both regional and global exchange of ideas.
The facility is designed as an example of the “best of the best” and sets new standards in terms of design, build, functionality, and even environmental standards, achieving the Green Building Council’s LEED Gold certification.
You are responsible not only for QNCC, but for various Capital Projects under the Qatar Foundation’s umbrella. How does this centre fit with other projects of the Qatar Foundation?As you rightly say, this is not the only building or centre that we are constructing, and are responsible for developing Education City as a whole. Qatar Foundation is developing an infrastructure to inspire full human potential and free thinking. We are committed to providing the environment for our population to excel in what they are doing, especially in research and education.
The vision began from a desperate desire to improve our education system. And then work on the research culture here in Qatar, and in the region itself, grew from this. Our rulers provided direction that we had to aim as high as possible, create and demonstrate the best quality in all things we do. Not just for us as Qatar Foundation in Education City, but to really put in place a whole model for the country, and I will not shy from saying for the rest of the region itself.
Tell us about the idea behind QNCC and how it developed.
The original plan for the convention centre as part of Education City began relatively modestly. It was about 15 years ago when we started thinking about it and thought that there was a need for a convention centre big enough to cater for the universities. And later, as we progressed and the country noticed we are developing something like that, they asked us to really size it up to help the exhibition and convention industry in the whole state of Qatar.
We built it to be part of that infrastructure, not form the whole infrastructure, because we know that another exhibition centre is coming up in downtown. These will complement each other and work in synergy to fulfill the required spaces for various types of events.
This building was designed in 2005 by Arata Isozaki who is a world figure in architecture. He started with us from the beginning, almost 12 years ago, putting the masterplan of Education City together and choosing to design certain buildings. One of these is the ceremonial court – an outdoor venue for graduations and events, and the convention centre which is again a venue, but enclosed under a controlled environment.
This is an advanced centre that has involved huge investment. Why did you opt for such an ambitious fulfillment of the convention centre brief?
When we decided to build the convention centre, we knew we could have done it differently, employing other quality standards and different techniques. But we wanted – even in the construction element – to set an example that is in-line with our vision to do the very best possible from a global point of view. From the process of implementation, quality and the lifespan of projects.
We knew when we started building that in Qatar specifically, we usually don’t get more than a 25 year lifespan for projects and were determined to provide more of a lasting legacy. So the construction methods and the materials that we used were selected for sustainability. So, this is really serious, not many people know about it, but really our rulers would like to set the standard and raise the bar of quality in everything that Qatar does.
We are not here only to do the business of conventions, but we think there is room for improvement also in terms of operations, in terms of marketing, in terms of making the use of this facility more efficient. So even the operator that we engaged has the same vision and we are working to develop these industries.
Qatar has a fantastic world-class meeting venue with QNCC, but do you think the country is disadvantaged when it comes to attracting events without a convention bureau in place?
I know that different authorities are working very hard on establishing something like that and I think things will evolve in a way that will serve the country to become a leading destination for conventions.
We are in the process of bridging some gaps and infrastructure is being developed in many different ways. Bringing such a unique convention center with the capability, flexibility and technology that it has to Qatar is a major step forward.
Streamlined regulations, licensing and government structures are very important to attracting major events. Are any changes being made to help better facilitate events in Qatar?
Meeting the challenges that exist within the regulations, and in the system that exists in the country is part of the next phase. But let me tell you what the situation is now.
We have a tourism authority that controls the licensing of exhibition and conventions, and at the same time operates another exhibition center, so there is an issue there. But from day one, we knew there was a challenge and we needed to develop that.
We started talking to them and setting committees to look at the situation from 30,000 feet above, asking 'what are the strategies of Qatar?'
To make Qatar an interesting place to inspire exhibitors and convention organisers to come, we wanted to build on the strength that Qatar has. We think that Qatar has strength in education, research, development, and other areas, so we will become the centre for these things.
There will be huge challenges, but so far what we have done with the government bodies and authorities that are working on the other convention center is to establish synergies, and put strategies in place to the extent that we are going to merge the two centres and have one umbrella managing both. We would really like to develop an agenda for our targeted conventions and exhibitions in Qatar.
What about initial business for the centre. How is that working out?
We know that our convention centre will be busy just by being part of Education City which has so much to offer. By being associated with the Science Park with research and development, situated close to the Sidra medical center and being able to host medical conferences and exhibitions, we are optimistic that things will fall into place very soon. With hard work and really putting the guidelines in a way that will support our target, we know that the country is aiming to improve and become a hub of such activities.
To give you an example, the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) was the first event to be held as a soft opening for us. Thousands of people came here including great leaders of education, to discuss the ways that education reform should take place in the whole world!
It is the mission of Qatar Foundation to show that there isn’t a ceiling for any development – especially in education, science, research and health. The ceiling is the sky for us. There is always evolution and even in the advanced world, we feel that there could be room for improvement and other ways of doing things.
This is the sort of thing that we think such facilities and venues will help us improve. We would like to see this center as a hub for global innovation and ideas, and this is really what makes us proud of it and is the objective of everything that we do. Innovation and free-thinking is the most fundamental stone in Qatar Foundation’s vision, and is being achieved and realised every time we do something.