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Is Doha’s New Driverless Metro System the Future of Public Transport?

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International design firm UNStudio has completed the first phase of the Qatar Integrated Railway Project, which brings Doha its first-ever metro network. It brings the city one of the fastest driverless train systems in the world, spread across 37 stations and three metro lines. 

UNStudio

UNStudio, in collaboration with Qatar Rail’s Architecture Department, was enlisted to develop an “Architectural Building Manual” for this ambitious project. The 2,000+ page document is an extensive set of design guidelines, architectural details and material outlines that enable the most efficient design and construction of the metro stations while assuring the spatial quality and identity of the network. 

The key aim of the new metro system is to encourage the use of public transportation as a dependable and clean alternative to private modes of transport. To ensure this, the use of urban design principles were used to inform the design of the stations in order to create public spaces that enhance the urban experience at the pedestrian scale and build new habits for the community.

Additionally, the Architectural Building Manual serves to layout a consistent identity for the metro system across all scales, from individual stations to the entire network. This allows the network to be instantly recognized and serve as a permanent reminder to citizens of the healthier alternative to private transportation.

UNStudio

“We are going to move differently in the future,” remarked UNStudio’s Ben Van Berkel. “Mobility is changing fast, from the introduction of autonomous vehicles to urban cable cars and the hyperloop. The mobility hubs of the future have to respond to and cater to these changes. In order to encourage the use of more sustainable forms of transport, these stations not only have to ensure smooth passenger flows, but they need to truly appeal to the public; to be places they want to visit and return to.”

For the design of the metro stations, UNStudio merged past and future, drawing inspiration from Qatar’s vast regional architectural vernacular while simultaneously introducing a vision of modernization. Vaulted spaces, linked to Qatar’s historic architecture, define the interiors of the stations. A system of interconnected triangular bases adapts and transforms programmatic functions and connects interior spaces with exterior urban infrastructure. 

UNStudio

The firm referenced the notion of “Caravanserais”, which were inns with enclosed courts that served as gathering and resting places on ancient trade routes. As a result, the design generates social interaction and prioritizes place creation over space creation. Additionally, the design allows for daylight to be captured and directed into the interiors, creating uplifting and luminous atmospheres. 

UNStudio

In terms of the stations’ materiality, a contrast is made between the solid sandstone exteriors and the rich, illuminated interiors with a mother-of-pearl iridescence. Both exemplify Qatari traditions: The exterior spaces reference the monolithic quality of ancient Qatari architecture, while the interior spaces capture a sense of movement. To amplify the overall experience, integrated light lines function as natural way-finding elements. 

With the help of high quality materials and robust detailing, UNStudio’s design for the new Doha metro network encourages the city’s population to adopt a more sustainable mode of transportation. If the system proves successful, it could form a precedent for the future of public transportation in metropolitan regions around the world.

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All images via UNStudio

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