Revisiting the Green Lung of Education City
Erik Behrens, Creative Director and Design Lead at AECOM takes us through the design process of the creation of Oxygen Park, one of the only green spaces that has been designed understanding the desert climate and using that knowledge to plan the park with landforms, pathways, closed tunnels and open spaces acting as a channel to direct wind.
Most of us know that car-free days were being practised at Qatar Foundation, and I was on one such “car-free” day, I was forced to take the new Education City Tram to move around the Campus. The tram went right through the spine of Education City and led me to rediscover the green expanse of Oxygen Park. A vast stretch of verdant land that is a welcome break from the buildings within Education City with its spate of fresh air and interesting water bodies making for an eventful tram ride through the Park. And that lead me to the story behind the making of this green expanse; architect of the project Erik Behrens, Creative Director and Design Studio Lead at AECOM (formerly known as EDAW). He has a long-standing association with Doha and has been instrumental to a number of design innovations and ideas across the country. Besides his involvement in the Msheireb project, Behrens is the artist of Qatar’s tallest public artwork the 5/6 Gateway Arches.
“Oxygen Park was one of HH Sheikha Moza bint Nasser’s visionary ideas,” Behrens remembers, “She wanted it to be a unique park, which is authentic and distinct to the region, something that has never been done before.” And, he and the design team at AECOM made sure it was.
Sitting in the heart of the Education City campus with students from over 50 countries, the park was designed to not only provide an urban connection between different parts of the campus, but also create a verdant landscape for people to walk, exercise and rest in. “HH Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, wanted the Oxygen Park to be designed to provide a ‘green lung’ for the Education City Campus in Doha. Helping the health and wellbeing of its users and the local community were a key goal for our design team. We responded by creating an area that unites provisions for different kinds of activities in a carefully composed whole. There’s a track for running, and bespoke benches to rest, open areas and subterranean pitches to play and sheltered parts to hide from the region’s intense summer sun. The park is a composition of series of sub-areas, open and closed, green and built,” explains Behrens.
For Behrens and the wider design team, the work started with understanding the desert climate and using that knowledge to plan the park with landforms and pathways acting as a channel to direct wind. Inspired by the fluid land formations and wind-eroded rocks of the natural desert environment, they formed the terrain to maximise passive cooling from the prevailing winds and to accommodate multiple sporting activities and this makes the Park like no other outdoor area designed in the region.
“Oxygen Park is now a vibrant destination for the local community – and a perfect antidote to the desert heat. The Park offers an impressive 130,000sqm of green space, 7,000m of pathways, a shady, covered walkway, a 1,600m running track, an equestrian track, sports pitches, four folly buildings, and gardens containing more than 100 plant species with a majority of indigenous and desert-adaptive planting,” he says, “It is accessed via the tram system and the campus wide cycle and walking routes.”
Studded with plants, keeping with the name Oxygen Park, the greens were supposed to replenish the area’s oxygen supply and act like a green lung. “Our landscape team and botany experts specified a mix of native and near native/desert adaptive plants which grow well in the local desert environment,” says Behrens.
The dramatic landscape features a subterranean walkway with cooling tunnel segments and a series of dynamic, looping running tracks. The water features which adds to the cooling of the place makes for scenic locations within the park. The park’s dramatic, wind-sculpted landscape was created with the hot and dry climate of the country and its cooling breezes in mind. “Honouring the local landscape is core to, and is evident across, every single aspect of the park’s design. For example, the park’s topography was computer modelled to maximise passive cooling from the prevailing winds and create a shaded walkway with cooling tunnel segments. As with traditional Arabian Gulf wind towers, the available breeze is channelled through the wind passages carved in between the gardens to provide natural ventilation. The undulating topography with its hills and swales creates a strong spatial framework for various embedded programmatic activities in conjunction with dynamic looping running tracks,” he says.
The buff-coloured hardscape materials were chosen to be sympathetic to the Qatari native landscape and to minimise glare and heat-island effects. The curving footpaths are constructed in seeded concrete to provide even, robust and continuous surfaces for sports activities, Behrens explains.
A covered walkway is formed from large C-shaped reinforced-concrete ribs that are placed along one side of the tracks. They are founded on a continuous raft foundation that bears on the limestone formation below the park. Inspired by wind-blown desert rock formations, the sofit and walls are clad with natural stone to create a monolithic-appearing structure.
The conditioned folly buildings provide cool resting places after intense workouts, and outdoor classrooms for teaching activities. They are formed from a reinforced concrete structure embedded into the slopes of the hills and are covered with a cantilevering green roof to maximise thermal mass and reduce solar heat gain.
The project incorporates indigenous and desert-adaptive planting. Stormwater from seasonal rainfalls is stored on site through soakaways embedded in the softscape areas, which enhance the natural ability of the soil to drain the water. Grass surfaces for sports activities are equipped with smart irrigation systems with sensor technologies to control and reduce water consumption.
In the huge campus of Education City lined with stunning architecture by star architects, Oxygen Park is without a doubt another masterpiece –maybe the most important one –that ties all the buildings within Education City together as a green lung for its community.
While the final outcome doesn’t give an indication of the design team’s dedicated effort in the planning and placement of the various elements within the park, a glimpse at the stretch of greens with its numerous Instagrammable points, the comfort of the athletes and the smiles on the faces of children playing in the gardens, gives the design team a reassurance that they have designed and given life to a successful “green” project that will be appreciated for years.
And the best part is that one need not wait for the car-free day to discover it. This green lung is open to the Doha community and is a vibrant green space loved by everyone who visits it.
Client: The Qatar Foundation
Location: Doha, Qatar
Area: 130000 m²
Photographs: Markus Elblaus
Architect: Erik Behrens
Landscape Design Team: James Haig Streeter (Landscape Design Lead), Mark Blackwell, Warren Osborne, Kevin Underwood, Philip Dugdale, Alfredo Galindo, Eric Hallquist, Shafee Jones-Wilson, Wing Lai, James Manuel, John Neilson, Jonathon Reeves, Adam Rothwell, Jason Shinoda, Stephen Suen, Jack Wu
Water Features: Fountains Direct