The Arches of Resilience

There is nothing more Instagram worthy on the drive from Corniche to Lusail City than the 5 X 6 arches also known as the Gateway Arch or the Al Wahda Arches. The 100m tall Gateway Arches have transformed a barren infrastructure corridor in Qatar into an immersive public artwork with an added function and a memory of challenges scaled by the country during Blockade associated with it.

The Al Wahda arches are designed in such a way that it looks different from every angle it is viewed from, and it is one of the most prominent construction marvels in Qatar.

Designed to be viewed in motion, drivers experience a sculpture which appears to kinetically transform as they pass through the junction. The unique intertwined and tilted arches and cable net, designed by architect Erik Behrens, reference Qatar’s pearl-diving heritage. The artwork has become a source of national pride and identity, setting a template for how generic road infrastructure can be heightened to become part of the local cultural fabric and arouse national pride.

The Al Wahda Arches is the tallest and most prominent architectural monument in Qatar, standing above the three-level Al Wahda Interchange. This ad-grade junction, fly-over and underpass provides a vital link from Doha’s Westbay Central Business District to the new Lusail Expressway, connecting the capital Doha with the new smart city of Lusail, which is rapidly expanding along the northern coastline.

According to the architect/designer, Behrens, “the client’s desire was to add an iconic cultural dimension to the existing highway scheme. In response, we created a standalone gateway sculpture which celebrates the physical juncture where historic Doha meets its futuristic partner in Lusail.”

The structure comprises two steel arches and an interconnecting cable net. The large arch spans 147 meters and is just under 100 meters in height, while the smaller arch spans 140 metres in length with a height of 78 metres. Each arch is inclined at 20 degrees from vertical.

“The structure is a fusion of neo-futuristic design and traditional beauty, inspired by the ring and net of Qatar’s traditional pearl diver’s satchels, and the country’s proud maritime heritage. By day, the cable net with its ‘paillettes’-shaped cable clamps creates a shimmer effect, echoing the sparkle of sunlight reflecting on the sea. By night the arches are gracefully lit, and appear to rise out of the ground like the divers’ satchels which were once used to raise pearls out of the water,” explains Behrens.

The Structural Details

The arches are composed of fabricated steel box sections, with internal longitudinal stiffeners equally spaced across the section. The arches are square cross sections, with the larger arch tapering from 6.0 meters at the base to 4.0 meters at the apex, and the smaller from 4.8 to 3.2 meters, which lends the sculpture its dynamic feel. The arches are fabricated from 10,000 tonnes of S460 grade plate varying in thickness between 60 and 120mm, and painted in a semi-gloss white.

The cable net uses 45mm locked coil cables connected to the outside of the arch and clamped together at all the 551 intersections with bespoke clamping discs of 350 and 500mm diameter. Internal diaphragms are provided at all the net connection points.

The foundations of the arches are located within traffic islands on either side of the underpass and ad-grade main junction. A sandstone clad podium seamlessly integrates the pedestrian crossings, the necessary vehicle deflection barriers and the lighting systems.

The structure is supported by a stiffened post tension baseplate assembly connected to 6-metre-deep reinforced concrete piled foundations. The piled foundations bear onto limestone bed rock.

These unique intertwined and tilted arches, coupled with the cable net, take the concept of the gateway sculpture to a new level. Moving beyond mere structural brilliance and functionality, the Al Wahda Arches also provide a representation and a celebration of the surrounding area’s dual modernity and heritage.

.Explaining how the structure evokes strong emotions while it fulfils its functions, Behrens says, “Contemporary design is often guilty of creating generic, anonymous and interchangeable places, prioritising function over form, and offering little opportunity for people to connect emotionally and intellectually with their surroundings.

“Road infrastructure is a key example of this. Around the world, major urban highways, road systems and transport corridors are notoriously homogenised, rarely offering anything to their users beyond sheer utility. In contrast, the Al Wahda Arches is a beautiful sculpture in in the centre of a highly complex three-level interchange,” he says.

Designed to be experienced from a car at speed, it provides a memorable kinetic and poetic experience for the citizens of Qatar and its visitors, touching on the challenges scaled by the country.

The Al Wahda Arches project demonstrates how, through an intelligent public art intervention, an anonymous infrastructure corridor can be transformed into a destination with a strong sense of place and local identity, thereby invoking a strong, positive emotional response in its users.

The design’s unique intertwined and tilted arches and cable net represent a creative combination of modernity and heritage. As the transport corridor physically connects a historic city to an emerging centre of culture and innovation, the sculpture too is a visual representation of the links between Qatar’s past and its future.

Constructed in the midst of the Gulf Blockade and ensuing diplomatic crisis, the Al Wahda Arches at the Lusail Expressway has risen rapidly in the local public consciousness to become the most popular monument in Doha. It has already been commemorated on national postage stamps, and nicknamed the ‘Arch of Qatar’.

Most importantly, the Arches have fostered a sense of community and solidarity. They have become a symbol of an entire nation and its ability to forge ahead and achieve its vision, whilst remembering its cultural heritage.

“The Al Wahda Arches represent the successful realisation of our goal to create a unique experience and provide a sense of identity and place within a generic infrastructure corridor – delivering a cultural and social value to the citizens of Qatar that far exceeds the material worth of the works,” remembers Behrens.

Photography Credits

Main Image: Vedran Strelar (shutterstock); Other Images from Ashghal, Erik Behrens, Markus Elblaus,  Naser al Omari, Satheesh Madh (shutterstock)

All Images Courtesy: Erik Behrens.

Additional Credits:

AECOM Engineering, Maffeis Engineering, MBLD Lighting Design, Eversendai, Hyundai E&C