Through These Doors

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Through These Doors, a set on Flickr.

A photographic essay of the vanishing mud-brick houses in Doha, Qatar

The corner of Malik Bin Anas and Sheraouh in Doha’s al-Salata district is only about ten minutes drive from the soaring skyline of West Bay.  But it might as well be a century apart. Mud-brick houses line up the streets that are better designed for pedestrians and emaciated stray cats than cars. Fashioned in Halawa-inspired architecture, with narrow corridors leading to a central courtyard, these bungalows recall the fishing and pearl diving village that thrived around Doha Bay before Qatar became an oil and gas powerhouse.

Today, these houses are home to low-wage male migrants mostly from South Asia, some of whom are also fishermen. Time and the desert sun have prematurely aged the masonry of these buildings. Uneven doors and cracked walls reinforced with patches of cement and terra cotta also betray the less than standard construction techniques. The low-pitched roofs are stacked with assortments from used tires to rusty wheelbarrows and mattresses, while clotheslines compete with satellite discs — sight that may be an eyesore to many.

But these remains of Doha’s past may be completely gone soon, as the country races to modernize and build new high-rises to accommodate an expanding city.

Right in front of these tenements, Frenchman Jean Nouvel is building the Qatar National Museum. When completed, it will become an “unprecedented 21st century institution” celebrating “the culture, heritage and future of Qatar and its people”, the statement goes.

What would be even more revolutionary is when the museum’s builders decide to also preserve these houses — Doha’s equivalent of the history-rich hutongs of Beijing, and consider including the area as an extension of the museum. If Doha’s culturati see beyond these buildings’ crumbling plasters and exposed wooden frames, they would see possible homes for artists and artisans, souvenir and coffee shops and even restaurants that employ the migrant workers, instead of another demolition site.

While it is true, that these buildings are not as old as the pyramids of Giza, or even the al-Wakra Castle, they represent a certain period of Qatar’s past that must be protected and preserved. A more contemporary comparison would be Miami’s well-preserved Art Deco landmarks along Miami Beach.

Through these images, I would like the readers to imagine those possibilities. If successful it could also serve as a model of preservation in other areas in Doha, where old houses still exist. Because when they are gone, they are gone. And we can only relive them in photos.

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