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National Convention Centre, Doha, Qatar

Issue 70 Dec / Jan 2013 : Architectural : Education

LIGHTING DESIGN: Light + Design Associates ARCHITECT: Arata Isozaki

Since its launch in 1999, Qatar Education City on the outskirt of Doha has gradually grown into a global centre for education and research. Over the last ten years, a select group of British, US and French universities have established satellite campuses on the 14 square mile site, joining Qatar’s own set of Academies to create an engine for the country’s development ambitions.

At the end of 2011, Education City was further bolstered with the opening of the Qatar National Convention Centre (QNCC). Commissioned by the Qatar Foundation - the group tasked with overseeing the development of Education City - the centre, boasts an iconic design and cutting edge facilities. The building houses ten multifunctional halls to host world and regional conventions, educational lectures, concerts and recitals. With 40,000m2 of exhibition space available, it is set to become a high profile, prestige destination for global exhibitions, presidential banqueting and national events.

The initial concept for the structure itself was drawn up by renowned Japanese Architect Arata Isozaki as part of his masterplan for Education City and was later carried forward by the project’s Executive Architects RHWL (more specifically the practice’s London and Berlin offices). The centre’s iconic façade takes its inspiration from the Sidra tree - a symbol used by the Foundation to express its three key areas of focus: education, science & research, and community development. In the desert, the tree is traditionally a beacon of learning and comfort, providing shelter for scholars and poets to gather. With its 250 metre long façade of curved pillars - a stylised tree structure reaching up to support the exterior roof canopy - the new centre confidently signals its intentions: to become a venue for the mass exchange of ideas under the world’s largest Sidra.

In 2004, UK-based Light + Design Associates was brought in to develop a lighting scheme for the project. The brief was to fully engage with the multi-use nature of the different spaces throughout the centre, including all halls and the exceptionally large VVIP Foyer  - also used for various exhibitions and performances. The lighting systems were required to not only enhance and compliment the building’s function but offer a stand out piece of architectural lighting, making it a regional talking point.
The QNCC houses a diverse array of spaces catering to a multitude of cultural and educational activities (see box out).

The 2,300-seat Lyric theatre style Lecture Hall, has a fully integrated house and production lighting control systems, with operation able to switch seamlessly between the two. Using multiple DMX universes with touch screen house lighting support units, sitting on a backbone of optical fibre hard connected between a series of locally distributed intelligent pallettes and full wi-fi connectivity, the system can be remotely monitored and locally controlled. Perforated planar ceilings conceal the high level lighting bridges, that are back-lit to provide an architectural accent. RGBW colour change LED inground recessed uplighting provides a soft colour wash to copper mesh acoustic walls. The colours may be either preset or adjusted through the main lighting desk to suit a particular event. Created as a bespoke piece by Allaeys Instruments, this inground LED extrusion was a forerunner for what would later become a commonplace technique. “I think it’s the first time RGBW was installed in an inground system,” notes Light + Design director Lee Prince. “It was specified in 2005 and back then this was pretty unusual stuff.”

The aluminium extrusion itself has an unusual double radius, so when viewed in plan it curves 90º to the left then 90º to the right, all in one extrusion. “The extrusion is also on a radius, because the theatre hall follows the classic horseshoe geometry,” adds Prince. “The extrusion follows the curvature of the walls, it’s not faceted. So you’ve got a curved extrusion and then it returns through a left and a right bend. I don’t know of many manufacturers that can actually do that.”
LED aisle markers, also recessed in ground at the end of each seating row, provide way-finding for delegates and audiences. Erco Lightcast darklights with dimmable tungsten halogen sources provide downlighting. “As I say, the design process was undertaken in around 2005. LED technology wasn’t available to do that job at the time, so tungsten was the only option available to us. If we were to do it now, we’d probably look to an LED solution,” says Prince.

The 750 Seat Overflow Hall also benefits from a fully integrated house and production lighting system. This hall uses an automatic lighting bar that lowers with chain climbing hoists, thus allowing rigging changes or lamp replacement to be carried out at ground level. RGBW colour change LED inground recessed uplighting provides a strong colour wash to the heavily modelled walls to wainscot level and uplighting to vertical timber-banded panels from wainscot to ceiling plane. Pre-programmed multi scene colour changing has been provided to enhance pulbic events. LED aisle markers are also used for way finding.

The Conference Hall has a capacity for 4,000 seats (or 2,000 when used as a banqueting venue). LED colour changing back-lit disc panels provide ambient light for the space. These can be lowered to the floor for maintenance purposes. Circular dynamic lighting trusses with controlled spotlights for banquet use surround each of the discs. These can be set at defined levels for public use and lowered to the ground for rigging and maintenance. In between the discs hang dynamic decorative chandeliers, dubbed Oyster Lights, comprised of LED back-lit colour changing panels viewed through arrays of Swarovski crystal. This arrangement allows the room to be colour set and balanced with the back-lit discs. The Oyster Lights themselves are motorised, enabling them to silently rise, lower, open and close to suit the requirements of the hall. Individually controllable, they can each be set to different heights or altered en masse using a pre-programmed lowering sequence. The chandeliers span five metres when opened and offer a helpful way of lowering the perceived ceiling height in order to create a more intimate dining experience.

The main Exhibition Hall is a vast internal space with a floor-to-soffit height of sixteen metres. The room is lit in exhibition mode by a series of motorised square light trusses housing a full production lighting rig. High bay discharge lighting above the production rig is used for general lighting to enable the ‘get in / get out’ of exhibition trucks and equipment.

A series of foyer areas run the full length of the building. Fronted by a full height glass wall, these are fully visible from the exterior and the lighting within them plays a significant role in creating a nighttime identity for the building. The east section of foyer provides a breakout area for the main convention hall, the exterior wall of which is uplit by Lumascape 50W inground tungsten halogen. This approach is continued along the western section of foyer, but here with the addition of a curved, leather-covered wall that wraps around the lecture hall. This wall is fitted with 4,000 star point LED lights, DMX controlled and sequenced to produce gentle waves of colours across its surface. These two longer foyer sections are broken by the striking presence of the VVIP Entrance foyer and registration area. Dominated by a giant spider sculpture, the area is illuminated from above by a dynamic ceiling composed of 5-metre-squared back-lit panels. DMX-controlled LEDs allow a full range of colour options and a hoist mechanism enables the entire ceiling height to be adjusted.

A full entertainment lighting rig runs down either side of the ceiling: square-section trusses loaded with a total of 280 Martin MAC 575 moving head projectors that can be lowered in sync. The MAC 575s provide full colour-changing, rotating and static gobos, and dimmers that are used for painting fabric patterns onto walls and floors, as well as illuminating the Sidra tree façade structures. The trusses also house emergency lighting and 100 dark light floodlights using UV black light lamps.

A Strand Visionet control system was remotely pre-programmed using WYSIWYG software to create schemes for a variety event scenarios. This was then uploaded on site. The system is integrated with security, production lighting and building management system. To complement the interior illumination seen through the glazed façade, a selection of 70W and 150W metal halide inground uplights provide structural illumination, not least to the outer surface of the Sidra tree pillars.

Over the six-year build, Prince remained in consultation with Robert White of US-based Illuminart, who headed up the lighting side of the construction team and helped with the aiming and focussing of fixtures across the whole project.

In its aim to provide a diversity of functions, the QNCC has already proved its worth. Exceptionally well received in the region, it has so far hosted UN conferences, a World Petroleum Exhibition and a production of Kevin Spacey’s Richard III. All beneath the shade of a Sidra tree.



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