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Monday, December 6, 2021

Exhibition examines cultural heritage value of Doha’s roundabouts

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Oryx, Rainbow, Burger King, Clock. For many years, these Doha roundabouts acted as memorable landmarks and navigation points that have since been replaced with more efficient signaled intersections.

Loved them or loathe them, the junctions were always a talking points. Now, a newly opened exhibition is asking whether the demolition of the roundabouts is destroying part of Qatar’s cultural heritage.

The exhibition, titled Heritage, Research and Art, uses roundabouts as a jumping off point to discuss what constitutes heritage, what aspects of life Qatar residents value and what is worth preserving and what is not.

The collection of research, artist paintings and photos of the roundabouts are open for public viewing at the Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU) student center art gallery in Education City through Sept. 23.

Research

The exhibition combines academic research from University College London-Qatar (UCL Qatar)’s heritage research project with local artists’ interpretations of the changing face of culture in Qatar.

It features key findings from research undertaken by students at UCL Qatar’s Masters program in Museum and Gallery Practice and Archaeology, who examined the cultural value people placed on key roundabouts in Qatar.

They focused on Al Mirqab roundabout in Doha’s once-bustling but now rather run-down old downtown, Dar Al Kutub roundabout near the National Library and Sports roundabout behind Al Saad.

Between September 2013 and January 2014, the students quizzed residents, workers and policy makers through questionnaires and interviews, and searched through archival data to unearth stories, anecdotes and attitudes about these old landmarks to find out if they were valued as culturally important.

Alkindi Al Jawabra took part in the study, examining opinions on Al Mirqab roundabout and, along with Louisa Brandt, is curating the exhibition.

Al Jawabra said that while the roundabout itself had no architectural value, he found that people living and working nearby had lots of memories attached to it.

Fondness dated back particularly to its previous incarnation as Clock Roundabout – not to be confused with Clock Tower (VIP) Roundabout, which has also been removed.

Speaking to Doha News, he said:

“People told us about a speaking clock, which used to tell the time, and it would be a local meeting place for people to hang out, drink karak or tea and just spend time there.”

Older Qataris especially had many memories of the old roundabout, showing they gave it historical and sentimental value, Al Jawabra added.

After the clock stopped working, it was removed by authorities, and the roundabout was re-landscaped and renamed to reflect the surrounding area.

Meanwhile, Oryx, or Al Maha, roundabout on Majlis Al Tawon street, which was removed last year, evoked some of the strongest memories from people.

It was viewed as a key landmark that helped newcomers navigate their way around the city, Al Jawabra said.

Sports roundabout, which is regularly clogged with traffic trying to move across town, is another site that elicts personal memories and stories from residents, which helped to support the study’s concept of heritage as a “living process that takes place through experience, rather than as a list of monuments to preserve.”

Artists’ impressions

roundabouts 1 - Urvashi Gaekwad

The exhibition also features local artists’ interpretations of cultural identity.

Indian artist Urvashi Gaekwad, who has lived in Qatar for 10 years, uses traditional photographs and superimposes modern images which she describes as “sterile” to show “a loss of culture and history, and hence character.”

“Our cultural history gives us a unique identity, keeping us personally connected and invested in our region. It helps foster growth unique to us and hence by preserving it, prevents us from melting into a human mass of abstract obscurity,” she added.

Dr. Trinidad Rico, former lecturer in Heritage Studies at UCL Qatar and now an Assistant Professor at Texas A&M University at Qatar, said that the transformation of Qatar’s old roundabouts has had an impact on society, although many people point out that they were a western import to deal with emerging traffic flow and are not originally a part of Qatari culture. She added:

“In the aftermath of their disappearance, there is a growing conversation in Doha that aims to value the aesthetic and historical appeal of roundabouts, an emerging nostalgia and appreciation that may only have emerged posthumously.”

roundabouts 2 - © Christto & Andrew copy

The exhibition contains an art installation, Permanent Temporalities, by Doha-based artists Christto & Andrew, that shows the changing face of Qatar since the discovery of oil and gas.

Feet in a pair of traditional Qatari sandals sit atop a concrete plinth, lit by LEDs.

The artists aim to show how roundabouts, which were popular meeting places when people walked around the town, are now being replaced by more efficient but less socially interactive traffic signals.

According to the exhibition catalog, the sculpture “questions to what extent technology becomes a factor for the replacement of heritage and furthers the debate of what elements constitute national heritage in Qatar.”

How do you feel about Doha’s roundabouts? Thoughts?

Note: This article was edited to reflect Dr Trinidad Rico’s new position as Assistant Professor at Texas A&M University at Qatar.

17 COMMENTS

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MIMH
MIMH
7 years ago

I have great memories of all the roundabouts and they were something that made doha unique. However they had to go, most people never got the hang of safely navigated the roundabouts and the increase in traffic meant they had to be upgraded.

Sports roundabout is next and the final chapter will be written.

RIP Smelly Roundabout!

A_qtr
A_qtr
7 years ago
Reply to  MIMH

Agree there’s no place for them anymore… One by one they must go

dubious
dubious
7 years ago
Reply to  A_qtr

Bit of a shame that they’re smashing up the decorations though – Bahrain saved most of theirs and relocated them to the side of the junction.
Quite like the effort that goes into Middle East roundabouts in general, even the old Saudi ones with the month’s pile of wrecked cars heaped into the middle.

Joe
Joe
7 years ago

Maybe before the recent population surge, roundabouts were a place for social interaction. Nowadays the only “social” interaction on roundabouts is drunk pickup-truck drivers unable to stay in their lane, angry drivers honking at you to crash into the cars in front of you, and dodging the buildup of cars on a red light in the middle of the roundabout.

People shouldn’t be afraid to move on. Qatar will soon be a safer place to drive in, and we’ll find other places to socialize, like all the new parks the city probably has planned, or the metros, or the cycling lanes that will soon be on most roads. Architecture on roundabouts is useless if drivers are too furious to notice it.

sicti
sicti
7 years ago
Reply to  Joe

Waiting for Sports R/A to disappear

Observant One
Observant One
7 years ago

Very sad if a roundabout is considered part of a culture! Wheels of death I call them, good riddance to them, as the average driver here does not seem to have a clue about lane discipline, indicating and giving way on them, or maybe they do but just don’t care.

A_qtr
A_qtr
7 years ago
Reply to  Observant One

Agree was a bit taken back by the title

Observant One
Observant One
7 years ago

Hey Ashgal get rid of Equestrian roundabout next, its a death trap…..absolute madness.

DavidRSS8
DavidRSS8
7 years ago

Growth makes such changes inevitable. I’m sure plenty in Qatar can remember when a single-lane road connected what is West Bay with downtown. Not a lot of yearning for that.

Take a photograph of the old roundabouts and embrace the future of safer roads.

desertCard
desertCard
7 years ago

If people actually knew how to drive a roundabout it would be different but considering…

Can’t wait for them all to be gone.

Culture? History? Really?

LoveItOrLeaveIt
LoveItOrLeaveIt
7 years ago

Get rid of TV roundabout.

outdoorsboys
outdoorsboys
7 years ago

It isn’t the roundabouts which are the heritage, it is their role as landmarks in a rapidly changing city. I agree that here in Qatar, roundabouts are not successful due to the level of driving skill shown by so many, but it is a shame indeed that the Landmarks in the city are being so casually thrown away.

Gareth Walters
Gareth Walters
7 years ago

Last week in the Peninsula there was an article about how the grass isn’t quite green enough on the Corniche and now we are talking about the cultural value of roundabouts.. while i see the point, they did stand as very important landmarks and some of them were really quite nice. lets not get carried away, national identity has nothing to do with a flower arrangement clock at a traffic intersection.
A Londoner isn’t a red phone box or a black cab, that is what gives the city its character. those landmarks are what gave Doha its character, they are part of its history. Tornado Tower, while it is an impressive piece of architecture is part of the future. it is a shame that the past has just been boxed up and taken away…

desertCard
desertCard
7 years ago
Reply to  Gareth Walters

If they didn’t cut the grass short like a golf course putting green at 1pm in the blazing sun it might have a chance to BE green.

The Reporter
The Reporter
7 years ago

Part of the landscape but nothing to do with Qatari culture, unless we’re talking about the culture of appalling driving.

SokhnaFan2010
SokhnaFan2010
7 years ago

The only thing worth preserving is the life of the people who have /had to navigate these nightmares. May they be forever erased from memory. Long live the junction.

Daiwai
Daiwai
7 years ago

Roundabouts work perfectly in other countries – it is only the pathetic standard of driving here that makes navigating them so dangerous – no lane discipline, buses indicating left then going right, traffic lights and policemen creating gridlock jams around them. They should tackle the root cause – bad driving. One lot driving down the centre lane regardless, eight out of ten of another lot on the phone, police doing zero….they are part of the fabric of the landscape…will there be anything left or will Doha look like an American town? How much petrol is wasted and pollution pumped out while waiting off-peak at a traffic light junction with nothing coming in other directions. And, by the way, my nine year old son was in his friend’s mom’s car last week and they were hit by a GMC pick-up driver running the lights at the new junction near the Landmark….two hours later there was another smash at the same junction…two weeks ago my friend saw a police car get hit at Aspire lights and then a four-car pile-up as the officers stopped the traffic…is the “batch-processing” at lights any faster or safer than roundabouts?

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